If you’ve ever smoked a joint or eaten a pot-laced brownie, you’re hardly alone. Though, occasional use isn’t usually harmful, pot can affect your body and mind any time it gets into your system. Here’s what you need to know.
Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. The plant contains the mind-altering chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other related compounds. Extracts with high amounts of THC can also be made from the cannabis plant.
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. Its use is widespread among young people. According to a yearly survey of middle and high school students, rates of marijuana use have steadied in the past few years after several years of increase. However, the number of young people who believe marijuana use is risky is decreasing.
Marijuana is often used for its mental and physical effects, such as a "high" or "stoned" feeling, a general change in perception, euphoria (heightened mood), and an increase in appetite. Onset of effects is within minutes when smoked and about 30 to 60 minutes when cooked and eaten. They last for between two and six hours.
Marijuana is mostly used recreationally or as a medicinal drug. It may also be used for religious or spiritual purposes. In 2013, between 128 and 232 million people used marijuana (2.7% to 4.9% of the global population between the ages of 15 and 65). In 2015, 43% of Americans had used marijuana which increased to 51% in 2016. About 12% have used it in the past year, and 7.3% have used it in the past month. This makes it the most commonly used illegal drug both in the world and the United States.
The earliest recorded uses date from the 3rd millennium BC. Since the early 20th century, marijuana has been subject to legal restrictions, with the having, use, and sale of marijuana preparations containing psychoactive cannabinoids illegal in most countries of the world. Medical cannabis refers to the physician-recommended use of marijuana, which is taking place in Canada, Belgium, Australia, the Netherlands, Spain, and 23 U.S. states. Marijuana use started to become popular in the US in the 1970s. Support for legalization has increased in the United States and several US states have legalized recreational or medical use.
Marijuana is the third most popular recreational drug in America (behind only alcohol and tobacco), and has been used by nearly 100 million Americans. According to government surveys, some 25 million Americans have smoked marijuana in the past year, and more than 14 million do so regularly despite harsh laws against its use.
Marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. Around 50,000 people die each year from alcohol poisoning. Similarly, more than 400,000 deaths each year are attributed to tobacco smoking. By comparison, marijuana is nontoxic and cannot cause death by overdose.
MARIJUANA: Astro turf, Bhang, Blunt, Boom, Chronic, Dagga, Dope, Gangster, Ganja, Grass, Hemp, Herb, Home grown, J, Kiff, Mary Jane, Nederweed, Pot, Purple Haze, Reefer, Roach, Smoke, Skunk, Super Skunk, Texas tea, Weed, White, Widow, HASHISH: Chocolate, Hash, Shit, which is on average six times stronger than marijuana.
HOW DO PEOPLE USE MARIJUANA?
People smoke marijuana in hand-rolled cigarettes (joints) or in pipes or water pipes (bongs). They also smoke it in blunts—emptied cigars that have been partly or completely refilled with marijuana. To avoid inhaling smoke, more people are using vaporizers. These devices pull the active ingredients (including THC) from the marijuana and collect their vapor in a storage unit. A person then inhales the vapor, not the smoke.
Users can mix marijuana in food (edibles), such as brownies, cookies, or candy, or brew it as a tea. A newly popular method of use is smoking or eating different forms of THC-rich resins.
No matter how it gets into your system, it affects almost every organ in your body, and your nervous system and immune system, too.
HOW DOES MARIJUANA AFFECT THE BRAIN?
Marijuana has both short- and long-term effects on the brain.
When a person smokes marijuana, THC quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. The blood carries the chemical to the brain and other organs throughout the body. The body absorbs THC more slowly when the person eats or drinks it. In that case, the user generally feels the effects after 30 minutes to 1 hour.
THC acts on specific brain cell receptors that ordinarily react to natural THC-like chemicals in the brain. These natural chemicals play a role in normal brain development and function.
Marijuana overactivates parts of the brain that contain the highest number of these receptors. This causes the "high" that users feel. Other effects include:
altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colours)
altered sense of time
changes in mood
impaired body movement
difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
Marijuana also affects brain development. When marijuana users begin using as teenagers, the drug may reduce thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions.
Marijuana’s effects on these abilities may last a long time or even be permanent.
For example, a study showed that people who started smoking marijuana heavily in their teens and had an ongoing cannabis use disorder lost an average of eight IQ points between ages 13 and 38. The lost mental abilities did not fully return in those who quit marijuana as adults. Those who started smoking marijuana as adults did not show notable IQ declines.
What are the other health effects of marijuana?
Marijuana use may have a wide range of effects, both physical and mental.
Breathing problems. Marijuana smoke irritates the lungs, and frequent marijuana smokers can have the same breathing problems that tobacco smokers have. These problems include daily cough and phlegm, more frequent lung illness, and a higher risk of lung infections. Researchers still do not know whether marijuana smokers have a higher risk for lung cancer.
Increased heart rate. Marijuana raises heart rate for up to 3 hours after smoking. This effect may increase the chance of heart attack. Older people and those with heart problems may be at higher risk
Problems with child development during and after pregnancy. Marijuana use during pregnancy is linked to increased risk of both brain and behavioural problems in babies. If a pregnant woman uses marijuana, the drug may affect certain developing parts of the foetus’s brain. Resulting challenges for the child may include problems with attention, memory, and problem-solving. Additionally, some research suggests that moderate amounts of THC are excreted into the breast milk of nursing mothers. The effects on a baby’s developing brain are still unknown.
IS MARIJUANA A GATEWAY DRUG?
Some research suggests that marijuana use is likely to come before use of other drugs. Marijuana use is also linked to addiction to other substances, including nicotine. In addition, animal studies show that the THC in marijuana makes other drugs more pleasurable to the brain.
Although these findings support the idea of marijuana as a "gateway drug," the majority of people who use marijuana don't go on to use other "harder" drugs.
IS MARIJUANA ADDICTIVE?
Marijuana use can lead to the development of problem use, known as a marijuana use disorder, which in severe cases takes the form of addiction. Recent data suggest that 30 percent of marijuana users may have some degree of marijuana use disorder. People who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults.
Marijuana use disorders are often associated with dependence—in which a user feels withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug. Frequent marijuana users often report irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, cravings, restlessness, and/or various forms of physical discomfort that peak within the first week after quitting and last up to 2 weeks. Marijuana dependence occurs when the brain adapts to large amounts of the drug by reducing production of and sensitivity to its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters.
Marijuana use disorder becomes addiction when the person cannot stop using the drug even though it interferes with many aspects of his or her life. Estimates of the number of people addicted to marijuana are controversial, in part because epidemiological studies of substance use often use dependence as a proxy for addiction even though it is possible to be dependent without being addicted. Those studies suggest that 9 percent of people who use marijuana will become dependent on it, rising to about 17 percent in those who start using young (in their teens).
HOW CAN PEOPLE GET TREATENT FOR MARIJUANA ADDICTION?
Long-term marijuana users trying to quit report withdrawal symptoms that make quitting difficult. These include:
Behavioural support has been effective in treating marijuana addiction. Examples include therapy and motivational incentives (providing rewards to patients who remain substance free). No medications are currently available to treat marijuana addiction. However, continuing research may lead to new medications that help ease withdrawal symptoms, block the effects of marijuana, and prevent relapse.
Marijuana, or cannabis, as it is more appropriately called, has been part of humanity's medicine chest for almost as long as history has been recorded.
Of all the negative consequences of marijuana prohibition, none is as tragic as the denial of medicinal cannabis to the tens of thousands of patients who could benefit from its therapeutic use.
Modern research suggests that cannabis is a valuable aid in the treatment of a wide range of clinical applications. These include pain relief -- particularly of neuropathic pain (pain from nerve damage) -- nausea, spasticity, glaucoma, and movement disorders. Marijuana is also a powerful appetite stimulant, specifically for patients suffering from HIV, the AIDS wasting syndrome, or dementia. Emerging research suggests that marijuana's medicinal properties may protect the body against some types of malignant tumours and are neuroprotective.
Currently, more than 60 U.S. and international health organizations support granting patients immediate legal access to medicinal marijuana under a physician's supervision.
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