Marijuana (cannabis, weed, herb, pot, grass, bud, ganja, Mary Jane, etc.) is the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa plant. It originated in Asia, but is cultivated around the world.
Marijuana use is very common. Survey data from 2019 found that 48.2 million people in the U.S., almost 1 out of 5, reported using it at least one time that year.
More importantly, about 3 out of 10 people who use marijuana have marijuana use disorder (more about this below). There is an even greater risk of marijuana use disorder in those who began using it before they were 18.
Marijuana laws are confusing, controversial, and often changing. Regulations vary from state to state.
Some states go by federal regulations which consider marijuana a Schedule I drug. Drugs in this category are defined as having no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. However, many experts disagree with this.
States may legislate programs. For example, they may legalize use for adults or for medical use only. Even though marijuana is legal in some states, it still may pose safety issues.
Researchers have looked at the safety and effectiveness of medical marijuana.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved various prescription medications containing THC, the main mind-altering component of marijuana. Other THC-based medications are under study. All of these have very specific uses.
In all of these cases, manufacturers use purified chemicals from the marijuana plant, as opposed to the whole plant or its extracts. This is preferred by researchers since plants contain hundreds of other compounds.
Further research is needed to determine the long-term effects of medical marijuana use.
How It’s Used
As most know, marijuana may be inhaled or ingested. Hand-rolled cigarettes (joints); pipes and water pipes (bongs); emptied cigars (blunts); and vaporizers (vape pens) are used to inhale or smoke marijuana. Marijuana is ingested in brownies, cookies, candies, and tea.
Marijuana extracts, made of THC-rich resins, are inhaled (called dabbing) or ingested. The extracts deliver larger, more concentrated amounts of THC.
Higher levels of THC
Over the years, the amount of THC in marijuana has increased. The higher levels of THC put users at risk for harmful reactions. Edibles take a longer time to produce a high (30-60 minutes), so someone may ingest more before feeling the effects. This too, can result in harm.
With regular marijuana use, higher THC levels may also increase the risk for dependence and addiction.
THC, Cannabinoids, and the Brain
Marijuana has over 500 chemical components. The main mind-altering (psychoactive) one is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. It is one of about 100 cannabinoids in marijuana. Cannabinoids act on the body’s endocannabinoid system - a complex system that affects body organs, as well as the nervous and immune systems.
The body also has naturally-occurring cannabinoids that send chemical signals in the nervous system (neurotransmitters). These cannabinoids are involved in brain functions such as pleasure, thinking, movement, sensations, etc. THC also acts on the same brain areas providing marijuana’s effects.
Effects on Work, School, Daily Activities
Marijuana use may impact work, school, and other activities short- and long-term.
Marijuana’s effects may last for days, or even weeks, after use. It depends on the individual’s use, but they may have trouble with attention, memory, and learning.
Study results suggest that long-term, heavy marijuana use in the teen and young adult years has impacts later in life. There may be:
Marijuana can affect brain development in young people. Although research continues, it may affect the formation of “connections” needed for thinking, memory, and learning. Marijuana may also cause other physical effects including:
Respiratory problems from lung irritation. Coughing, excess mucus, more frequent lung infections (e.g. bronchitis), asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), etc.
Heart disease, high blood pressure, elevated heart rate (may last for a few hours after smoking).
Cancers of the throat and upper airways.
Intense nausea and vomiting - a rare condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. Some long-time, often daily users may have cycles of nausea, vomiting, and dehydration requiring medical care.
Long-term Psychological and Behavioral Effects
The psychological and behavioral effects may include:
Possible increase in anxiety and depression
Loss of contact with reality (psychosis) with long-term, regular use of very potent marijuana
Pregnancy, Breastfeeding, and Marijuana Use
Marijuana use during pregnancy is associated with fetal and child development problems and may be linked to preterm birth, low birth weight, and placental problems. THC in breast milk may affect a baby's brain development.
Marijuana Use Disorder
Marijuana use disorder is common. The American Psychiatric Association defines marijuana use disorder as including the following signs:
Using more than intended
Unable to quit use
A lot of time spent using
Cravings for marijuana
Using even though it causes work, school, or home problems
Continued use even with physical, psychological, or relationship/social problems
Giving up important activities
Using in high-risk situations (e.g. driving)
Needing to use more to get high (tolerance)
Withdrawal symptoms when stopping (dependence)
In severe marijuana use disorder, a person may become addicted. This means a person cannot stop using marijuana even though it’s interfering with many aspects of their life (e.g. physical and psychological health, relationships, work and school, social situations, finances, etc.).
Stopping or Reducing Use
You read about the negative effects of using marijuana. By stopping your use (or even reducing your use), you can lessen the risk of those consequences.
Think about it… In what ways can you benefit by reducing or stopping marijuana use?
If you want to stop or reduce your marijuana use, the following can help:
Work with your coach to create a plan and set goals.
Use reminders to help you follow your plan. The reminders may be smartphone alerts, written Post-ItⓇ notes, calendar entries, etc.
Avoid triggers. They may be people, places, or situations.
Have support in place. If you want to stop or use less marijuana, share the information with a close friend or family member - they can provide support. Of course, your Goodpath coach is also someone who can help.