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Marijuana Facts, History, and Statistics

Marijuana plant

History of Marijuana

Marijuana has roots as far back as 2737 B.C. It has been referenced in ancient Chinese medicine, and its use had spread from China to India, North Africa, and Europe by 500 A.D. Historically reported medicinal uses of marijuana included treating rheumatism, gout, and malaria.

Recreational marijuana use became popular in India and among the Muslim population, leading to the development and popularization of hashish (concentrated psychoactive resins from the cannabis plant).

In 1545, Spanish explorers brought the plant to North America. By 1611, it was introduced in Jamestown and it quickly became a staple commercial crop. By 1890, cotton replaced hemp (marijuana) as the major cash crop, and marijuana effectively fell off the market.

When alcohol was outlawed in the 1920s, there was a big resurgence in marijuana use. At the time, smoking marijuana was legal and not considered a social threat. Marijuana clubs began popping up in major cities. It was even listed in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1850 until 1942 and used to treat a wide variety of ailments, including labor pains, nausea, and rheumatism.

Regulation and the “War on Drugs”

drugabuse_istock-27270348-hammer-on-marijuana-budsIn the 1930s, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics (now the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs) began a campaign to reframe the image of marijuana from one of a recreational, fun, and medicinal substance to that of an irresistible, addicting drug that would lead straight to narcotics addiction.

Beat poets in the 1950s and college rebel “hippies” in the 1960s were emblematic of marijuana users during their eras.

In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act designated marijuana a Schedule I drug, meaning that it has:

  • The highest potential for abuse.
  • No accepted medical use.

The Reagan and Bush administrations also maintained a “zero tolerance” policy on marijuana use and possession—now known as the “war on drugs.”

Who’s Abusing Marijuana?

Marijuana was the most commonly used illicit drug in 2013—used by 80.6% of current illicit drug users (NSDUH, 2013).

According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), daily or almost daily marijuana use increased significantly—from 5.1 million users in 2005-2007 to 8.1 million users in 2013.

Worldwide marijuana use is most prevalent in North America, Australia, and parts of Europe.

Youth Marijuana Use

The following statistics paint a picture of marijuana use among teens:

  • 1% of young people aged 12-17 reported current marijuana use in 2013 (NSDUH, 2013).
  • 4 million people aged 12 and older tried marijuana for the first time in 2013, averaging to about 6,600 new users each day.
  • 6% of them were introduced to the drug prior to the age of 18 (NSDUH, 2013).

The Marijuana Market

The market for marijuana varies by state, depending on the legal status of the drug. Federally, it is only legal with a medical card. Each state determines its own laws regarding the legality of cannabis.

The legal status of marijuana has an effect on the price per gram. Street prices tend to be lower than medical dispensary prices, though Colorado has seen a price shift since first legalizing recreational marijuana, dropping 40% within one year of it first being legalized in November 2012. The 4 states that have legalized recreational marijuana have seen major drops in their recreational marijuana prices, currently hovering at around $17.10 per gram.

While federal law considers all marijuana illegal, state laws vary on the substance. As of 2015, 23 states, the District of Colombia, and Guam have voted to legalize medical marijuana. In these states, it is only legal for medical use with a referral and medical card—otherwise it is considered illegal and punishable by law.

4 states have legalized recreational marijuana: Washington, Colorado, Alaska, and Oregon. In these states, you do not need a medical card to purchase marijuana products and possession of up to a specified amount is considered legal.

For more information on the legal status of marijuana in your state, check out the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) website. Bear in mind that marijuana regulation may also differ by county or city, so be sure to look up your area’s specific rules.

Online Interest in Marijuana

The marijuana market also seems to be influenced by region of the country. Google Trends shows what regions of the country search the term “marijuana” by year (darker blues indicate more searches for the term “marijuana”).

2004 to 2015 saw a major increase in marijuana interest. This interest seems to be region-related, with west coast states demonstrating a higher interest in marijuana than states on the east coast.

Legal Penalties

Federal legal penalties for marijuana possession include potential misdemeanor and felony charges, depending on the nature of the possession. 

Many states that abide by the federal classification will use similar charges for the possession, sale, and cultivation of marijuana. In states where medical marijuana has been legalized, a person caught in possession without a medical card may face misdemeanor charges, as long as the drug is for personal use.

How Dangerous Is Marijuana?

According to the DEA Marijuana Fact Sheet, there has never been a report of a marijuana overdose. However, this does not mean that marijuana is a safe drug.

Despite what many organizations may say, marijuana has been shown to have abuse potential. In 2011, approximately 4.2 million people met the diagnostic criteria for abuse of or dependence on marijuana (SAMHSA National Survey, 2012).

Marijuana abuse can involve a number of different risks, according to the World Health Organization (WHO):

  • Impairment of learning capabilities.
  • Impairment of motor and attention control.
  • Exacerbation of mental health disorders such as schizophrenia.
  • Throat damage.
  • Lung damage, including cancer.
  • Chronic bronchitis.
  • During pregnancy, fetal development problems.

Marijuana is second only to alcohol as the substance that the highest number of people get treatment for (SAMHSA TEDS, 2012). In 2010, it was involved in 461,028 emergency department visits—up 64% since 2004 (SAMHSA DAWN, 2010).

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The potency of the marijuana in today’s market is nearly triple the strength of what was available 20 years ago (Mehmedic et al., 2010). This raises concerns about increased risk for users, especially adolescents, as their brains are still developing.

While it has a reputation for being safe, like any drug, marijuana can cause serious unintended consequences and abuse can bring about numerous problems. If you’re concerned about your use of marijuana, please call American Addiction Centers (AAC) free at to speak with someone who can advise you on your options for treatment.

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