Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States. It is usually smoked in the form of a hand-rolled cigarette (joint) or in a pipe or water pipe (bong). The drug is also smoked in what is called smoke, a cigarette that is emptied of tobacco and filled with a mixture of marijuana and tobacco. Marijuana smoke has a pungent and distinctive bittersweet smell.
Another way to ingest the medicine is to mix the leaves, flowers, stems or seeds of the plant with food or to prepare the leaves in the form of tea. The use of medical cannabis began in the United States in the 1850s, when products with cannabis extracts were produced and sold to treat diseases such as muscle pain and spasms. Soon after, pharmaceutical regulations were introduced in some states. Products containing addictive substances, such as cannabis, were often labeled as poisons and, in some cases, were only available with a prescription.
Today, the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance, meaning that the drug poses a high risk of abuse and is considered to have no medicinal uses. However, several states have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use, and 23 states, as well as the District of Columbia, allow the use of medical marijuana to treat certain medical conditions. Right now, the FDA has approved several THC-based medications to treat pain and nausea. And scientists are still investigating the medicinal properties of other chemicals found in the cannabis plant, such as cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound that is being studied to determine its effectiveness in treating pain, pediatric epilepsy and other conditions.
When you smoke marijuana, THC quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream, which carries the substance to the brain and other organs in the body. THC is absorbed more slowly when ingested through food or drink. Regardless of how THC is ingested, the substance acts specifically on cannabinoid receptors in brain cells. These receptors, normally activated by THC-like chemicals naturally produced by the body, are part of the neural communication network called the endocannabinoid system which plays an important role in normal development and functioning of the brain.
Research indicates that marijuana use can cause or aggravate problems in daily life. Heavy consumers tend to report lower satisfaction with life, poorer mental and physical health, more relationship problems and less academic or professional success compared to peers who don't use them. Drug use is also associated with a greater likelihood of dropping out of school. Several workplace studies associate marijuana use with increased absences, delays, accidents, workers' compensation claims and turnover.
Marijuana use is associated with a variety of health problems, particularly related to heart and lung problems and mental health conditions. A study found that people who smoke marijuana frequently but don't smoke tobacco have more health problems and miss more days from work than those who don't smoke marijuana mainly due to respiratory illnesses. It is not yet known if smoking marijuana contributes to the risk of lung cancer. Marijuana use during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of neurobehavioral problems in infants.
Because THC and other compounds mimic the body's endocannabinoid chemicals, marijuana use by pregnant women can alter the developing endocannabinoid system in the fetal brain. The consequences for the child may include difficulties related to attention, memory and problem solving. In addition, because it impairs judgment and motor coordination, marijuana use can increase risk-taking behavior which can lead to accidents or injuries. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction to weed it's important to seek help from professionals who specialize in addiction treatment.
Hazelden Betty Ford offers multiple levels of virtual outpatient addiction treatment including free family support groups and online learning opportunities on substance use disorders, alcohol and drug prevention, violence prevention, behavioral health issues and more. In recovery, it's important to learn from others' experiences so check out their webinar series which brings together recovery speakers from across the country to share strategies and experiences. The best way to overcome addiction is through a combination of therapy sessions with a qualified professional combined with lifestyle changes such as avoiding triggers that lead to drug use and engaging in activities that promote healthy habits such as exercise or meditation. It's also important to build a strong support system by connecting with family members or friends who can provide emotional support during difficult times.