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Article Summary

Marijuana

Marijuana ("grass"; "pot"; "reefer"; "joint"; "hashish"; "cannabis"; "weed")

About 1 in 3 Americans has used marijuana at least once and approximately 10% of the population uses it on a regular basis. Next to tobacco, and alcohol in some areas, marijuana is the most popular substance chosen by young people for regular use.

The source of marijuana is the hemp plant (cannabis sativa) and its content of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and other cannaboids found in the leaves and flowering shoots of the plant.

Hashish is a resinous substance, taken from the tops of female plants, which contains the highest concentration of THC. The drug dose delivered from any particular preparation of marijuana greatly varies. The concentration of THC may vary as much as a hundred fold, due to diluents or contaminants in the sample.

Effects of Marijuana

The effects of marijuana may be noted within seconds to several minutes after inhaling the smoke (from a joint or a pipe) or within 30 to 60 minutes after ingestion (eating foods containing marijuana such as brownies).

Because the effects are felt almost immediately by the smoker, further inhalation can be stopped at any time and the effect therefore regulated. In contrast, those ingesting marijuana experience effects that are slower to develop, cumulative, longer lasting, and more variable, making unpleasant reactions more likely with this method of administration.

The primary effects of marijuana are behavioral, because the drug affects the central nervous system (CNS). Popular use of marijuana has arisen from its effects of euphoria, sense of relaxation, increased visual, auditory, and taste perceptions that may occur with low to moderate doses of the drug. Most users also report an increase in their appetite ("munchies").

Unpleasant effects that may occur include depersonalization, changed body image, disorientation and acute panic reactions or severe paranoia. Some cases of severe delirium and hallucinations have also been reported. Such cases should raise suspicion that the marijuana may have been laced with another agent such as PCP.

Marijuana has specific effects that may decrease one's ability to perform tasks requiring a great deal of coordination (such as driving a car). Visual tracking is impaired and the sense of time is typically prolonged.

Learning may be greatly affected because the drug diminishes one's ability to concentrate and pay attention. Studies have shown that learning may become "state-dependent" meaning that information acquired or learned while under the influence of marijuana is best recalled in the same state of drug influence.

Other marijuana effects may include blood-shot eyes; increased heart rate and blood pressure; bronchodilatation, or in some users, bronchial irritation leading to bronchoconstriction and/or bronchospasm; pharyngitis, sinusitis, bronchitis, and asthma in heavy users; possible detrimental effects upon the immune system.

Regular users, upon discontinuation of marijuana, may experience withdrawal effects. These may include agitation, insomnia, irritability, and anxiety. Because the metabolite (the substance formed when the body breaks marijuana down) of marijuana may be stored in the body's fat tissue, evidence of marijuana may be demonstrated through urine assay testing up to 1 month after discontinuing the drug in heavy users.

Medical Uses

The active component in cannabis is believed to have medical properties. Many maintain that it is effective in the treatment of nausea caused by chemotherapy in cancer patients.

Others claim that cannabis stimulates appetite in patients with AIDS or is useful in the treatment of glaucoma. While the active ingredient in marijuana has been approved as a synthetic medication by the FDA (dronabinol) for these purposes, use of whole marijuana remains hugely controversial. Currently, cannabis is illegal even for medical use under federal law.

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