What is it? Marijuana, more formally known as known as cannabis (aka weed, pot, grass, herb, bhang, dope, hemp, and reefer), is a natural growing plant. Over the last 3 decades, given in part to the demand in the United States and focus on increased cultivation techniques, the psychoactive ingredient THC is more concentrated in marijuana today than in the 60’s when the drug first became popular. Marijuana is the leaf of the hemp plant which is most often smoked as a hand rolled cigarette or in various types of pipes. Hashish, derived from the resin or tar like oil from the plant, is significantly more potent than the marijuana leaves of the plant.
Marijuana is a mood altering substance. It affects motor skills and decision making, which can contribute to accidents and making poor choices in risky situations. Marijuana shares the addictive properties of other drugs such as tolerance (getting used to it and needing more) and withdrawal (in the form of cravings for the drug.)
How does it affect the body?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC for short) is the active ingredient in marijuana and directly affects the brain. It has anti-nausea properties and increases appetite which makes it especially attractive to those in treatment for cancer. It is sometimes used in the treatment of an eye condition called glaucoma. However, most people who smoke marijuana do so because they like how it makes them feel. Many find they are more able to relax, and it slows them down to better appreciate their surroundings and their own thought processes. Others experience the direct opposite effect: fear, anxiety, the feeling that everyone is watching them and panic. Either way, the effects usually last a few hours followed by fatigue. The THC then gets stored in the fat cells which are not easily gotten rid of, so it remains in the body for weeks to months.
Some short-term effects of marijuana use can be:
- A distorted sense of time
- Interference with movements and coordination
- Increase in reaction time
- Lowering motivation, a sense of lethargy
- Decreased inhibitions
- Changes in judgment and decision making
- Effect on memory and learning
- Perception of touch, sound and vision
- Thinking and approach to problem solving
- Heart rate
Long-term effects can include:
- Decreased motivation
- Weakened thinking, problem-solving, memory
- Poorer academic performance
- Higher incidents of heart disease
- More coughs and colds
- Significantly more prone to respiratory infections
- Paranoid thinking
- Withdrawal symptoms (cravings)
- Higher risk for tongue, mouth and lung cancers from the smoke
- Gynecomastia (development of breast tissue in men)
- Decreased sperm counts in some men
- Erectile dysfunction in some men
- Irregular menstrual cycles in some women
How to recognize if someone has recently used marijuana:
- Slowed down
- Seems slightly woozy or dizzy
- Acting silly and giggly for no particular reason
- Red, bloodshot eyes and more sensitive to light (sunglasses indoors)
- Slightly “off” when connecting with a person who is not also high
- Smoky sweet smell or overuse of something to cover up the smell
- Difficulties remembering things that just recently happened.
How to cut back on use
A fair amount of regular smokers decrease their use or stop on their own, when, over time and with maturity they feel they have had enough. A significant number of regular smokers do develop an addiction in that they crave after it and make sure that they somehow have access to the drug; otherwise they feel nervous not having it around. In general, people wanting to stop inform those they trust about the extent of their marijuana use, to get their understanding and support as they change their association to the people, places and things that are triggers for them to have cravings. Connecting with others who used to use heavily and now are not using marijuana or other drugs is invaluable.