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Marijuana is a green, brown or gray mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds and flowers of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. It is used as a psychoactive (mind altering) recreational drug, for certain medical ailments and for religious and spiritual purposes. Sinsemilla, hash/hashish (resinous form) and hash oil (a sticky black liquid) are stronger forms of marijuana.

The main active chemical in cannabis is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), a psychoactive ingredient. The highest concentrations of THC are found in the leaves and flowers. Marijuana’s strength is correlated to the amount of THC it contains, and the effects on the user depend on the strength or potency of the THC.

Marijuana is most commonly inhaled. The shredded leaves, flowers, stems and seeds of the cannabis plant are smoked in cigarettes, cigars, pipes, water pipes or blunts (marijuana rolled in the leaf wrap of a hollowed-out cigar). Hashish is a related product created from the resin of marijuana flowers and is usually smoked by itself or in a mixture with tobacco but can be ingested orally. Marijuana can also be used to brew tea, and its oil-based extract can be mixed into food products.

Four states (Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska) and the District of Columbia have passed measures to legalize marijuana use, while an additional 14 states have decriminalized certain amounts of cannabis possession. Nearly half of U.S. states (23) and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana.

It’s not your Daddy’s weed

When the subject of legalizing cannabis is discussed, most people assume the talk is about the same marijuana that was available 20 to 30 years ago. Oftentimes, that is not the case since advanced techniques have evolved to produce ever more potent marijuana that is being sold in diverse ways, such as in food products.

Supercharged cannabis products are becoming more common, exposing a growing number of unsuspecting users to a powerful, concentrated drug that contains very high levels of THC. Concentrates include hash oils, waxes and infused edibles, many of which are produced in the states where marijuana is legal. Vaporizers, or e-cigarettes, are favored by many concentrate users because they are smokeless, odorless and easy to hide. When smoked or vaporized, marijuana’s psychoactive effect begins quickly, peaks quickly and goes away relatively quickly. This “vaping” is a concern in schools and elsewhere among youth, because it can produce a nearly instant high with little or no detection.

One of the dangers of smoking marijuana is the possibility that it has been laced with another, more dangerous substance such as cocaine, crack, PCP or even embalming fluid. Though reports of laced marijuana are infrequent and most lacing is done by the user, it is important to remember that with unregulated drugs such as marijuana, the consumer has no way of knowing what other types of substances have been added.

How does marijuana affect the young?

The popular notion seems to be that marijuana is a harmless pleasure, access to which should not be regulated or considered illegal. In January 2014, marijuana was noted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse as being the most widely used illicit drug in the United States, with about 12% of people 12 years of age or older reporting use in the past year and particularly high rates of use among young people. Only opiates have a higher admission rate among abused substances.
The regular use of marijuana during adolescence is of particular concern, since usage by this age group is associated with an increased likelihood of harmful consequences.

Researchers who have been studying the impact of marijuana addiction reported in May 2015 that boys who smoke marijuana during puberty display a wide range of hormonal differences when compared to those who have never smoked the drug. The scientists found that heavy marijuana smokers have significantly higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, than non-smokers. Marijuana addiction appears to create a double whammy by increasing cortisol levels and decreasing growth hormone levels, which stunts growth. According to the new study, boys who smoke marijuana go through puberty earlier than nonsmokers but grow more slowly than those who have never smoked cannabis. Nonsmokers were an average of 4.6 inches taller by the age of 20 than the chronic marijuana users. Cannabis abuse in childhood could make young boys shorter for the rest of their lives.

Is cannabis addictive?

A drug is addicting if it causes compulsive, uncontrollable drug craving, seeking and use, even in the face of negative health and social consequences. Research suggests that roughly nine percent of users become addicted to marijuana, with higher rates if the user starts at a young age (17 percent) and in those who use marijuana daily (25 to 50 percent). While not everyone who uses marijuana becomes addicted, when a user begins to seek out and take the drug compulsively, that person is said to be dependent or addicted to the drug.

Long-term users who try to quit often experience withdrawal symptoms such as sleeplessness, irritability, anxiety, decreased appetite and drug craving. Withdrawal symptoms usually begin about a day after the person stops using marijuana, peak in two to three days and may take about one to two weeks to subside.

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