What is marijuana?
Extent of use
Why do young people use?
What are the signs of use?
Effects of marijuana
Effects on the lungs
A drug is defined as addicting if it causes compulsive, often uncontrollable
drug craving, seeking, and use, even in the face of negative health
and social consequences. Marijuana readily meets this standard criterion.
As the number of young people who use marijuana has increased,
the number who view the drug as harmful has decreased. Among high
school seniors surveyed in 1997, current marijuana use has increased
by about 72 percent since 1991. The proportion of those seniors
who believe regular use of marijuana is harmful has dropped by about
26 percent since 1991.
These changes in perception and knowledge may be due to a decrease
in anti-drug messages in the media, an increase in pro-drug messages
through the pop culture, and a lack of awareness among parents about
this resurgence in drug use - most thinking, perhaps, that this
threat to their children had diminished.
Because many parents of this generation of teenagers experimented
with marijuana when they were in college, they often find it difficult
to talk about marijuana use with their children and to set strict
ground rules against drug use. But marijuana use today starts at
a younger age - and more potent forms of the drug are available
to these young children. Parents need to recognize that marijuana
use is a very serious threat - and they need to tell their children
not to use it. While it is best to talk about drugs when children
are young, it is never too late to talk about the dangers of drug
Marijuana is a green or gray mixture of dried, shredded flowers
and leaves of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. There are over 200
slang terms for marijuana including "pot," "herb,"
and "weed". It is usually smoked as a cigarette (called
a joint) or in a pipe. In recent years, marijuana has appeared in
cigars that have been emptied of tobacco and refilled with marijuana,
often in combination with another drug, such as crack.
The main active chemical in marijuana is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
In 1988, it was discovered that the membranes of certain nerve cells
contain protein receptors that bind THC. The short-term effects
of marijuana use include problems with memory and learning, distorted
perception, difficulty in thinking and problem-solving, loss of
coordination, increased heart rate, anxiety, and panic attacks.
Marijuana remains the most commonly used illicit drug in the United
States. There were an estimated 2.1 million people who started using
marijuana in 1998. Reports from hospital emergency rooms indicated
marijuana use has increased significantly, particularly among 12
to 17-year olds. According to Health and Human Services Secretary,
Dr. Donna E. Shalala, American teenagers are "a generation
Fact: Research shows that nearly 50 percent of
teenagers try marijuana before they graduate from high school.
Children and young teens start using marijuana for many reasons.
Curiosity and the desire to fit into a social group are common reasons.
Certainly, youngsters who have already begun to smoke cigarettes
and/or use alcohol are at high risk for marijuana use. Research
suggests that the use of alcohol and drugs by other family members
plays a strong role in whether children start using drugs. Parents,
grandparents and older brothers and sisters in the home are models
for children to follow.
Children who become more heavily involved with marijuana can become
dependent, which may be a prime reason for using the drug. Others
mention psychological coping as a reason for their use - to deal
with anxiety, anger, depression and boredom. But marijuana use is
not an effective method for coping with life's problems. Staying
high can be a way of simply not dealing with the problems and challenges
The following are signs that someone may be using marijuana:
- Dizziness and trouble walking
- Very red, bloodshot eyes
- Silliness and giggling for no reason
- Difficulty remembering things
- Signs of drugs and drug paraphernalia
- Use of eye drops
- Odor on clothes and in the bedroom
- Clothing, posters
- Signs of drugs
- Use of eye drops
Look for withdrawal, depression, fatigue, carelessness with grooming,
hostility, and deteriorating relationships with family members and
friends. Changes in a student's academic performance, increased
absenteeism or truancy, lost interest in sports or other favorite
activities, and changes in eating or sleeping habits could be related
to drug use.
Within a few minutes of inhaling marijuana smoke, the user will
likely feel, along with intoxication, a dry mouth, rapid heartbeat,
some loss of coordination, poor sense of balance, and slower reaction
time. Blood vessels in the eye expand, so the user's eyes look red.
As the immediate effects fade, usually after 2 to 3 hours, the user
may become sleepy.
People may feel high (intoxicated and/or euphoric). It's common
for marijuana users to become engrossed with ordinary sights, sounds,
or tastes, and trivial events may seem extremely interesting or
funny. Marijuana use by teenagers who have prior social or psychological
problems can quickly lead to dependence on the drug.
Marijuana can be harmful in a number of ways, through both immediate
effects and damage to health over time. Marijuana hinders the user's
short-term memory (memory for recent events), and he or she may
have trouble handling complex tasks. Under the influence of marijuana,
students may find it hard to study and learn. Drug users also may
become involved in risky sexual behavior. There is a strong link
between drug use and unsafe sex and the spread of HIV, the virus
that causes AIDS.
Fact: Marijuana has adverse effects on many of
the skills for driving a car. Driving while high frequently leads
to car accidents.
Someone who smokes marijuana regularly may have many of the same
respiratory problems as tobacco smokers. These individuals may have
daily cough, symptoms of chronic bronchitis, and more frequent chest
colds. Continuing to smoke marijuana can lead to abnormal functioning
of lung tissue, injured or destroyed by marijuana smoke. Regardless
of the THC content, the amount of tar inhaled by marijuana smokers
and the level of carbon monoxide absorbed are three to five times
greater than among tobacco smokers.