Fact: There are stronger forms of marijuana
available to adolescents today than in the 1960's.
Stronger marijuana means stronger effects.
A: Marijuana is a
green, brown, or gray mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the
hemp plant (Cannabis sativa). Before the 1960s, many Americans had never heard of
marijuana, but today it is the most often used illegal drug in this country.
Cannabis is a term
that refers to marijuana and other drugs made from the same plant. Strong forms of
cannabis include sinse-milla (sin-seh-me-yah), hashish ("hash" for short), and
All forms of cannabis
are mind-altering (psychoactive) drugs; they all contain THC
(delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active chemical in marijuana. They also contain
more than 400 other chemicals.
Marijuana's effect on
the user depends on the strength or potency of the THC it contains. THC potency has
increased since the 1970s but has been about the same since the mid-1980s. The strength of
the drug is measured by the average amount of THC in test samples confiscated by law
- Most ordinary marijuana has an
average of 3 percent THC.
- Sinsemilla (made from just the
buds and flowering tops of female plants) has an average of 7.5 percent THC, with a range
as high as 24 percent.
- Hashish (the sticky resin from
the female plant flowers) has an average of 3.6 percent, with a range as high as 28
- Hash oil, a tar-like liquid
distilled from hashish, has an average of 16 percent, with a range as high as 43 percent.
A: There are many
different names for marijuana. Slang terms for drugs change quickly, and they vary from
one part of the country to another. They may even differ across sections of a large city.
Terms from years ago,
such as pot, herb, grass, weed, Mary Jane, and reefer, are still used. You might also hear
the names Aunt Mary, skunk, boom, gangster, kif, or ganja.
There are also street
names for different strains or "brands" of marijuana, such as "Texas
tea," "Maui wowie," and "Chronic." A recent book of American
slang lists more than 200 terms for various kinds of marijuana.
A: Most users roll
loose marijuana into a cigarette (called a joint or a nail) or smoke it in a pipe. One
well-known type of water pipe is the bong. Some users mix marijuana into foods or use it
to brew a tea. Another method is to slice open a cigar and replace the tobacco with
marijuana, making what's called a blunt. When the blunt is smoked with a 40 oz. bottle of
malt liquor, it is called a "B-40."
cigarettes or blunts often include crack cocaine, a combination known by various street
names, such as "primos" or "woolies." Joints and blunts often are
dipped in PCP and are called "happy sticks," "wicky sticks,"
"love boat," or "tical."
A: A recent government
survey tells us:
- Marijuana is the most
frequently used illegal drug in the United States. Nearly 69 million Americans over the
age of 12 have tried marijuana at least once.
- About 10 million had used the
drug in the month before the survey.
- Among teens 12 to 17, the
average age of first trying marijuana was 14 years.
A yearly survey of
students in grades 8 through 12 shows that 23 percent of 8th-graders have tried marijuana
at least once, and by 10th grade, 21 percent are "current" users (that is, used
within the past month). Among 12th-graders, nearly 50 percent have tried marijuana/hash at
least once, and about 24 percent were current users.
Other researchers have
found that use of marijuana and other drugs usually peaks in the late teens and early
twenties, then declines in later years.
Fact: Research shows that nearly 50 percent of.
teenagers try marijuana before they graduate fromhigh school.
There are some signs you might be able to see. If someone is high on marijuana, he or she
- seem dizzy and have trouble
- seem silly and giggly for no
- have very red, bloodshot eyes;
- have a hard time remembering
things that just happened.
When the early effects
fade, over a few hours, the user can become very sleepy.
Parents should be
aware of changes in their child's behavior, although this may be difficult with teenagers.
Parents should look for withdrawal, depression, fatigue, carelessness with grooming,
hostility, and deteriorating relationships with family members and friends. In addition,
changes in 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. However, these signs may also indicate problems other than use of drugs.
In addition, parents
should be aware of:
- signs of drugs and drug
paraphernalia, including pipes and rolling papers.
- odor on clothes and in the
- use of incense and other
- use of eye drops
- clothing, posters, jewelry,
etc., promoting drug use
Q: Why do young people use marijuana?
A: 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.
Also, our 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.
Some young people who
take drugs do not get along with their parents. Some have a network of friends who use
drugs and urge them to do the same (peer pressure). All aspects of a child's environment -
home, school, neighborhood - help to determine whether the child will try drugs.
Children who become
more heavily involved with marijuana can become dependent, and that is their prime reason
for using the drug. Others mention psychological coping as a reason for their use - to
deal with anxiety, anger, depression, boredom, and so forth. But marijuana use is not an
effective method for coping with life's problems, and staying high can be a way of simply
not dealing with the problems and challenges of growing up.
Researchers have found
that children and teens (both male and female) who are physically and sexually abused are
at greater risk than other young people of using marijuana and other drugs and of
beginning drug use at an early age.
A: Long-term studies
of high school students and their patterns of drug use show that very few young people use
other drugs without first trying marijuana. The risk of using cocaine has been estimated
to be more than 104 times greater for those who have tried marijuana than for those who
have never tried it.Although there are no definitive studies on the factors associated
with the movement from marijuana use to use of other drugs, growing evidence shows that a
combination of biological, social, and psychological factors are involved.
Marijuana affects the
brain in some of the same ways that other drugs do. Researchers are examining the
possibility that long-term marijuana use may create changes in the brain that make a
person more at risk of becoming addicted to other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine.While
not all young people who use marijuana go on to use other drugs, further research is
needed to determine who will be at greatest risk.
The effects of marijuana on each person depend on the
- type of cannabis and how much
THC it contains;
- way the drug is taken (by
smoking or eating);
- experience and expectations of
- setting where the drug is used;
- whether drinking or other drug
use is also going on.
Some people feel
nothing at all when they first try marijuana. Others may feel high (intoxicated and/or
It's common for
marijuana users to become engrossed with ordinary sights, sounds, or tastes, and trivial
events may seem extremely interesting or funny. Time seems to pass very slowly, so minutes
feel like hours. Sometimes the drug causes users to feel thirsty and very hungry-an effect
called "the munchies."
A: 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 and poor sense of balance, and
slower reaction time. Blood vessels in the eye expand, so the user's eyes look red.
For some people,
marijuana raises blood pressure slightly and can double the normal heart rate. This effect
can be greater when other drugs are mixed with marijuana; but users do not always know
when that happens.
As the immediate
effects fade, usually after 2 to 3 hours, the user may become sleepy.
A: THC in marijuana is
readily absorbed by fatty tissues in various organs. Generally, traces (metabolites) of
THC can be detected by standard urine testing methods several days after a smoking
session. However, in heavy, chronic users, traces can sometimes be detected for weeks
after they have stopped using marijuana.
A: Yes. Some users,
especially someone new to the drug or in a strange setting, may suffer acute anxiety and
have paranoid thoughts. This is more likely to happen with high doses of THC. These scary
feelings will fade as the drug's effects wear off.
In rare cases, a user
who has taken a very high dose of the drug can have severe psychotic symptoms and need
emergency medical treatment.
Other kinds of bad
reactions can occur when marijuana is mixed with other drugs, such as PCP or cocaine.
Fact: Marijuana has adverse effects on many of
the skills for driving a car. Driving while high can
lead to car accidents.
A: Marijuana can be
harmful in a number of ways, through both immediate effects and damage to health over
Marijuana hinders the
user's short-term memory (memory for recent events), and he or she may have trouble
handling complex tasks. With the use of more potent varieties of marijuana, even simple
tasks can be difficult.
Because of the drug's
effects on perceptions and reaction time, users could be involved in auto crashes. 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.
Under the influence of
marijuana, students may find it hard to study and learn. Young athletes could find their
performance is off; timing, movements, and coordination are all affected by THC.
A: Marijuana affects
many skills required for safe driving: alertness, the ability to concentrate,
coordination, and reaction time. These effects can last up to 24 hours after smoking
marijuana. Marijuana use can make it difficult to judge distances and react to signals and
sounds on the road.
There are data showing
that marijuana can play a role in crashes. When users combine marijuana with alcohol, as
they often do, the hazards of driving can be more severe than with either drug alone.
A study of patients in
a shock-trauma unit who had been in traffic accidents revealed that 15 percent of those
who had been driving a car or motorcycle had been smoking marijuana, and another 17
percent had both THC and alcohol in their blood.
In one study conducted
in Memphis, TN, researchers found that, of 150 reckless drivers who were tested for drugs
at the arrest scene, 33 percent tested positive for marijuana, and 12 percent tested
positive for both marijuana and cocaine. Data also show that while smoking marijuana,
people show the same lack of coordination on standard "drunk driver" tests as do
people who have had too much to drink.
Fact: Marijuana users may have many of the same
respiratory problems that tobacco smokers have, such as
chronic bronchitis and inflamed sinuses.
A: While all of the
long-term effects of marijuana use are not yet known, there are studies showing serious
health concerns. For example, a group of scientists in California examined the health
status of 450 daily smokers of marijuana but not tobacco. They found that the marijuana
smokers had more sick days and more doctor visits for respiratory problems and other types
of illness than did a similar group who did not smoke either substance.
Findings so far show
that the regular use of marijuana or THC may play a role in cancer and problems in the
respiratory, immune, and reproductive systems.
It is hard to find out whether marijuana alone causes cancer because many people who smoke
marijuana also smoke cigarettes and use other drugs. Marijuana smoke contains some of the
same cancer-causing compounds as tobacco, sometimes in higher concentrations. Studies show
that someone who smokes five joints per week may be taking in as many cancer-causing
chemicals as someone who smokes a full pack of cigarettes every day.
Tobacco smoke and
marijuana smoke may work together to change the tissues lining the respiratory tract.
Marijuana smoking could contribute to early development of head and neck cancer in some
Our immune system protects the body from many agents that cause disease. It is not certain
whether marijuana damages the immune system of people. But both animal and human studies
have shown that marijuana impairs the ability of T-cells in the lungs' immune defense
system to fight off some infections. People with HIV and others whose immune system is
impaired should avoid marijuana use.
People who smoke marijuana often develop the same kinds of breathing problems that
cigarette smokers have. They have symptoms of daily cough and phlegm (chronic bronchitis)
and more frequent chest colds. They are also at greater risk of getting lung infections
such as pneumonia. Continued marijuana smoking can lead to abnormal function of the lungs
and airways. Scientists have found signs of lung tissue injured or destroyed by marijuana
A: Doctors advise
pregnant women not to use any drugs because they might harm the growing fetus. One animal
study has linked marijuana use to loss of the fetus very early in pregnancy.
studies have found that babies born to marijuana users were shorter, weighed less, and had
smaller head sizes than those born to mothers who did not use the drug. Smaller babies are
more likely to develop health problems. Other scientists have found effects of marijuana
that resemble the features of fetal alcohol syndrome. There are also research findings
that show nervous system problems in children of mothers who smoked marijuana.
Researchers are not
certain whether a newborn baby's health problems, if they are caused by marijuana, will
continue as the child grows. Preliminary research shows that children born to mothers who
used marijuana regularly during pregnancy may have trouble concentrating.
Q: What happens if a nursing mother uses marijuana?
A: When a nursing
mother uses marijuana, some of the THC is passed to the baby in her breast milk. This is a
matter for concern, since the THC in the mother's milk is much more concentrated than that
in the mother's blood. One study has shown that the use of marijuana by a mother during
the first month of breastfeeding can impair the infant's motor development (control of
Fact: Marijuana smoking affects the brain and leads
to impaired short-term memory, perception, judgment
and motor skills.
A: THC affects the
nerve cells in the part of the brain where memories are formed. This makes it hard for the
user to recall recent events (such as what happened a few minutes ago). It is hard to
learn while high - a working short-term memory is required for learning and performing
tasks that call for more than one or two steps.
Among a group of
long-time heavy marijuana users in Costa Rica, researchers found that the people had great
trouble when asked to recall a short list of words (a standard test of memory). People in
that study group also found it very hard to focus their attention on the tests given to
causes some changes in the brain that are like those caused by cocaine, heroin, and
alcohol. Some researchers believe that these changes may put a person more at risk of
becoming addicted to other drugs, such as cocaine or heroin.
It may be that
marijuana kills brain cells. In laboratory research, scientists found that high doses of
THC given to young rats caused a loss of brain cells such as that seen with aging. At 11
or 12 months of age (about half their normal life span), the rats' brains looked like
those of animals in old age. It is not known whether a similar effect occurs in humans.
Researchers are still
learning about the many ways that marijuana could affect the brain.
A: Scientists do not
yet know how the use of marijuana relates to mental illness. Some researchers in Sweden
report that regular, long-term intake of THC (from cannabis) can increase the risk of
developing certain mental diseases, such as schizophrenia.
Still others maintain
that regular marijuana use can lead to chronic anxiety, personality disturbances, and
A: Some frequent,
long-term marijuana users show signs of a lack of motivation (amotivational syndrome).
Their problems include not caring about what happens in their lives, no desire to work
regularly, fatigue, and a lack of concern about how they look. As a result of these
symptoms, some users tend to perform poorly in school or at work. Scientists are still
studying these problems.
A: Yes. While not
everyone who uses marijuana becomes addicted, when a user begins to seek out and take the
drug compulsively, that person is said to be dependent on the drug or addicted to it. In
1995, 165,000 people entering drug treatment programs reported marijuana as their primary
drug of abuse, showing they needed help to stop using.
Some heavy users of
marijuana show signs of dependence because when they do not use the drug, they develop
withdrawal symptoms. Some subjects in an experiment on marijuana withdrawal had symptoms,
such as restlessness, loss of appetite, trouble with sleeping, weight loss, and shaky
According to one
study, marijuana use by teenagers who have prior serious antisocial problems can quickly
lead to dependence on the drug. That study also found that, for troubled teenagers using
tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana, progression from their first use of marijuana to regular
use was about as rapid as their progression to regular tobacco use, and more rapid than
the progression to regular use of alcohol.
"Tolerance" means that the user needs increasingly larger doses of the drug to
get the same desired results that he or she previously got from smaller amounts. Some
frequent, heavy users of marijuana may develop tolerance for it.
A: Up until a few
years ago, it was hard to find treatment programs specifically for marijuana users.
Treatments for marijuana dependence were much the same as therapies for other drug abuse
problems. These include detoxification, behavioral therapies, and regular attendance at
meetings of support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous.
have been testing different ways to attract marijuana users to treatment and help them
abstain from drug use. There are currently no medications for treating marijuana
dependence. Treatment programs focus on counseling and group support systems. From these
studies, drug treatment professionals are learning what characteristics of users are
predictors of success in treatment and which approaches to treatment can be most helpful.
Further progress in
treatment to help marijuana users includes a number of programs set up to help adolescents
in particular. Some of these programs are in university research centers, where most of
the young clients report marijuana as their drug of choice. Others are in independent
adolescent treatment facilities. Family physicians are also a good source for information
and help in dealing with adolescents' marijuana problems.
A: There has been much
debate in the media about the possible medical use of marijuana. Under U.S. law since
1970, marijuana has been a Schedule I controlled substance. This means that the drug, at
least in its smoked form, has no commonly accepted medical use.
possible medical uses of marijuana, it is important to distinguish between whole marijuana
and pure THC or other specific chemicals derived from cannabis. Whole marijuana contains
hundreds of chemicals, some of which are clearly harmful to health.
THC, manufactured into
a pill that is taken by mouth, not smoked, can be used for treating the nausea and
vomiting that go along with certain cancer treatments and is available by prescription.
Another chemical related to THC (nabilone) has also been approved by the Food and Drug
Administration for treating cancer patients who suffer nausea. The oral THC is also used
to help AIDS patients eat more to keep up their weight.
studying whether marijuana, THC, and related chemicals in marijuana (called cannabinoids)
may have other medical uses. According to scientists, more research needs to be done on
marijuana's side effects and potential benefits before it can be recommended for medical
A: There is no magic
bullet for preventing teenage drug use. But parents can be influential by talking to their
children about the dangers of using marijuana and other drugs, and remain actively engaged
in their children's lives. Even after teenage children enter high school, parents can stay
involved in schoolwork, recreation, and social activities with their children's friends.
Research shows that appropriate parental monitoring can reduce future drug use, even among
those adolescents who may be prone to marijuana use, such as those who are rebellious,
cannot control their emotions, and experience internal distress. To address the issue of
drug abuse in your area, it is important to get involved in drug abuse prevention programs
in your community or your child's school. Find out what prevention programs you and your
children can participate in together.
Q:Talking to your children about marijuana
As this booklet has
shown, marijuana is clearly a dangerous drug which poses a particular threat to the health
and well-being of children and adolescents at a critical point in their lives - when they
are growing, learning, maturing, and laying the foundation for their adult years. As a
parent, your children look to you for help and guidance in working out problems and in
making decisions, including the decision not to use drugs. As a role model, your decision
to not use marijuana and other illegal drugs will reinforce your message to your children.
There are numerous
resources, many right in your own community, where you can obtain information so that you
can talk to your children about drugs. To find these resources, you can consult your local
library, school, or community service organization.
chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your
children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs
free. Learn how
to in Dr. Frischs, Psy.D. Recovery book series.