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Marijuana is the most often used illegal drug in this country.

As the number of people who use marijuana has increased, the number who view the drug as harmful has decreased. Among those surveyed in 2001, current marijuana use has increased by about 62 percent since 1991. The proportion of those who believe regular use of marijuana is harmful has dropped by about 27 percent since 1991.

Researchers are examining the possibility that long-term marijuana use may create changes in the brain that make a person more at risk of becoming addicted to other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine .

Marijuana is derived from the cannabis plant and grows in many countries, including the United States. People have been known to put it in rolling papers to make marijuana cigarettes, smoke it in bongs or pipes, or mix it in baked goods or tea and eat or drink it. The cannabis plant also yields hashish, a stronger form of marijuana, and hash oil, the strongest form that has very high levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

Marijuana is a green, brown, or gray mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa). Before the 1960s, many Americans had never heard of marijuana.

Cannabis is a term that refers to marijuana and other drugs made from the same plant. Strong forms of cannabis include sinse-milla (sin-seh-me-yah), hashish ("hash” for short), and hash oil.

All forms of cannabis are mind-altering (psychoactive) drugs; they all contain THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active chemical in marijuana. They also contain more than 400 other chemicals.

The effect of Marijuana on the user depends on the strength or potency of the THC it contains. THC potency has increased since the 1970s but has been about the same since the mid-1980s. The strength of the drug is measured by the average amount of THC in test samples confiscated by law enforcement agencies.

Most ordinary marijuana has an average of 3 percent THC, Sinsemilla (made from just the buds and flowering tops of female plants) has an average of 7.5 percent THC, with a range as high as 24 percent, Hashish (the sticky resin from the female plant flowers) has an average of 3.6 percent, with a range as high as 28 percent, Hash oil, a tar-like liquid distilled from hashish, has an average of 16 percent, with a range as high as 43 percent.


Most users roll loose marijuana into a cigarette (called a joint or a nail) or smoke it in a pipe. One well-known type of water pipe is the bong. Some users mix marijuana into foods or use it to brew a tea. Another method is to slice open a cigar and replace the tobacco with marijuana, making what's called a blunt. When the blunt is smoked with a 40 oz. bottle of malt liquor, it is called a "B-40."

Lately, marijuana cigarettes or blunts often include crack cocaine, a combination known by various street names, such as "primos" or "woolies." Joints and blunts often are dipped in PCP and are called "happy sticks," "wicky sticks," "love boat," or "tical."


Aunt Mary, skunk, boom, gangster, kif, or ganja,Texas tea, Maui wowie, and Chronic. A recent book of American slang lists more than 200 terms for various kids of marijuana.


Marijuana contains chemicals that act on the marijuana receptor in the brain. Scientists have recently identified the natural chemical, anandamide, designed to fit the marijuana receptor. While scientists do not know all of the drug's effects, several studies have established that marijuana interferes with memory and learning. A new study confirms that heavy (daily) marijuana use impairs critical skills related to attention, memory and learning. In this study, "Heavy users could not pay attention to the material well enough to register the information in the first place so that it could be recalled and repeated later," say the researchers in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2/21/96).

These deficits persisted up to 24 hours after users stopped feeling high. Marijuana also impairs judgment and reaction time. A special study showed that one-third of drivers stopped for reckless driving were high on marijuana. Another study revealed that of drivers involved in accidents who were treated at a trauma center, 15 percent had been smoking marijuana. Daily use of from 1 to 3 marijuana cigarettes appears to produce the same lung damage and cancer risk as smoking 5 times as many cigarettes. Finally, researchers have found for the first time that marijuana can cause withdrawal symptoms in laboratory animals, and that marijuana acts on the brain and nervous system as do other addictive drugs.

Marijuana affects many skills required for safe driving: alertness, the ability to concentrate, coordination, and reaction time. These effects can last up to 24 hours after smoking marijuana. Marijuana use can make it difficult to judge distances and react to signals and sounds on the road.

There are data showing that marijuana can play a role in crashes. When users combine marijuana with alcohol, as they often do, the hazards of driving can be more severe than with either drug alone.

A study of patients in a shock-trauma unit who had been in traffic accidents revealed that 15 percent of those who had been driving a car or motorcycle had been smoking marijuana, and another 17 percent had both THC and alcohol in their blood.


High doses of marijuana can induce psychosis (disturbed perceptions and thoughts), and marijuana use can worsen psychotic symptoms in people who have schizophrenia. There is also evidence of increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thinking in chronic marijuana users. However, it is not yet clear whether marijuana is being used in an attempt to self-medicate an already present but otherwise untreated mental health problem, or whether marijuana use leads to mental disorders (or both).


Doctors advise pregnant women not to use any drugs because they might harm the growing fetus. One animal study has linked marijuana use to loss of the fetus very early in pregnancy.

Some scientific studies have found that babies born to women who used marijuana during their pregnancy display altered responses to visual stimulation, increased tremors, and a high pitched cry, which may indicate problems with nervous system development. During pre- and early school years, marijuana-exposed children have been reported to have more behavioral problems and difficulties with sustained attention and memory than no exposed children

Researchers are not certain whether any effects of marijuana during pregnancy persist as the child grows up; however, because some parts of the brain continue to develop into adolescence, it is also possible that certain kinds of problems will become more evident as the child matures.

When a nursing mother uses marijuana, some of the THC is passed to the baby in her breast milk. This is a matter for concern, since the THC in the mother’s milk is much more concentrated than that in the mother’s blood. One study has shown that the use of marijuana by a mother during the first month of breastfeeding can impair the infant’s motor development (control of muscle movement).

While all of the long-term effects of marijuana use are not yet known, there are studies showing serious health concerns. For example, a group of scientists in California examined the health status of 450 daily smokers of marijuana but not tobacco. They found that the marijuana smokers had more sick days and more doctor visits for respiratory problems and other types of illness than did a similar group who did not smoke either substance .

Findings so far show that the regular use of marijuana or THC may play a role in cancer and problems in the respiratory, and immune systems.

It is hard to find out whether marijuana alone causes cancer because many people who smoke marijuana also smoke cigarettes and use other drugs. Marijuana smoke contains some of the same cancer-causing compounds as tobacco, sometimes in higher concentrations. Studies show that someone who smokes five joints per day may be taking in as many cancer-causing chemicals as someone who smokes a full pack of cigarettes every day. Marijuana smoking could contribute to early development of head and neck cancer in some people.

Our immune system protects the body from many agents that cause disease. It is not certain whether marijuana damages the immune system of people. But both animal and human studies have shown that marijuana impairs the ability of T-cells in the lungs’ immune defense system to fight off some infections.


People who smoke marijuana regularly may develop many of the same breathing problems that tobacco smokers have, such as daily cough and phlegm production, more frequent chest colds, a heightened risk of lung infections, and a greater tendency toward obstructed airways. Cancer of the respiratory tract and lungs may also be promoted by marijuana smoke, since it contains irritants and carcinogens. Marijuana smokers usually inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer, which increases the lungs’ exposure to carcinogenic smoke. Smoking marijuana may increase the risk of cancer more than smoking tobacco does.

Some frequent, long-term marijuana users show signs of a lack of motivation (amotivational syndrome). Their problems include not caring about what happens in their lives, no desire to work regularly, fatigue, and a lack of concern about how they look. As a result of these symptoms, some users tend to perform poorly in school or at work. Scientists are still studying these problems.

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