Marijuana is the word used to describe the dried flowers, seeds and leaves of the Indian hemp plant. Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug (15.2 million past-month users) according to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). That year, marijuana was used by 75.6 percent of current illicit drug users (defined as having used the drug sometime in the 30 days before the survey) and was the only drug used by 53.3 percent of them.

At one point marijuana was considered a pharmaceutical drug and used to treat various conditions including labor pains, nausea, and rheumatism. But The Controlled Substances Act in 1970 classified marijuana along with heroin and LSD as a schedule 1 drug; meaning it had a high abuse potential and no accepted medical use. While marijuana continues to be illegal on a federal level, recently a number of states have voted to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use.

Marijuana is considered a hallucinogen and the active ingredient delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinol (THC) is responsible for the drug’s effects. After passing through the lungs THC goes into the bloodstream and organs including the brain. The effects can last from 1-3 hours.

Marijuana Side Effects

While many marijuana users claim that the drug is harmless, research shows that marijuana is highly addictive. NIDA says that marijuana's main psychoactive ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), binds to cannabinoid (CB) receptors, widely distributed throughout the nervous system and other parts of the body. In the brain, CB receptors are found in high concentrations in areas that influence pleasure, memory, thought, concentration, sensory and time perception, appetite, pain and movement coordination. That's why marijuana can have wide-ranging effects, including:

  • Impaired short-term memory 
  • Slowed reaction time and impaired motor coordination
  • Altered judgment and decision making 
  • Distorted perception 
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Increased anxiety and paranoia

Marijuana can cause anxiety and panic disorders and can produce physical ailments like those associated with tobacco smokers such as bronchitis, emphysema and bronchial asthma. While the long term effects of marijuana continue to be controversial, any prolonged abuse a substance will have adverse health effects on the user.

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