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Marijuana is a type of cannabis plant that when smoked or ingested causes a high due to the chemical in the plant called THC. The plant contains up to 500 other chemicals, including more than 100 compounds that are chemically related to THC called cannabinoids.
After alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly used substance by teens and young adults. In 2015, 7.3% of adults in the US had used marijuana in the past month and 58.2% of high school seniors reported having used it in the past year. Known by many names and found in many forms, marijuana is the most common name for the Cannabis plant. Other popular nicknames include:
The psychoactive (or mind altering) chemical in Marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol, abbreviated as THC. When THC enters the body, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and passes to the brain, where it attaches to specific neurons with “cannabinoid receptors”. These neurons are a naturally occurring part of our body that is part of our inner brain communication system. Most cannabinoid receptors are found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement.
Marijuana triggers an increase in the activity of the endocannabinoid system, and causes the release of dopamine in the brain’s reward centers, creating pleasurable feelings, heightened mood and the feeling of being “high.”
Consistent marijuana abuse can lead to the development marijuana use disorder, which in severe cases takes the form of marijuana addiction. Recent research indicates that individuals who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults.
Marijuana abuse is often associated with marijuana dependence which is described as a chronic marijuana user who experiences withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug. These marijuana withdrawal symptoms may include irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, cravings, restlessness, and/or various forms of physical discomfort and typically peak within the first week after quitting and last up to 2 weeks following the last use.
Over time, marijuana dependence develops as the brain adapts to large amounts of marijuana use by reducing the production and sensitivity of its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters.
Marijuana dependence becomes marijuana addiction when individuals are unable to stop using the drug even though it interferes with many aspects of their lives. Recent studies indicate that up to 17% of teenagers who use marijuana will become dependent on it.
With illegal substances, there is no governing body overseeing a drug’s purity or potency. When buying Marijuana, there is no guarantee of what one is actually purchasing. The plants might be grown with toxic pesticide and herbicides, or the drug can be laced with additional substances including amphetamines, “synthetic marijuana” and/or other chemicals.
While federally illegal, several states in the U.S. have legalized both medical and recreational Marijuana in the past few years, increasing the societal acceptance of the drug and prevalence. However, even in states where Marijuana is legal, the minimum age for recreational consumption is 21, like alcohol.
If you or your loved one lives in the US, chances are you or they have been offered marijuana and may have tried it. If you’re concerned about marijuana experimentation, use, or abuse, seek support and treatment. While marijuana use is often trivialized in American society, the detrimental effects are real and can be long lasting. Talk to a professional about your concerns, get advice and coaching, and talk to your loved one about the potential risks and patterns of use and abuse.
A strong bond created through an open, honest relationship built on positive experiences with your teen or young adult is the best way for your loving opinion to matter, and sometimes even that needs to be supplemented with outside support.