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What is Marijuana?

Marijuana is a green, brown or gray mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds and flowers of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. It is used as a psychoactive (mind-altering) recreational drug, for certain medical ailments and for religious and spiritual purposes. Sinsemilla, hash/hashish (resinous form) and hash oil (a sticky black liquid) are stronger forms of marijuana.

The main active chemical in cannabis is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), a psychoactive ingredient. The highest concentrations of THC are found in the leaves and flowers. Its strength comes from the amount of THC it contains, and the effects on the user depend on the strength or potency of the THC.

Is Marijuana AddictiveMarijuana is most commonly inhaled. The shredded leaves, flowers, stems and seeds of the cannabis plant are smoked in cigarettes, cigars, pipes, water pipes or blunts (marijuana rolled in the leaf wrap of a hollowed-out cigar). Hashish is a related product created from the resin of marijuana flowers and is usually smoked by itself or in a mixture with tobacco but can be ingested orally. Marijuana can also be used to brew tea, and its oil-based extract can be mixed into food products.

Four states (Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska) and the District of Columbia have passed measures to legalize marijuana use, while an additional 14 states have decriminalized certain amounts of cannabis possession. Nearly half of U.S. states (23) and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana.

It’s Not the Weed of Yesteryear

When the subject of legalizing cannabis is discussed, most people assume the talk is about the same cannabis that was available 20 to 30 years ago. Oftentimes, that is not the case since advanced techniques have evolved to produce ever more potent marijuana that is being sold in diverse ways, such as in food products.

Supercharged cannabis products are becoming more common, exposing a growing number of unsuspecting users to a powerful, concentrated drug that contains very high levels of THC. Concentrates include hash oils, waxes and infused edibles, many of which are produced in the states where pot is legal. Vaporizers, or e-cigarettes, are favored by many concentrate users because they are smokeless, odorless and easy to hide. When smoked or vaporized, marijuana’s psychoactive effect begins quickly, peaks quickly and goes away relatively quickly. This “vaping” is a concern in schools and elsewhere among youth, because it can produce a nearly instant high with little or no detection.

One of the dangers of smoking marijuana is the possibility that it has been laced with another, more dangerous substance such as cocaine, crack, PCP or even embalming fluid. Though reports of laced marijuana are infrequent and most lacing is done by the user, it is important to remember that with unregulated drugs such as marijuana, the consumer has no way of knowing what other types of substances have been added.

How Does Marijuana Affect the Young?

The popular notion seems to be that marijuana is a harmless pleasure, access to which should not be regulated or considered illegal. In January 2014, marijuana was noted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse as being the most widely used illicit drug in the United States, with about 12% of people 12 years of age or older reporting use in the past year and particularly high rates of use among young people. Only opiates have a higher admission rate among abused substances.

The regular use by adolescents is of particular concern, since usage by this age group is associated with an increased likelihood of harmful consequences.

Researchers who have been studying the impact of marijuana addiction reported in May 2015 that boys who smoke marijuana during puberty display a wide range of hormonal differences when compared to those who have never smoked the drug. The scientists found that heavy marijuana smokers have significantly higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, than non-smokers.

Marijuana addiction appears to create a double whammy by increasing cortisol levels and decreasing growth hormone levels, which stunts growth. According to the new study, boys who smoke marijuana go through puberty earlier than nonsmokers but grow more slowly than those who have never smoked cannabis. Nonsmokers were an average of 4.6 inches taller by the age of 20 than the chronic marijuana users. Cannabis abuse in childhood could make young boys shorter for the rest of their lives.

Is Cannabis Addictive?

A drug is addicting if it causes compulsive, uncontrollable drug craving, seeking and use, even in the face of negative health and social consequences. Research suggests that roughly nine percent of users become addicted to marijuana, with higher rates if the user starts at a young age (17 percent) and in those who use marijuana daily (25 to 50 percent). 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 or addicted to the drug.

Long-term users who try to quit often experience withdrawal symptoms such as sleeplessness, irritability, anxiety, decreased appetite and drug craving. Withdrawal symptoms usually begin about a day after the person stops using marijuana, peak in two to three days and may take about one to two weeks to subside.

Some heavy users develop a tolerance to marijuana, meaning that the user needs larger doses to get the same desired results that they previously received from smaller amounts. Many users may not display any signs of addiction or withdrawal, yet the number of users seeking treatment has been growing steadily over the years.

Marijuana doubles the risk of a car accident when people try to drive soon after using it. A 2013 study shows that marijuana causes more car accidents than any other illicit drug. In a study released earlier this year, Columbia University researchers found that marijuana contributed to 12% of traffic deaths in 2010, triple the rate from a decade earlier.

Eating to Get High: Marijuana Edibles

The market for marijuana edibles is exploding, particularly in those states that have legalized cannabis for medical and/or recreational use. Nearly five million edibles were sold in Colorado shops in 2014.

People often underestimate the potency of edibles made from marijuana, which often contain very high THC levels, and the delayed effect on unsuspecting users can be dangerous. There is also the concern that children can accidentally ingest marijuana edibles since so many of them are in the form of sweets, cookies, cakes, candies, etc. in colorful packaging.

In states such as Colorado where recreational cannabis is legal, there have been cases where both adults and children were sickened after eating pot-filled edibles. Users must be responsible by keeping all edibles out of the reach of children and pets, just as they would medications or alcohol.

Awareness that marijuana-infused products can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to take effect is extremely important. It is very easy to overindulge if the desired high does not come immediately. When marijuana is ingested, the absorption rate is much slower and subject to many variables. The onset of effect is slower, the peak is achieved much more slowly and the effect typically lasts much longer.

Many people do not realize that eating cannabis edibles is different from smoking. The high tends to affect the body more than the head.  Hash cookies are essentially the same as marijuana cookies but are more potent. The high produced by hash products is generally associated with a feeling of lightness, commonly referred to as a head high.

Transdermal Patches

State troopers are seeing more marijuana hash-infused transdermal patches, similar to a nicotine patch, being purchased from Colorado and crossing state lines. Once removed from the package, the patches have no markings. They do have a slight odor of marijuana and easily test positive for THC.

These patches are an effective method of delivering cannabinoids into the body as they enter the bloodstream directly. The patches are 1.5 inches square and can be cut for smaller doses. THC levels can vary drastically with time. If the suspect has a patch on during a traffic stop, they could be getting higher as the stop continues. Additionally, levels could vary from the time when the suspect is pulled over to when they are tested.

Butane Hash Oil (BHO) Dabbing

Budder is gaining in popularity and is very potent with a high THC level. Also called “butane hash oil” or “marijuana wax,” Budder is a gooey substance made in local grow houses via a highly unstable process that requires soaking the leaves and stems of marijuana plants in a chemical solvent like butane to extract the most concentrated high-inducing ingredients, making it very dangerous and explosive to produce.

Used most often in e-cigarettes, budder is also smeared onto cigarettes or joints. Its fumes can also be inhaled directly after heating the wax on a knife over a stove.

BHO is dangerous to users because the waxy material is more potent and more toxic than marijuana. It can cause severe hallucinations, anxiety paranoia, psychosis and heart problems. In the illicit, unreliable world of black-market drugs, users never know exactly what they may be getting.

What are the Long-Term Effects of Marijuana?

To date, long-term effects of marijuana concentrate use are not fully known. But, more psychologically and physically intense reactions are possible, based on what we do know about the effects of plant marijuana use.

Some of these effects may include:

∙ Paranoia ∙ Anxiety or Psychosis
∙ Panic Attacks ∙ Hallucinations or Distorted Perceptions
∙ Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure ∙ Disrupted Learning or Memory
∙ Impaired Coordination; Slowed Reaction Time ∙ Addiction

Marijuana is also associated with chronic psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, in people who are genetically susceptible to them. Heavy marijuana use can lead these people to experience a psychotic episode two to six years earlier than otherwise.

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