Marijuana is the name given to the preparation of the Indian hemp plant, cannabis, in readiness to be used as a psychoactive drug. Leaves, buds and stems of the plant are dried and sold with the intention of being smoked to achieve a ‘high’. Marijuana is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, in the same category as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, and is the most commonly used illegal drug anywhere in the world.
While cannabis had some significance in spiritual ceremonies in some cultures, the drug is most commonly abused for recreational purposes. Most people believe that this drug is not addictive, but research indicates that a strong psychological addiction can develop in heavy users. Research also shows that users risk causing structural damage to the brain with ongoing use, resulting in reduced performance in memory, learning, alertness and executive function. A similar study also noted that heavy marijuana users also experienced a decline in IQ after consistent use.
Some of the longest-running and most well-known names for marijuana include bud, reefer, weed, ganja, pot, grass, Mary Jane, chiba and skunk. Some more modern names that are increasingly commonly used include trees, icky, flowers and roach. Marijuana is commonly smoked in a rolled cigarette, or joint. It can also be smoked in a pipe. Some people will combine the substance with food, such as cookies or brownies, or brew the leaves into a tea.
“Chronic” originally referred to a mix of marijuana and crack, but in popular culture, it is increasingly used to refer to just marijuana alone. “Ditch weed” refers to a particularly low grade of marijuana sold by street dealers, often discolored.
Marijuana comes from the leaves and buds of the cannabis plant. It is most frequently sold in this state, with the leaves crumbled to facilitate use. It can be baked into food products such as lozenges or cookies for ready-made oral administration, but this practice is more common at legal dispensaries than it is in the illegal street trade.
A potent derivative called “hash oil” is also sold both legally and illegally. This is an extract that is extremely rich in THC, the psychoactive compound that can cause an altered mental state and hallucinations. A small quantity of hash oil is often added to standard cannabis for a more intense high, but this practice is usually limited to users who have a very high tolerance due to the potency.
Marijuana is considered a depressant as it tends to physically relax users and slow down brain activity.
Recent research has indicated that cannabis has a number of medical applications. It has already been used for decades to improve appetite and dull pain in cancer patients, and newer research has shown some promise in slowing the development of cancer. It is legal for medical use in many states, and has been approved for recreational use in several others. In the states where it is legal for medical purposes, it is most often prescribed for chronic forms of pain.
In spite of its increasing medical use and state-level legality, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug. Federal law supersedes state law, so it is possible in theory for someone using it legally in their state to be arrested in violation of federal law, though the federal government has thus far limited its interference with state marijuana laws and very rarely targets individual end users who are in compliance with all applicable state laws.
Marijuana is still most frequently rolled into a cigarette (a “joint”) and smoked, though vaporization and oral administration are on the rise due to health concerns about smoking (especially among those that use it medically). Direct oral administration of the marijuana plant produces no effect; it has to be heated to a certain temperature while in contact with a saturated fat in order to have an effect when ingested.
Marijuana usually relaxes the user, sometimes bringing on drowsiness. It is also known as an appetite stimulant, and frequently seems to trigger an appetite for fatty and salty foods (“the munchies”). Users may have slower and more confused thoughts. Dry mouth is also common while high.
Effects can vary depending on the strain. Strains that are used for medical purposes often de-emphasize the psychoactive THC content in favor of other compounds (such as CBD) that may relax the user and make them drowsy, but do not produce the same mental high.
While marijuana does not pose much of a health risk in the short term, taking too much can produce unpleasant mental symptoms including hallucinations, confusion and impairment of motor skills. This most often happens with oral administration, where it is more difficult to gauge how strong the dosage is. These symptoms generally begin about 30 minutes after ingestion and last for one to four hours.
In some cases, chronic cannabis use over a long period of time has led to brain damage, suppression of the immune system, low fertility (in both genders) and reduced libido. Brain damage in studies has thus far been limited to users who began as teenagers (while the brain is still developing) and continued using into their 30s. Mild impairment of learning ability and impairment of memory are the issues most frequently seen in these studies.
Marijuana is relatively benign in terms of health dangers, but the impairment of mental function and motor skills can put users and others around them at risk if they work or operate a motor vehicle while high.
Contrary to popular belief, marijuana can become addictive. A physical dependency has been shown to develop in about 10 to 20% of chronic users, according to studies conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and similar organizations. Withdrawal symptoms are milder than they are with most other Schedule I and II drugs, but dependent users generally experience strong cravings for the drug.
Marijuana is commonly combined with many other illicit drugs to either take the harsh edge off their high, or to ease the “come down” period. While the marijuana itself does not increase the health danger of most of these drugs, it can mask their effects and contribute to an overdose. The use of marijuana and alcohol together can cause nausea and vomiting as well as amplifying any paranoia that users experience from marijuana use.
As mentioned previously, roughly 10% of chronic users will develop a physical marijuana addiction. About 1/3 of the entire population of the United States will try it at least once in their lives, About 20 million people will use it each month. The Drug Abuse Warning Network reports about 400,000 emergency room visits that mention the use of marijuana each year, but these also can be combined with other substances
Marijuana users will often be lethargic, have red eyes and may have a tendency to giggle or laugh excessively. They will also often eat or drink more than usual while high.
Since marijuana addiction is less severe and dangerous than that of other addictive drugs, treatment on an outpatient basis may be appropriate even for those that have been using it for a long time. A certified treatment facility can design a program for patients whose lives are being affected by marijuana abuse and who wish to overcome their dependence. Visit Marijuana Rehab, for more information on the recovery process.
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