Frequently Asked Questions About Marijuana
What is Marijuana?
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. A dry, shredded green/brown mix of flowers, stems, seeds, and leaves of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, it usually is smoked as a cigarette (joint, nail), or in a pipe (bong). It also is smoked in blunts, which are cigars that have been emptied of tobacco and refilled with marijuana, often in combination with another drug. Use also might include mixing marijuana in food or brewing it as a tea. As a more concentrated, resinous form it is called hashish and, as a sticky black liquid, hash oil. Marijuana smoke has a pungent and distinctive, usually sweet-and-sour odor.
What does Marijuana do?
The effects vary from person to person depending on how strong the marijuana is, how it's taken and whether other drugs or alcohol are involved. At first, pot can make people feel relaxed, in a good mood and even silly. Users will likely experience dry mouth, rapid heartbeat, some loss of coordination and poor sense of balance, and slower reaction times, along with intoxication. Blood vessels in the eye will expand causing the red-eye effect.
Their effects are felt within minutes, reach their peak in 10 to 30 minutes, and may linger for two or three hours. The effects experienced often depend upon the experience and expectations of the individual user as well as the activity of the drug itself. Low doses tend to induce a sense of well-being and a dreamy state of relaxation, which may be accompanied by a more vivid sense of sight, smell, taste, and hearing as well as by subtle alterations in thought formation and expression. This state of intoxication may not be noticeable to an observer. However, driving, occupational or household accidents may result from a distortion of time and space relationships and impaired coordination. Stronger doses intensify reactions.
Smoking marijuana may impair short-term memory while people are using the drug. This happens because all forms of marijuana contain THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active chemical in marijuana, which alters the way the brain works. After a few minutes, paranoia or anxiousness may set in, then intense hunger (a.k.a. the munchies). Finally, sleepiness. For some people, marijuana raises blood pressure slightly and can double the normal heart rate. This effect can be greater when other drugs are mixed with marijuana.
Is Marijuana Addictive?
Long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction for some people; that is, they use the drug compulsively even though it often interferes with family, school, work, and recreational activities. Drug craving and withdrawal symptoms can make it hard for long-term marijuana smokers to stop using the drug. People trying to quit report irritability, sleeplessness, and anxiety. They also display increased aggression on psychological tests, peaking approximately one week after the last use of the drug. Some recent research is showing that marijuana also affects dopamine receptors in the Medial Forebrain Bundle. This is where the addiction potential of all drugs lie, and marijuana affecting this part of the brain is leading researchers to believe that it may be more addictive than first thought.
How Prevalent is Marijuana Use?
In 2001, over 12 million Americans age 12 and older used marijuana at least once in the month prior to being surveyed. That is more than three quarters (76 percent) of the total number of Americans who used any illicit drug in the past month in 2001. Of the 76 percent, more than half (56 percent) consumed only marijuana; 20 percent used marijuana and another illicit drug; and the remaining 24 percent used an illicit drug or drugs other than marijuana.
Although marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, among students in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades nationwide its use remained stable from 1999 through 2001. Among 8th graders, however, past year use has decreased, from 18.3 percent in 1996 to 15.4 percent in 2001. Also in 2001, more than half (57.4 percent) of 12th graders believed it was harmful to smoke marijuana regularly and 79.3 percent disapproved of regular marijuana use. Since 1975, 83 percent to 90 percent of every 12th grade class surveyed has found it "fairly easy" or "very easy" to obtain marijuana.
What are some of the Effects of Marijuana on the Body?
In the brain, the short-term effects of marijuana use can include problems with memory and learning; distorted perception; difficulty in thinking and problem solving; loss of coordination; and increased heart rate. Research findings for long-term marijuana use indicate some changes in the brain similar to those seen after long-term use of other major drugs of abuse. For example, cannabinoid (THC or synthetic forms of THC) withdrawal in chronically exposed animals leads to an increase in the activation of the stress-response system and changes in the activity of nerve cells containing dopamine. Dopamine neurons are involved in the regulation of motivation and reward, and are directly or indirectly affected by all drugs of abuse.
Marijuana also affects the lungs. A study of 450 individuals found that people who smoke marijuana frequently but do not smoke tobacco have more health problems and miss more days of work than nonsmokers. Many of the extra sick days among the marijuana smokers in the study were for respiratory illnesses.
Marijuana use has the potential to promote cancer of the lungs and other parts of the respiratory tract because it contains irritants and carcinogens. In fact, marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke. It also produces high levels of an enzyme that converts certain hydrocarbons into their carcinogenic form—levels that may accelerate the changes that ultimately produce malignant cells. Marijuana users usually inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than tobacco smokers do, which increases the lungs’ exposure to carcinogenic smoke. These facts suggest that, puff for puff, smoking marijuana may increase the risk of cancer more than smoking tobacco.
How Can I Tell if My Child/Ward is Smoking Marijuana?
Parents/concerned others should be aware of changes in their child's behavior, although this may be difficult with teenagers. Parents should look for withdrawal, depression, fatigue, carelessness with grooming, hostility, and deteriorating relationships with family members and friends. In addition, changes in academic performance, increased absenteeism or truancy, lost interest in sports or other favorite activities, and changes in eating or sleeping habits could be related to drug use. However, these signs may also indicate problems other than use of drugs.
Parents/concerned others should also look for physical signs of use which include: (1) seem dizzy and have trouble walking; (2) seem silly and giggly for no reason; (3) have very red, bloodshot eyes; and (4) have a hard time remembering things that just happened.
In addition, parents/concerned others should be aware of: (1) signs of drugs and drug paraphernalia, including pipes and rolling papers; (2) odor on clothes and in the bedroom; (3) use of incense and other deodorizers; (4) use of eye drops; and (5) clothing, posters, jewelry, etc., promoting drug use.
How Long Does Marijuana Stay in Your System?
Marijuana stays in a person's system for longer than most drugs. This is because the metabolites of marijuana attach to the fat cells in your body, and is secreted slower than most drugs. This is a general guideline but times can vary depending on the biochemical differences in people and percentage of fat cells in ones body. The following is a list of how long marijuana remains detectable in urine drug screens:
1 – 2 joints: 2 – 3 days
Oral ingestion: 1 – 5 days
Moderate smoker (less than 4 times per week): 5 - 7 days.
Heavy smoker (daily): 10 days.
Chronic use (multiple uses daily): 14 – 18 days.
Retention time for chronic smokers may be 20 days or longer, up to 30 days.
Marijuana metabolites (in fact most drugs) stay in hair follicles for longer periods of time (up to 60 or 90 days).