Marijuana is a green, brown or gray mixture of dried shredded leaves, stems, seeds and flowers from the Indian hemp plant (cannabis sativa). Street/slang names for marijuana include pot, dope, ganja, Mary Jane, reefer and weed. Cannabis is a term encompassing marijuana and other drugs made from the same plant such as sinsemilla, hashish and hash oil. All forms of cannabis are classified as hallucinogens and psychoactive drugs because they produce mind-altering side effects. While there are more than 400 chemicals in marijuana, the key chemical responsible for the “high” is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is why it is classified as an illicit drug.1
Marijuana is usually smoked as a cigarette in a joint, pipe or bong. Marijuana is also found in blunts, which are cigars emptied of tobacco and refilled with marijuana, sometimes in combination with another drug, such as crack. Some people use marijuana as an ingredient when baking, mix it in other foods or use it to brew tea.
Marijuana Facts and Stats
In the past year, 4.2 million people ages 12 and older met the criteria for cannabis use disorder based on marijuana use.2
In 2014, an estimated 22.2 million people ages 12 and older reported using marijuana during the past month.2
In 2010, of 687,531 substance abuse treatment admissions in people ages 18 to 30, 340,212 were for marijuana use.3
People with marijuana use disorders, especially adolescents, often suffer from additional psychiatric and/or substance use disorders (e.g. cocaine or alcohol abuse).4
An average of 34.7% of high school students nationwide who ever used marijuana tried it for the first time before age 13.5
An average of 19.1% of high school students nationwide currently use marijuana.5
Cannabis has psychoactive and physiological effects when consumed. The minimum amount of THC required to impart a perceptible psychoactive effect is about 10 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. Reactions to marijuana are based on a person’s genes, the potency of the marijuana, previous experience with the drug, frequency and duration of use, how it is used (smoked or ingested) and whether there is concurrent drug use (e.g. alcohol, opioids or cocaine). Its effects are especially unpredictable when mixed with other drugs.6 Short-term neurological and physical side effects include balance and coordination problems, red eyes, increased heart rate and appetite. Long-term physical side effects include weight gain/obesity, chronic cough, frequent respiratory infections and specific types of cancer.7
Research has shown verbal learning, memory, attention and psychomotor skills are most impaired during acute intoxication, although diminished functions may also be detected in chronic users. Driving after marijuana use doubles the risk of motor vehicle accidents, although researchers theorize personality factors that predispose people to marijuana use may correlate to reckless driving.8
Signs of Marijuana Use in Teens
There are classic red flags parents should look for if they suspect their teens are smoking marijuana. The following are possible signs of marijuana use in teens:7,9
Excessive use of breath mints, chewing gum and eye drops
Slacking off on responsibilities
Lethargy or listlessness
Poor attention span
Sudden drop in academic performance
Signs of depression or isolation
Abrupt change in friends
A sudden need for more money
Presence of small burns on the thumb and forefinger
Heavy use of incense in the bedroom
Drug paraphernalia in bedroom, backpack or purse (e.g. rolling papers, pipes, roach clips and bongs).
The Tobacco and Marijuana Connection
Tobacco and marijuana are two of the most commonly used addictive substances in the world. Recent research has shown a strong correlation between the use of tobacco and marijuana. An estimated 56.6% of current tobacco users and 50.9% of former tobacco users reported ever using marijuana, whereas only 13.0% of people who never used tobacco reported ever using marijuana. The pattern of greater marijuana use among current and former tobacco users compared to those who never used tobacco was observed across age, sex, racial/ethnic, education and income categories. Researchers believe these findings have implications for future prevention and treatment efforts for both tobacco and marijuana.10
Smoking one marijuana cigarette results in airflow obstruction equivalent to smoking two-and-one-half to five tobacco cigarettes. Most of the carcinogens in tobacco are also present in cannabis, which may explain why studies have shown long-term marijuana use increases the risk of oropharyngeal, lung and testicular cancers.8
Marijuana Addiction and Withdrawal
Marijuana use can lead to the development of marijuana or cannabis use disorder, which in severe cases turns into addiction. If chronic use starts in adolescence when the brain is not fully developed, the effects of marijuana can negatively impact cognitive function and structure. These changes can last several years and may be permanent.3
THC impacts several neurological and biological systems that interact with the endocrine system. Past research shows gender variations in marijuana’s influence on brain structure, reward processing, attention, motor coordination and sensitivity to withdrawal symptoms. The exact underlying mechanisms are unknown, but researchers believe hormonal differences in males and females play a role in THC’s impact on withdrawal. Although research is in its infancy, gender differences could have important future implications in the development of prevention, detox and treatment strategies.11
Marijuana withdrawal symptoms are similar to what people experience with nicotine withdrawal. Irritability, insomnia, anxiety and cravings generally reach a peak a few days after regular marijuana use has stopped. Other mental and physical withdrawal signs include depression, restlessness, loss of appetite and weight loss, stomach pain, sweatiness, shakiness, fever, chills and headache. The difficulties and discomforts associated with withdrawal leads to frequent relapse after a short period of marijuana abstinence.6
Whether marijuana has negatively impacted your life or you suspect your teen is using it, COPAC offers a multifaceted marijuana treatment program. From medically-supervised detox to therapies that have shown promise in treating marijuana addiction, we are committed to helping people achieve long-term recovery.
Strashny A. Marijuana Admissions to Substance Abuse Treatment Aged 18 to 30: Early vs. Adult Initiation. The CBHSQ Report. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2013 Aug 13.
Singh T, Kennedy SM, Sharapova SS, Schauer GL, Rolle IV. Modes of ever marijuana use among adult tobacco users and non-tobacco users—Styles 2014. J Subst Use. 2016;21(6):631-635. doi:10.3109/14659891.2015.1122100.
Ketcherside A, Baine J, Filbey F. Sex Effects of Marijuana on Brain Structure and Function. Curr Addiction Rep. 2016;3:323-331. doi:10.1007/s40429-016-0114-y.