Marijuana is the most commonly and widely used illicit drug in the United States, and yet many people don’t know much about it. Marijuana is derived from the hemp plant and is brownish or green in color. It is made up of dried and crumbled leaves and stems and sometimes seeds from the hemp plant that users generally smoke, although it can also be consumed in food and or in oil form. Some people also like to brew the leaves to make a tea and consume it that way.
How Does Marijuana Work?
When users smoke or consume marijuana, a chemical called THC is released into the body, causing the “high” that users crave. Effects usually begin within minutes of use, and can last for up to several hours. Users will feel relaxed and in a good mood generally, although there are unpleasant side effects as well.
Immediate Side Effects Of Marijuana Use
- Anxiety and paranoia can occur while high on marijuana.
- Reaction time is slowed, which can make it dangerous to drive or operate machinery.
- Heart rate is increased for several hours after using marijuana.
Studies show that a user has a 4.8 greater chance of having a heart attack in the hour after using marijuana. This may be due to the increased heart rate or the marijuana can cause heart arrhythmias, particularly in those who already have cardiovascular issues like high blood pressure or a mitral valve prolapse. It’s also important to remember that it’s possible to have those issues without being aware of it, so caution is advised.
- Distorted perception can occur while high. For instance, not being able to accurately judge distances or depths or time.
- Physically, users may notice increased heart rate, bloodshot eyes and dry mouth.
- Memory can be impaired, as can problem-solving abilities.
Long-Term Side Effects Of Marijuana Use
People who smoke marijuana over a long period of time may develop a chronic cough or chronic bronchitis. They are also at risk for lung disease and lung cancer just as cigarette smokers are.
Marijuana smokers are more likely to get lung infections like pneumonia, which can be very serious.
It is possible to become addicted to marijuana, which can cost a good deal of money long term and put users at risk for legal trouble because it is still illegal for everyone in many states. Smoking marijuana often over the long term can increase the chances of the user suffering hallucinations or psychosis. Chronic users may also be more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression, although it’s difficult to say if that is due to causation or correlation. Chronic use of marijuana may lead to memory and concentration problems. Both short and long-term memory may be compromised.
How Common Is Marijuana Use?
In a given year in North America, it is estimated that 29.5 million people will use marijuana at least once. As far as active, current illicit drug users – defined as someone who has used some illegal drug in the past 30 days – 76.8 of those users report using marijuana and for 60.1 percent of those people, marijuana is the only drug used. Males tend to use marijuana more often than females, but only by a slim margin. While in the past, some thought of marijuana as something young people did, the increase in people using marijuana legally for medical purposes has changed that, and now people of all ages are more likely to be trying marijuana for the first time.
Legalization And Medical Marijuana
On the federal level, marijuana is still illegal. However, 23 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws allowing the use of medical marijuana and the federal government has agreed not to step in or prosecute anyone for following their own state guidelines pertaining to the use of medical marijuana. The following states allow medical marijuana as of 2015:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
- District of Columbia
There are a few medical conditions for which doctors can approve medical marijuana. These conditions include: Cancer, Glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Seizures or muscle spasms. It is also possible to get a prescription for severe pain or nausea, or for those experiencing severe weight loss or body wasting. If a doctor prescribes medical marijuana, it should be used only as recommended.