What is Marijuana?
Marijuana is a greenish-gray mixture of the dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the Cannabis Sativa, or hemp plant. The major active chemical in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (otherwise known as THC). This chemical is also the psychoactive ingredient of hashish. The chemical causes the mind-altering effects of marijuana intoxication. The amount of THC determines the potency, and therefore, the subsequent effects of marijuana.
Today's marijuana can be 5 times more potent than the marijuana of the 1970's. The THC levels can range from 0.3 to 4 percent. Some specially grown plants can contain THC levels as high as 15 percent. Several factors are involved in determining the potency of a marijuana plant. These include: 1) growing climate and conditions, 2) plant genetics, and 3) harvesting and processing timing and procedures.
Marijuana is the United States more commonly used illicit drug. Most users smoke marijuana in hand-rolled cigarettes (joints) or in pipes or water pipes (bongs). However, marijuana is frequently not used alone. Marijuana cigars (blunts) are cigars where the tobacco has been replaced with marijuana and combined with another drug (frequently crack cocaine). Marijuana can also be brewed into tea and mixed into foods. Drinking and eating marijuana changes how the THC effects show themselves in the human body.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse's (NIDA) Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG), a network of researchers that tracks trends in the nature and patterns of drug use in major U.S. cities, marijuana is frequently combined with other drugs. Crack cocaine, PCP, formaldehyde, and codeine cough syrup are some of these other drugs. This can be done without the user being aware of the combination. Therefore, the risks associated with marijuana use can be compounded by the risks of the other drugs involved.
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. Puff for puff, smoking marijuana may increase the risk of cancer more than smoking tobacco does.
Terminology around marijuana users varies from region to region and across it's history. Often called pot, grass, reefer, weed, herb, mary jane, or mj, it can be rolled into joints or used in bongs. Marijuana cigars, known as blunts, have also become popular. There are well over 100 terms for marijuana in use today. For a more complete list of Marijuana drug slang terms click here.
Marijuana use in the United States
1970 - Baby boom generation coming of age drug choice marijuana
1979 - 60% of 12th graders tried marijuana at least once
1992 - 33% of 12th graders tried marijuana at least once - lowest point since 1979
1997 - 70% of 12th graders tried marijuana
2004 - Monitoring the Future Survey Results
8th graders 16% had tried it, 6% were current users (used in past 30 days)
10th graders 35% had tried it, 16% current users
12th graders 46% had tried it, 20% current users
According to the Department of Justice, marijuana is readily available in almost every corner of the United States. Individuals not only buy marijuana, they grow it. It has been found growing in homes, on farms, in the suburbs, in cities, and even in offices. Marijuana is also smuggled into the United States from Mexico, Cambodia, Thailand, and other countries for sale in our schools, streets, and parts. Buying, selling, using, growing, and just having marijuana is illegal. Each state varies in its marijuana laws. There are conditional laws, decriminalized areas, mandatory testing laws, medical use laws, laws pertaining to hemp, and DUID's (Driving Under the Influence of Drugs). Due to the variances in the laws, there are also differing consequences and penalties of breaking those laws.
The National Institute of Justice's Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (ADAM) collects data on the number of adult arrestees testing positive for various drugs. In 2002, they found that, on average, 41% of male arrestees and 27% of female arrestees tested positive for marijuana. When studying the juvenile offenders, it was discovered that on average, 57% male arrestees and 32% female arrestees tested positive for marijuana.
Despite continued political debates regarding the legality of medicinal marijuana, clinical investigations of the therapeutic use of cannabinoids are now more prevalent than at any time in history. Using the term "cannabinoids" in a keyword search in 2007, over 3400 published scientific studies were produced.
Addiction and Abuse
Long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction in some people; that is, they use the drug compulsively even though it interferes with family, school, work, and recreational activities. According to the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 21.6 million Americans aged 12 and older were classified with substance dependence or abuse (9.1% of the population at the time). Of this, 4.2 million were dependent on or abused marijuana. In the previous year, 15% of people entering drug abuse treatment programs reported that marijuana was their primary drug of abuse.
Marijuana use has been shown to increase the difficulty in trying to quit smoking tobacco. This was reported in a study comparing smoking cessation in adults who smoked both marijuana and tobacco with those who smoked only tobacco. The relationship between marijuana use and continued smoking was particularly strong in those who smoked marijuana daily at the same time of the initial interview, 13 years prior to the follow up interview.
Along with craving, withdrawal symptoms can make it hard for long-term marijuana smokers to stop using the drug. People trying to quit report irritability, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety. They also display increased aggression on psychological tests, peaking approximately 1 week after they lasted used the drug.
In addition to its addictive liability, research indicates that early exposure to marijuana can increase the likelihood of a lifetime of subsequent drug problems. A study of over 300 fraternal and identical twin pairs, who differed on whether or not they used marijuana before the age of 17, found that those who had used marijuana early had elevated rates of other drug use and drug problems later on, compared with their twins, who did not use marijuana before age 17. This study re-emphasizes the importance of primary prevention by showing that early drug initiation is associated with increased risk of later drug problems, and it provides more evidence for why preventing marijuana experimentation during adolescence could have an impact on preventing addiction. One of the best methods of prevention is frequent and obvious marijuana drug testing. See information on drug prevention for parents.
Testing - Treatment - Hope
Recently, researchers showed that a group of long-term heavy marijuana user's ability to recall words from a list was impaired one week following cessation of marijuana use, but returned to normal by 4 weeks. An implication of this finding is that even after long-term heavy marijuana use, if an individual quits marijuana use, some cognitive abilities may be recovered.
However, treatment programs directed solely at marijuana abuse are rare, partly because many who use marijuana do so in combination with other drugs, such as cocaine and alcohol. With more people seeking help to control marijuana abuse, research has focused on ways to overcome problems with abuse of this drug.
No medications are currently available to treat marijuana abuse. However, recent discoveries about the working of THC receptors have raised the possibility that scientists and medical researchers may eventually develop a medication that will block THC's intoxicating effects. Such a medication might be used to prevent relapse to marijuana abuse by reducing or eliminating its appeal.
An estimated 20 million workers are drug tested annually in the United States at a cost of more than 1 billions dollars. The body metabolizes THC into about 5 metabolites before passing it into the body's urine. Detectable amounts of these metabolites remain in the system for several days to several weeks following marijuana use (depending on the level of use). Urine tests are then used to detect the metabolites. Laboratory testing can also detect the concentration level of the drug.
Testing for THC is one way in which employers can provide safer work environments, families can assist in the breaking of the use cycle, and sports organizations can verify "clean" athletes.