What is Marijuana?
Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant.
The plant contains the mind-altering chemical THC and other similar compounds.
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. Its use is widespread among young people. In 2015, more than 11 million young adults ages 18 to 25 used marijuana in the past year. Legalization of marijuana for medical use or adult recreational use in a growing number of states may affect these views.
How do people use marijuana?
People smoke marijuana in hand-rolled cigarettes (joints) or in pipes or water pipes (bongs). They also smoke it in blunts—emptied cigars that have been partly or completely refilled with marijuana. To avoid inhaling smoke, some people are using vaporizers. These devices pull the active ingredients (including THC) from the marijuana and collect their vapor in a storage unit. A person then inhales the vapor, not the smoke. Some vaporizers use a liquid marijuana extract. People also mix marijuana in food (edibles), such as brownies, cookies, or candy, or brew it as a tea.
How does marijuana affect the brain?
Marijuana has both short-and long-term effects on the brain through THC acting on numerous areas in the brain.
When a person smokes marijuana, THC quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. The blood carries the chemical to the brain and other organs throughout the body. The body absorbs THC more slowly when the person eats or drinks it. In that case, they generally feel the effects after 30 minutes to 1 hour.
THC acts on specific brain cell receptors that ordinarily react to natural THC-like chemicals. These natural chemicals play a role in normal brain development and function. Marijuana overactivates parts of the brain that contain the highest number of these receptors. This causes the "high" that people feel.
Other effects include:
altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors)
altered sense of time
changes in mood
impaired body movement
difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
hallucinations (when taken in high doses)
delusions (when taken in high doses)
psychosis (when taken in high doses)
Marijuana also affects brain development. When people begin using marijuana as teenagers, the drug may impair thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions. Researchers are still studying how long marijuana's effects last and whether some changes may be permanent.
People who started smoking marijuana heavily in their teens and had an ongoing marijuana use disorder lost an average of 8 IQ points between ages 13 and 38. The lost mental abilities didn't fully return in those who quit marijuana as adults. Those who started smoking marijuana as adults didn't show notable IQ declines.
Those who used marijuana showed a significant decline in general knowledge and in verbal ability (equivalent to 4 IQ points) between the preteen years and early adulthood. The IQ decline in marijuana users may be caused by something other than marijuana, such as shared familial factors (e.g., genetics, family environment)
What are the other health effects of marijuana?
Marijuana use may have a wide range of effects, both physical and mental.
Breathing problems. Marijuana smoke irritates the lungs, and people who smoke marijuana frequently can have the same breathing problems as those who smoke tobacco; daily cough and phlegm, more frequent lung illness, and a higher risk of lung infections.
Increased heart rate. Marijuana raises heart rate for up to 3 hours after smoking. This effect may increase the chance of heart attack. Older people and those with heart problems may be at higher risk.
Problems with child development during and after pregnancy. Marijuana use during pregnancy is linked to lower birth weight and increased risk of both brain and behavioral problems in babies. If a pregnant woman uses marijuana, the drug may affect certain developing parts of the fetus's brain. Children exposed to marijuana in the womb and through breast milk have an increased risk of problems with attention, memory, and problem-solving compared to unexposed children.
Intense Nausea and Vomiting. Regular, long-term marijuana use can lead to some people to develop Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome. This causes users to experience regular cycles of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration, sometimes requiring emergency medical attention.
Long-term marijuana use has been linked to mental illness in some people, such as:
worsening symptoms in patients with schizophrenia—a severe mental disorder with symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, and disorganized thinking
Marijuana use has also been linked to other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among teens.
Can a person overdose on marijuana?
An overdose occurs when a person uses enough of the drug to produce life-threatening symptoms or death. There are no reports of teens or adults dying from marijuana alone.
Is marijuana addictive?
Marijuana use can lead to the development of a substance use disorder, a medical illness in which the person is unable to stop using even though it's causing health and social problems in their life. Severe substance use disorders are also known as addiction. Research suggests that between 9 and 30 percent of those who use marijuana may develop some degree of marijuana use disorder.25 People who begin using marijuana before age 18 are four to seven times more likely than adults to develop a marijuana use disorder.
Many people who use marijuana long term and are trying to quit report mild withdrawal symptoms that make quitting difficult. These include:
What treatments are available for marijuana use disorder?
No medications are currently available to treat marijuana use disorder, but behavioral support has been shown to be effective. Examples include therapy and motivational incentives (providing rewards to patients who remain drug-free).
Where can I get help?
If you, a friend or family member has a problem with drugs. Contact Us today to see how we can help.
Remember, treatment is available and people can get better.