Marijuana is the most common illicit drug used in the US, and the drug most often detected by drug testing. Ambivalent social attitudes and myths account, in part, for widespread marijuana use: Many people consider marijuana a "safe" drug, and believe experimenting with marijuana is a normal part of teenage life. The facts about marijuana are quite different.
Marijuana is a greenish grey mixture of dried and shredded parts of Cannabis sativa, the hemp plant. The leaves, buds, seeds and stems of the plant are all considered marijuana. THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Marijuana is most often smoked in hand rolled cigarettes known as joints or nails. Some marijuana users cut open cigars, replacing the tobacco with marijuana to create a blunt. Blunts may also contain mixtures of marijuana and crack cocaine.
Marijuana can be smoked in a dry pipe or water pipe known as a bong. The drug may also be mixed with food or brewed as a tea.
Many adults think of marijuana as the pot they smoked in the 1960s and early 1970s. They may have experimented with marijuana as teens, so they may not view marijuana as a serious drug or they may feel that warning their children to avoid marijuana use is hypocritical.
Drug analysis reveals that today's marijuana bears little resemblance to the marijuana of the sixties. Since the 1970s the THC levels in marijuana have skyrocketed from only one percent THC to an average of more than six percent in 2002.
Twenty years ago, six percent of THC was found only in sinsemilla, or "high quality" marijuana. Today's sinsemilla contains an average of thirteen percent THC, and testing of some sinsemilla samples has revealed THC levels as high as thirty three percent.
The facts about marijuana are this:
THC in marijuana enters the blood stream and passes from the blood into the brain. In the brain, THC attaches to nerve center receptors known as cannabinoid receptors. Many cannabinoid receptors are present in areas of the brain that control pleasure, thought, concentration, memory, coordination, sensory perception and time perception. THC stimulates the brain to release dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure and rewards.
Within minutes of smoking marijuana, a number of physiologic changes occur. The heart rate increases by an average of twenty to fifty beats a minute. Blood vessels in the eyes expand, making eyes bloodshot. In the lungs, the bronchial tubes relax and expand. Users may experience dry mouth, sudden hunger or thirst. The hands may feel cold and start to shake.
Mentally, marijuana produces euphoria. Colors, sounds and visual perception all intensify. Time perception slows, and marijuana users may focus attention on one object for long periods of time.
Feelings of euphoria can last one to three hours if marijuana is smoked, or up to four hours when ingested with food. As marijuana euphoria passes, the user often becomes sleepy and may feel depressed.
Children are experimenting with pot more often and at earlier ages than preceding generations. Twenty percent of eighth graders in the US report having tried marijuana at least once and nine percent describe themselves as current users. In the 2001 tenth grade class, forty percent of students had tried marijuana, and twenty percent were current users. By twelfth grade, fifty percent of students admitted to trying marijuana, and the number of current users increased to 22 percent.
These facts about marijuana use are significant. Children rarely try other drugs before first experimenting with alcohol, tobacco or marijuana. Also, the risk of developing a marijuana dependency is three times greater in teen users than in adults.
The widespread notion that marijuana is non-addictive and harmless is among the most popular myths about marijuana. In fact, long-term marijuana use leads to cravings and compulsive use of the drug. Over time, the addict requires larger doses of marijuana to get high, a situation that may encourage the user to mix marijuana with other drugs.
Once marijuana addiction or dependency develops, withdrawal symptoms may occur if marijuana use is suddenly stopped. Marijuana withdrawal symptoms include irritability, anxiety, insomnia and increased aggression — in spite of the myth that marijuana "mellows" users.
In addition to marijuana addiction, research and testing have revealed other facts about marijuana that contradict the popular notion that marijuana is a harmless drug:
Marijuana is readily accessible. Some 55 percent of children aged twelve to seventeen report marijuana would be "very easy" to obtain. For this reason, parents should be aware of the signs of marijuana use. While under the acute effects of the drug, a marijuana user may exhibit the following symptoms:
Other warning signs of marijuana addiction can include a rise in truancy and a drop in academic performance. Marijuana addicts may exhibit a shift in eating habits, sleep patterns or personal hygiene. Symptoms such as depression, hostility, social withdrawal and fatigue may also appear, although such symptoms may indicate a wide range of medical conditions. Parents should also watch for:
Parents remain the strongest influence on their children's attitudes towards marijuana and other drugs. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse reports that 27 percent of children who believe their parents do not "strongly disapprove" of drug use reported use of drugs in the month prior to the survey. In comparison, only 4.9 percent of children who reported strong parental disapproval of drug use had used drugs over the previous month.
Children whose parents stay involved with them and set appropriate limits during the teen years are less likely to use drugs. Discussing the facts about marijuana and drug use with children helps them make informed decisions about marijuana use.
Eating meals together, taking walks and playing board games provide environments in which children and parents can communicate. If children truly want to use marijuana, they'll find it, but parental involvement is one of the best anti-marijuana strategies.
What you knew as pot or grass now has many colorful monikers. Your children may use these terms with their friends, believing that you have no idea what they mean:
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (updated 2002). Marijuana: Facts parents need to know (revised) [NIH Publication No. 02-4036].
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2002, October). Marijuana abuse [NIH Publication No. 02-3859]. NIDA Research Report Series.
Office of National Drug Control Policy. (2004, February). Marijuana [NCJ 198099]. ONDCP Drug Policy Information Clearinghouse Fact Sheet.
Office of National Drug Control Policy. (updated 2002). Street terms: Drugs and the drug trade.
information on health-related topics, not medical advice, diagnosis or
treatment recommendations. Please consult your physician if you have questions