Marijuana has roots as far back as 2737 B.C. It has been referenced in ancient Chinese medicine, and soon spread from China to India, North Africa, and Europe by 500 A.D. Historically reported medicinal uses included treating rheumatism, gout, and malaria.
Recreational 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, used to treat a wide variety of ailments, including labor pains, nausea, and rheumatism.
Regulation and the “War on Drugs”
In the 1930’s, 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 a recreational fun and medicinal substance to that of an irresistible, addicting one that would lead straight into narcotics addiction.
Beat poets in the 1950s and college rebel “hippies” in the 1960s were the image of marijuana users during their eras.
In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act designated marijuana as 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.”
State Legalization of Marijuana
Throughout the criminalization of marijuana, growing operations became domestic grow-ops, and finally indoor growing became popular for high-yield, more potent flowers. New Mexico was the first state to legalize the medical use of marijuana in 1978.
After more than a decade of decreased use, the 1990’s saw an increase in use rates, especially among teens. In the early 90’s 34 states were lobbying for a form of legalization, but only 17 succeeded in legalizing medical use, mainly to treat:
- Chemotherapy side effects.
- AIDS symptoms.
However, in 1992, the U.S. Federal government discontinued all medical marijuana distribution programs, but many state governments decriminalized the drug. Illicit use continued despite the federal illegal status imposed on the plant.
State governments have since voted in their own laws on marijuana use, with 23 states legalizing medical marijuana, and 4 states legalizing marijuana recreationally for people 21 and older (Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon).
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 from 5.1 million users in 2005-2007 to 8.1 million users in 2013.
Worldwide marijuana use is highest in North America, Australia, and parts of Europe.
Youth and Marijuana Use
The following statistics paint a picture of use among teens:
- 1% of young people aged 12-17 reported current marijuana use in 2013 (NSDUH, 2013).
- 4 million people aged 12 or 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 age 18 (NSDUH, 2013).
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 the drug.
The legal status 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 its first legalization in November 2012.
The 4 states that have legalized recreational marijuana have seen major drops in their recreational marijuana prices, currently hovering around $17.10 per gram for flowers.
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.
Four 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 the west coast states demonstrating a higher interest in marijuana than the east coast.
Federal legal penalties include potential misdemeanor and felony charges, depending on the nature of possession.
Many states that abide by the federal classification will use similar charges for 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.
With higher amounts of marijuana (generally an ounce or more), possession is considered intent to distribute and the charges may be more serious, such as a felony.
How Dangerous is Marijuana?
The potency of marijuana in today’s market is nearly triple the strength of what was available 20 years ago.
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, it has been shown to have abuse potential. In 2011, approximately 4.2 million people met the diagnostic criteria for abuse 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 disorders such as schizophrenia.
- Throat damage.
- Lung damage, including cancer.
- Chronic bronchitis.
- During pregnancy, fetal development problems.
Marijuana is the second only to alcohol as a substance that 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).
The potency of marijuana in today’s market is nearly triple the strength of what was available 20 years ago (Mehmedic et al., 2010), raising concerns about increased risk for users, especially to adolescents, as their brains are still developing.
While it has a reputation for being safe, like any drug it can have serious unintended consequences, and abuse can cause numerous problems. If you’re concerned about your use of marijuana, call 1-888-744-0069 to speak to someone who can advise you of your options for treatment.
- Brewer, T. (2000). Marijuana. In S. Pendergast & T. Pendergast (Eds.), St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture (Vol. 3, pp. 272-274). Detroit: St. James Press.
- Mehmedic, Zlatko, et al. (2010). Potency Trends for ?9-THC and Other Cannabinoids in Confiscated Cannabis Preparations from 1993 to 2008. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 55 (5). 1209-1217.
- Sifaneck, S. J., Ream, G. L., Johnson, B. D., & Dunlap, E. (2007). Retail marijuana purchases in designer and commercial markets in New York City: Sales units, weights, and prices per gram. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 90 (1). S40-S51.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (December 4, 2012). The DAWN Report: Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits Involving Synthetic Cannabinoids. Rockville, MD.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Highlights of the 2010 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) Findings on Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. [July 2012].
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. [September 2012].
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), Substance Abuse Treatment Admissions by Primary Substance of Abuse, 2010. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. .
- Warf, B. (2014), High Points: An Historical Geography of Cannabis. Geographical Review, 104: 414–438.