Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, ranking just behind alcohol and tobacco as the most commonly used addictive substance by teens. Usage rates for high school students increased between 2009 and 2010 from 5.2% to 6.1% for high school seniors, 2.8% to 3.3% for tenth grade students and 1.0% to 1.2% for eighth grade students. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns that the current high rates of marijuana use by teenagers are placing them at risk for future brain development abnormalities, regular marijuana use in early years affects learning, judgment and motor skills.
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 the United States. Cannabis is a term that refers to marijuana and other drugs made from the same plant. Strong forms of cannabis include sinsemilla, hashish (“hash”) and hash oil. 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.
Terms from years ago, such as pot, herb, grass, weed, Mary Jane and reefer are still used. Other common names include 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.” One book of American slang lists more than 200 terms for various kinds of marijuana.
Most users roll loose marijuana into a cigarette (called a joint or a nail) or smoke it in a pipe or a water pipe, sometimes referred to as a bong. Some users mix marijuana into foods or use it to brew a tea. Another method of consumption is to slice open a cigar and replace the tobacco with marijuana, creating what is called a blunt. When the blunt is smoked with a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor, it is called a “B-40.”
Marijuana’s effect on the user depends on the strength or potency of the THC it contains. THC potency has increased since the 1970s and continues to increase still. The strength of the drug is measured by the average amount of THC in test samples confiscated by law enforcement agencies. For the year 2006, most ordinary marijuana contained, on average, 7 percent THC.
One of the side effects of frequent marijuana use is a reduction in initiative and motivation. Furthermore, marijuana decreases the ability to learn. Clinical studies show that smoking marijuana leads to cognitive delays that can last up to 24 hours. This causes a possible 24-hour reduction in the ability to concentrate, to consolidate memories and an entire day of decreased verbal and mathematical abilities. For teens, whose majority of time is spent in school, smoking marijuana can be extremely detrimental.
However, frequent marijuana users can also encounter more deadly consequences. Studies conducted in a number of localities have found that approximately 4 to 14 percent of drivers who sustained injury or death in traffic accidents tested positive for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana. In 2007, the majority of youth age 17 or younger entering drug abuse treatment reported marijuana as their primary drug abused.
While past users may have found it difficult to develop a marijuana addiction, increases in the strength of the drug have caused it to become an addictive substance. According to NIDA, 1 in 6 individuals who begin using marijuana as an adolescent become addicted. Once addicted, teens will experience strong cravings to use, and if they attempt to stop, they will endure a challenging and uncomfortable period of detoxification. While the process is not life threatening, many suffer from insomnia, headaches and anxiety, combined with an incredible craving to use, making it difficult for teens to stay drug free. Marijuana users may also experience a withdrawal syndrome when they stop using the drug. It is similar to what happens to tobacco smokers when they quit; people report being irritable, having sleep problems, and suffering weight loss—effects which can last for several days to a few weeks after drug use is stopped. Relapse is common during this period, as users also crave the drug to relieve these symptoms.