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Marijuana Use and Abuse

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What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana refers to the leaves, flowers, and extracts of the plant Cannabis sativa and several closely related species commonly known as hemp.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States and is known by a large variety of names including cannabis, pot, weed, grass, hash, and many others. It is grown widely across the globe and is the only major recreational drug grown within the US

Signs and Symptoms Of Marijuana Abuse

What does marijuana look and smell like?

You might wonder if your teen is abusing marijuana, but aren’t sure what it looks or smells like. Coming in a couple colors, marijuana mostly looks like a shredded plant, similar to tobacco.

It carries a distinct odor that has been likened to cooked sage or alfalfa.

Marijuana intoxication produces effects including:

  • Euphoria.
  • Relaxation.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Altered sense of time.
  • Impaired memory.
  • Slowed reflexes and impaired motor skills.
  • Bloodshot eyes.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Cognitive impairments.
  • Paranoia.

Factors that Determine Marijuana’s Potency and Effects

Marijuana contains more than 60 related psychoactive chemicals, called cannabinoids; however, the most abundant of these is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The amount of THC ingested when using marijuana determines the intensity of the high, and the potency of different strains of marijuana is a result of the level of THC they contain—varying from 3% to 20%, on average. Industrial varieties of hemp, used to make textiles and rope, contain little to no THC and do not produce a demonstrable high at all.

Dried marijuana is most often smoked, but can also be used to infuse various foods and eaten. THC-rich marijuana extracts are also increasing in popularity, including hash oil and a hard, brittle preparation called “shatter.” Such extracts are particularly dangerous because extremely large amounts of THC can be ingested by users very quickly.

The precise effects an individual will experience depend on:

  • How much marijuana is consumed.
  • How potent it is.
  • How it is ingested.

Smoking produces intoxication quickly, within minutes, and its effects are fairly predictable from one time to another.

Eating marijuana-infused food causes the THC to be absorbed more slowly, with intoxication beginning between 30 minutes to 2 hours after ingestion, and the effects can be difficult for the user to predict.

Effects of Marijuana Abuse

In addition to positive and negative intoxicating effects, marijuana abuse can also have negative effects on an individual’s physical and mental health, especially in someone who uses marijuana for a long period of time.

Long-term detrimental effects of marijuana may include:

  • Respiratory problems: Marijuana smoke has many of the same irritating and lung-damaging properties as tobacco smoke. Long-term users may develop a chronic cough and are at higher risk of lung infections.
  • Cardiovascular risk: Marijuana ingestion increases the heart rate for several hours, increasing the chance of heart attack or stroke. This may aggravate pre-existing heart conditions in long-term users and those who are older—placing them at greater risk of a cardiovascular event.
  • Mental health effects: Long-term marijuana use can decrease an individual’s performance on memory-related tasks and cause a decrease in motivation and interest in everyday activities. Marijuana is also known to intensify symptoms in users with schizophrenia.
  • Child development: Marijuana use during pregnancy can affect the development of the fetus’s brain and has been linked to behavioral problems in babies.
  • Psychological dependence: Like most other drugs of abuse, individuals who use marijuana for long periods of time can develop a dependence on it. Signs of dependence in a user include the need to use marijuana to cope with everyday tasks and the experience of cravings and anxiety when marijuana is not available.

Marijuana Abuse Treatment

The treatment for marijuana abuse and dependence has many similarities to treatments for addictions to other drugs. Although there are no medications available specifically for treating marijuana dependence, professional detoxification facilities can provide a safe, supportive place for abusers to get the drug out of their systems.

Medical staff can help ensure that individuals do not hurt themselves, and sedative medications are available in case of severe anxiety or panic attacks.

Following detox, inpatient or residential and outpatient drug rehabilitation facilities are available depending on the specific needs of the recovering person. Both types of treatment offer counseling and education to help people with addictions to adapt to a drug-free lifestyle. Aftercare programs and peer recovery organizations provide support to avoid future relapses.

Teen Marijuana Abuse

The Monitoring the Future survey has tracked drug use in secondary school students since 1975 and is a good source of information on teen marijuana abuse. Some key statistics from the survey include:

  • The prevalence of marijuana use in the previous year among high school seniors has held fairly steady for the last few years and decreased slightly from 36.4% in 2013 to 35.1% in 2014.
  • About 81% of 12th graders claim that marijuana is easily available if they wanted to get it.
  • The perceived risk of marijuana use has fallen since 2000 in all age groups monitored, and less than 40% of 12th graders considered regular marijuana use to be a “great risk.”

Also alarming is the rise of synthetic marijuana, often referred to as “Spice” or “K2.” These substances can often be purchased legally and with ease; however, their effects can severe and even fatal. Read more at our blog, The Dangerous (and Deadly) Effects of Spice.

Resources, Articles, and More Information

For more information, check out the following articles:

You may visit our Forum to discuss the effects of drug use and abuse with others.

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