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marijuana (cannabis)

What is marijuana?

Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. The plant contains the mind-altering chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other related compounds. Extracts can also be made from the cannabis plant

Nicknames and Street Names for Marijuana: Weed, Pot, Grass, Dope, Reefer, Ganja, Hash, Herb, Chronic, Green, Bud, Mary Jane, Devils Lettuce, Skunk, Flower, Aunt Mary, Schmeed

Nicknames and Street Names for Marijuana-Laced Drugs: Sometimes marijuana is combined with other drugs to obtain a certain high. Be aware of the following slang terms for these types of “mixed” drugs:

Marijuana laced with some sort of narcotic:  Amp Joint, Dust, Dusting 

Marijuana and heroin:  Atom Bomb, A-Bomb, Canade, Woola, Woolie, Woo-Woo, Brown

Marijuana and PCP:  Ace, Bohd, Chips, Frios, Zoom

Marijuana and LSD: Beast, LBJ

Marijuana and crack: Buda, Butter, Crack Back, Fry Daddy, Geek, Juice Joint

Marijuana and cocaine: Banano, Basuco, Bush, Chase, Cocktail, Cocoa Puff, Hooter, Jim Jones, Lace

Marijuana is the most commonly used addictive drug after tobacco and alcohol. Its use is widespread among young people. In 2018, more than 11.8 million young adults used marijuana in the past year. According to the Monitoring the Future survey, rates of past year marijuana use among middle and high school students have remained steady, but the number of teens in 8th and 10th grades who say they use it daily has increased. With the growing popularity of vaping devices, teens have started vaping THC (the ingredient in marijuana that produces the high), with nearly 4% of 12th graders saying they vape THC daily. In addition, the number of young people who believe regular 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. Read more about marijuana as medicine  Drug Facts: Marijuana as Medicine.

how is marijuana used?

People smoke marijuana in hand-rolled cigarettes (joints) or in pipes or water pipes (bongs). They also smoke it in blunts—emptied cigars that have been partly or completely refilled with marijuana. To avoid inhaling smoke, some 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. Some vaporizers use a liquid marijuana extract, and THC-rich resins.

When marijuana is smoked, THC and other chemicals in the plant pass from the lungs into the bloodstream, which rapidly carries them throughout the body to the brain. The person begins to experience effects almost immediately (see "How does marijuana produce its effects?"). Many people experience a pleasant euphoria and sense of relaxation. Other common effects, which may vary dramatically among different people, include heightened sensory perception (e.g., brighter colors), laughter, altered perception of time, and increased appetite.

If marijuana is consumed in foods or beverages, these effects are somewhat delayed—usually appearing after 30 minutes to 1 hour—because the drug must first pass through the digestive system. Eating or drinking marijuana delivers significantly less THC into the bloodstream than smoking an equivalent amount of the plant. Because of the delayed effects, people may inadvertently consume more THC than they intend to.

Pleasant experiences with marijuana are by no means universal. Instead of relaxation and euphoria, some people experience anxiety, fear, distrust, or panic. These effects are more common when a person takes too much, the marijuana has an unexpectedly high potency, or the person is inexperienced. People who have taken large doses of marijuana may experience an acute psychosis, which includes hallucinations, delusions, and a loss of the sense of personal identity. These unpleasant but temporary reactions are distinct from longer-lasting psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, that may be associated with the use of marijuana in vulnerable individuals. (See "Is there a link between marijuana use and psychiatric disorders?")

Although detectable amounts of THC may remain in the body for days or even weeks after use, the noticeable effects of smoked marijuana generally last from 1 to 3 hours, and those of marijuana consumed in food or drink may last for many hours.

People can mix marijuana in food (edibles), such as brownies, cookies, or candy, or brew it as a tea. Large amounts of drinks, snacks, candy, butter and other consumable foods are now produced with THC from outside states that are recreationally legal. These products now flood into our state and are illegally sold.  A newly popular method of use is smoking or eating different forms of THC-rich resins.

A newly popular method of use is smoking or eating different forms of Marijuana extracts (THC-rich resins)

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Marijuana Extracts

Smoking THC-rich resins extracted from the marijuana plant is on the rise. People call this practice "dabbing". These extracts come in various forms, such as

Image by Jhon David
cannabis extracts

wax / budder

a soft solid with a texture like lip balm

Shatter

shatter / glass

a hard, amber-colored solid

cannabis extracts

hash oil / honey Oil

a gooey liquid

Image by Jhon David

These extracts can deliver extremely large amounts of THC to the body, 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 have caused fires and explosions and have been seriously burned from using butane to make extracts at home.

DElta 8 THC

Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as delta-8 THC, is a psychoactive substance found in the Cannabis sativa plant, of which marijuana and hemp are two varieties. Delta-8 THC is one of over 100 cannabinoids produced naturally by the cannabis plant but is not found in significant amounts in the cannabis plant. As a result, concentrated amounts of delta-8 THC are typically manufactured from hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD). 

It is important for consumers to be aware that delta-8 THC products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use in any context. They may be marketed in ways that put the public health at risk and should especially be kept out of reach of children and pets. 

Here are 5 things you should know about delta-8 THC to keep you and those you care for safe from products that may pose serious health risks: 

1. Delta-8 THC products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use and may be marketed in ways that put the public health at risk.

The FDA is aware of the growing concerns surrounding delta-8 THC products currently being sold online and in stores. These products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use in any context. Some concerns include variability in product formulations and product labeling, other cannabinoid and terpene content, and variable delta-8 THC concentrations. Additionally, some of these products may be labeled simply as “hemp products,” which may mislead consumers who associate “hemp” with “non-psychoactive.” Furthermore, the FDA is concerned by the proliferation of products that contain delta-8 THC and are marketed for therapeutic or medical uses, although they have not been approved by the FDA. Selling unapproved products with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims is not only a violation of federal law, but also can put consumers at risk, as these products have not been proven to be safe or effective. This deceptive marketing of unproven treatments raises significant public health concerns because patients and other consumers may use them instead of approved therapies to treat serious and even fatal diseases.

2. The FDA has received adverse event reports involving delta-8 THC-containing products.

The FDA received 104 reports of adverse events in patients who consumed delta-8 THC products between December 1, 2020, and February 28, 2022. Of these 104 adverse event reports:

  • 77% involved adults, 8% involved pediatric patients less than 18 years of age, and 15% did not report age.

  • 55% required intervention (e.g., evaluation by emergency medical services) or hospital admission.

  • 66% described adverse events after ingestion of delta-8 THC-containing food products (e.g., brownies, gummies). 

  • Adverse events included, but were not limited to: hallucinations, vomiting, tremor, anxiety, dizziness, confusion, and loss of consciousness. 

National poison control centers received 2,362 exposure cases of delta-8 THC products between January 1, 2021 (i.e., date that delta-8 THC product code was added to database), and February 28, 2022. Of the 2,362 exposure cases:

  • 58% involved adults, 41% involved pediatric patients less than 18 years of age, and 1% did not report age.

  • 40% involved unintentional exposure to delta-8 THC and 82% of these unintentional exposures affected pediatric patients.

  • 70% required health care facility evaluation, of which 8% resulted in admission to a critical care unit; 45% of patients requiring health care facility evaluation were pediatric patients.

  • One pediatric case was coded with a medical outcome of death.

3. Delta-8 THC has psychoactive and intoxicating effects.

Delta-8 THC has psychoactive and intoxicating effects, similar to delta-9 THC (i.e., the component responsible for the “high” people may experience from using cannabis). The FDA is aware of media reports of delta-8 THC products getting consumers “high.”  The FDA is also concerned that delta-8 THC products likely expose consumers to much higher levels of the substance than are naturally occurring in hemp cannabis raw extracts. Thus, historical use of cannabis cannot be relied upon in establishing a level of safety for these products in humans.  

4. Delta-8 THC products often involve use of potentially harmful chemicals to create the concentrations of delta-8 THC claimed in the marketplace.

The natural amount of delta-8 THC in hemp is very low, and additional chemicals are needed to convert other cannabinoids in hemp, like CBD, into delta-8 THC (i.e., synthetic conversion). Concerns with this process include:

  • Some manufacturers may use potentially unsafe household chemicals to make delta-8 THC through this chemical synthesis process. Additional chemicals may be used to change the color of the final product. The final delta-8 THC product may have potentially harmful by-products (contaminants) due to the chemicals used in the process, and there is uncertainty with respect to other potential contaminants that may be present or produced depending on the composition of the starting raw material. If consumed or inhaled, these chemicals, including some used to make (synthesize) delta-8 THC and the by-products created during synthesis, can be harmful.

  • Manufacturing of delta-8 THC products may occur in uncontrolled or unsanitary settings, which may lead to the presence of unsafe contaminants or other potentially harmful substances. 

5. Delta-8 THC products should be kept out of the reach of children and pets.

Manufacturers are packaging and labeling these products in ways that may appeal to children (gummies, chocolates, cookies, candies, etc.). These products may be purchased online, as well as at a variety of retailers, including convenience stores and gas stations, where there may not be age limits on who can purchase these products. As discussed above, there have been numerous poison control center alerts involving pediatric patients who were exposed to delta-8 THC-containing products. Additionally, animal poison control centers have indicated a sharp overall increase in accidental exposure of pets to these products. Keep these products out of reach of children and pets. 

Delta 8

How does marijuana affect the brain?

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, they generally feel the effects after 30 minutes to 1 hour.

THC acts on specific brain cell receptors that ordinarily react to natural THC-like chemicals. These natural chemicals play a role in normal brain development and function.

Marijuana over activates parts of the brain that contain the highest number of these receptors. This causes the "high" that people 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

  • Hallucinations (when taken in high doses)

  • Delusions (when taken in high doses)

  • Psychosis (risk is highest with regular use of high potency marijuana)

Long-Term Effects

Marijuana also affects brain development. When people begin using marijuana as teenagers, the drug may impair thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions. Researchers are still studying how long marijuana's effects last and whether some changes may be permanent.

For example, a study from New Zealand conducted in part by researchers at Duke University showed that people who started smoking marijuana heavily in their teens and had an ongoing marijuana use disorder lost an average of 8 IQ points between ages 13 and 38. The lost mental abilities didn't fully return in those who quit marijuana as adults. Those who started smoking marijuana as adults didn't show notable IQ declines.

In another recent study on twins, those who used marijuana showed a significant decline in general knowledge and in verbal ability (equivalent to 4 IQ points) between the preteen years and early adulthood, but no predictable difference was found between twins when one used marijuana and the other didn't. This suggests that the IQ decline in marijuana users may be caused by something other than marijuana, such as shared familial factors (e.g., genetics, family environment). NIDA’s Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, a major longitudinal study, is tracking a large sample of young Americans from late childhood to early adulthood to help clarify how and to what extent marijuana and other substances, alone and in combination, affect adolescent brain development. Read more about the ABCD study on our Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD Study) webpage.

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A Rise in Marijuana’s THC Levels

The amount of THC in marijuana has been increasing steadily over the past few decades. For a person who's new to marijuana use, this may mean exposure to higher THC levels with a greater chance of a harmful reaction. Higher THC levels may explain the rise in emergency room visits involving marijuana use.

The popularity of edibles also increases the chance of harmful reactions. Edibles take longer to digest and produce a high. Therefore, people may consume more to feel the effects faster, leading to dangerous results.

Higher THC levels may also mean a greater risk for addiction if people are regularly exposing themselves to high doses.

Know the Risks of Marijuana

Marijuana use comes with real risks that can impact a person’s health and life.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal substance in the U.S. and its use is growing. Marijuana use among all adult age groups, both sexes, and pregnant women is going up. At the same time, the perception of how harmful marijuana use can be is declining. Increasingly, young people today do not consider marijuana use a risky behavior.

But there are real risks for people who use marijuana, especially youth and young adults, and women who are pregnant or nursing. Today’s marijuana is stronger than ever before. People can and do become addicted to marijuana.

Approximately 1 in 10 people who use marijuana will become addicted. When they start before age 18, the rate of addiction rises to 1 in 6.

Brain health

Marijuana can cause permanent IQ loss of as much as 8 points when people start using it at a young age. These IQ points do not come back, even after quitting marijuana.

Mental health

Studies link marijuana use to depression, anxiety, suicide planning, and psychotic episodes. It is not known, however, if marijuana use is the cause of these conditions.

Athletic Performance

Research shows that marijuana affects timing, movement, and coordination, which can harm athletic performance.

Driving

People who drive under the influence of marijuana can experience dangerous effects: slower reactions, lane weaving, decreased coordination, and difficulty reacting to signals and sounds on the road.

Baby’s health and development

Marijuana use during pregnancy may cause fetal growth restriction, premature birth, stillbirth, and problems with brain development, resulting in hyperactivity and poor cognitive function. THC and other chemicals from marijuana can also be passed from a mother to her baby through breast milk, further impacting a child’s healthy development.

Daily life

Using marijuana can affect performance and how well people do in life. Research shows that people who use marijuana are more likely to have relationship problems, worse educational outcomes, lower career achievement, and reduced life satisfaction.

Health Effects of Marijuana During Pregnancy

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Is marijuana safe and effective as medicine?

The potential medicinal properties of marijuana and its components have been the subject of research and heated debate for decades. THC itself has proven medical benefits in particular formulations. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved THC-based medications, dronabinol (Marinol®) and nabilone (Cesamet®), prescribed in pill form for the treatment of nausea in patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy and to stimulate appetite in patients with wasting syndrome due to AIDS.

In addition, several other marijuana-based medications have been approved or are undergoing clinical trials. Nabiximols (Sativex®), a mouth spray that is currently available in the United Kingdom, Canada, and several European countries for treating the spasticity and neuropathic pain that may accompany multiple sclerosis, combines THC with another chemical found in marijuana called cannabidiol (CBD).

The FDA also approved a CBD-based liquid medication called Epidiolex® for the treatment of two forms of severe childhood epilepsy, Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. It’s being delivered to patients in a reliable dosage form and through a reproducible route of delivery to ensure that patients derive the anticipated benefits. CBD does not have the rewarding properties of THC.

Researchers generally consider medications like these, which use purified chemicals derived from or based on those in the marijuana plant, to be more promising therapeutically than use of the whole marijuana plant or its crude extracts. Development of drugs from botanicals such as the marijuana plant poses numerous challenges. Botanicals may contain hundreds of unknown, active chemicals, and it can be difficult to develop a product with accurate and consistent doses of these chemicals. Use of marijuana as medicine also poses other problems such as the adverse health effects of smoking and THC-induced cognitive impairment. Nevertheless, a growing number of states have legalized dispensing of marijuana or its extracts to people with a range of medical conditions.

An additional concern with "medical marijuana" is that little is known about the long-term impact of its use by people with health- and/or age-related vulnerabilities—such as older adults or people with cancer, AIDS, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, or other neurodegenerative diseases. Further research will be needed to determine whether people whose health has been compromised by disease or its treatment (e.g., chemotherapy) are at greater risk for adverse health outcomes from marijuana use.