What is it?

Marijuana, or Cannabis, refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, which contains the psychoactive(mind-altering) chemical delta-9-tetrahdrocannabinol(THC), as well as other related compounds. This plant material can also be concentrated in a resin called hashish or a sticky black liquid called hash oil. THC is believed to be the main chemical ingredient that produces the psychoactive effect.

How is it used?

Marijuana is often smoked in:

  • Hand-rolled cigarettes (joints).
  • Pipes
  • Water pipes (bongs).
  • Partly or completely emptied cigars filled with marijuana (blunts).
  • THC-riched resins extracted from marijuana (dabbing).
  • Vaping dry herb, THC solution, or THC wax.

Smoking THC-rich resins extracted from the marijuana plant is on the rise. People are using various forms of these extracts, such as:

  • Hash oil or Honey oil, which is a gooey liquid.
  • Wax or Budder, which is a soft solid with a texture like lip balm.
  • Shatter, which is a hard, amber-colored solid.

These extracts can deliver extremely large amounts of THC to users, and their use has sent some people to the emergency room. Another danger is in preparing these extracts, which usually involves butane (lighter fluid). A number of people who have used butane to make extracts at home have caused fires and explosions and have been seriously burned.

To avoid inhaling smoke, more people are using vaporizers. These devices pull the active ingredients (including THC) from the marijuana and collect their vapor in a storage unit. A person then inhales the vapor, not the smoke.

Marijuana is also mixed in food (edibles) or brewed in tea.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. Its use is widespread among young people. According to a yearly survey of middle and high school students, rates of marijuana use have steadied in the past few years after several years of increase. However, the number of young people who believe marijuana use is risky is decreasing. Legalization of marijuana for medical use or adult recreational use in a growing number of states may affect these views. Recreational use of marijuana is still illegal in the state of New York.

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Effects of Marijuana Use

Marijuana has both short-and long-term effects on the brain.

Short-term Effects

When a person smokes marijuana, THC quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. The blood carries the chemical to the brain and other organs throughout the body. The body absorbs THC more slowly when the person eats or drinks it. In that case, the user generally feels the effects after 30 minutes to 1 hour.

THC acts on specific brain cell receptors that ordinarily react to natural THC-like chemicals in the brain. These natural chemicals play a role in normal brain development and function. Marijuana over activates parts of the brain that contains the highest number of these receptors. This causes the “high” that users feel. Other effects include:

  • Altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors).
  • Altered sense of time.
  • Changes in mood.
  • Impaired body movement.
  • Difficulty with thinking and problem-solving.
  • Impaired memory.


Long-term Effects

Marijuana also affects brain development. When marijuana users begin using as teenagers, the drug may reduce thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions. Marijuana’s effects on these abilities may last a long time or even be permanent.

Other Physical and Mental Effects

  • Breathing problems.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Problems with child development during and after pregnancy.
  • Temporary hallucinations.
  • Temporary paranoia.
  • Schizophrenia.


Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?

Some research suggests that marijuana use is likely to come before use of other drugs. Marijuana use is also linked to addiction to other substances, including nicotine. In addition, animal studies show that the THC in marijuana makes other drugs more pleasurable to the brain. Although these findings support the idea of marijuana as a “gateway drug,” the majority of people who use marijuana don’t go on to use other “harder” drugs.

Marijuana Research Report


Is Marijuana Addictive?

Contrary to common belief, marijuana CAN be addictive. Research suggests that 30 percent of users may develop some degree of problem use, which can lead to dependence and in severe cases takes the form of addiction. People who begin using marijuana before age 18 are 4 to 7 times more likely than adults to develop problem use. Dependence becomes addiction when the person can’t stop using marijuana even though it interferes with his or her daily life.


How Can People Get Treatment for Marijuana Addiction?

Long-term marijuana users trying to quit report withdrawal symptoms that make quitting difficult. These include:

  • Grouchiness.
  • Sleeplessness.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Anxiety.
  • Cravings.


Behavioral support has been effective in treating marijuana addiction. Examples include therapy and motivational incentives (providing rewards to patients who remain substance free). No medications are currently available to treat marijuana addiction. However, continuing research may lead to new medications that help ease withdrawal symptoms, block the effects of marijuana, and prevent relapse.


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Marijuana Research Report Series

SAMHSA: Know the Risks of Marijuana

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Smart Approaches to Marijuana Website

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