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What is marijuana used for?

Weed, ganja, Mary Jane, pot, grass, herb, reefer, skunk. These many names refer to the same drug – marijuana, the most commonly used recreational drug. But is there really such a thing as medical marijuana? Is MJ addictive? When is marijuana use legal? We explore these issues here. and invite your comments about marijuana use at the end.

What is marijuana?

The term “marijuana” refers to the dried, shredded green, brown or grey mixture of leaves, stems, seeds and flowers of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. Marijuana contains around 400 chemicals, of which the most potent is the psychoactive (mind altering) chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short. Actually, it is the amount of THC that determines the strength of marijuana.  Over the past 30 years, the relative amount of THC in marijuana has been constantly increasing, and estimates made from recently confiscated marijuana indicate the presence of almost 10% THC in some cases.

The most common form of use is smoking hand-rolled cigarettes called joints. Also, marijuana can be smoked using pipes, bowls and bongs. It can be concentrated in a resin called hashish, or a black sticky liquid called hash oil. Some users smoke it as blunts – they replace the tobacco in the cigar with marijuana, and others even brew it as tea or mix it in food.

History of the use of marijuana

The earliest documentation of cultivation of cannabis sativa, or marijuana, in the U.S. dates from the early 17th century, when colonists brought the plant to Jamestown, Virginia to produce hemp. Even back then, marijuana was recognized for its medicinal purposes. It was in the early 20th century that this permissive attitude was radically changed.

Marijuana uses and side effects

Over the past few decades, the use of medical marijuana has been a very controversial issue. Medicinal marijuana is legal in 20 states, even though it conflicts with federal drug laws. THC, which belongs to a class of compounds called “cannabinoids”, has been used to treat a lot of different conditions, including:

  1. chemotherapy-induced pain and nausea
  2. as an appetite stimulant in patients with AIDS therapy
  3. motor disturbances in patients with multiple sclerosis

At the time of this writing, the FDA does not approve marijuana to be a medicine. The main reason is because it is a plant and there is no way of measuring the consistency of each ingredient a person is getting with each use. And also, there are not enough studies to support that the benefits outweigh the health risks. On the other hand, THC-based drugs are already FDA approved and prescribed, and in spite of restrictions and difficulties, scientists further investigate the possible medical properties and use of the chemicals in the cannabis plant.

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Usually, the marijuana high effects are immediate – within minutes after smoking – it creates euphoria, dizziness, silly and giggly behavior, red, bloodshot eyes, and short-term memory problems, even sometimes hunger. After few hours when the initial effects fade, the user feels tired and very sleepy.  However, as with any drug, in addition to its medicinal properties, marijuana has several adverse side effects. Short term effects of pot in your system can include:

  • anxiety
  • distortions of perceptions in sight, touch, time, sound, space
  • increased heart rate
  • loss of coordination
  • problems with memory and/or learning
  • trouble with thinking, and problem-solving

When taken in larger doses, marijuana can cause delusions, hallucinations, poor memory, feeling of paranoia, depression. Additionally, the long-term effects of developing tolerance to marijuana over the period of years can be negative. Long term use of marijuana can lead to:

  • changes in the brain
  • fertility issues
  • immune system problems
  • respiratory problems

Illegal marijuana use

In the early 20th century, local and state jurisdiction passed laws that criminalized the non-medical use, possession and transactions involving cannabis sativa and banned the drug completely. But, despite these restrictions and regulations, marijuana remained legal as a prescription drug until 1970, when it was categorized as a Schedule I controlled substance (meaning it has no approved medical use).  Since 1996, 20 states, and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana to be used for medical purposes even though it hadn’t been approved by FDA to be a medicine.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the U.S. In those states that have legalized medical marijuana, possession and use of a certain amount are tolerable for registered users. Otherwise, it is punishable by federal law.

Problems using marijuana

Many people believe that smoking marijuana is not harmful and believe it is not addictive, like some other ‘harder drugs’. On the contrary, marijuana can be highly addictive and can lead to use the use of other drugs and alcohol in combination with it. Research shows that almost 9% of users become addicted to marijauan. Addictive use is noted among early-age adopters and those who practice daily use of the drug.

In long term users trying to quit, withdrawal symptoms have been reported – including anxiety, irritability, sleeplessness, decrease of appetite, drug craving – which make it difficult for the user to abstain from use. So how can you address problems with marijuana use, should they occur?

Some of evidence based treatments for marijuana addicts include behavioral interventions, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and/or the use of motivational incentives. These methods try to teach the user to lead a drug free life, without using marijuana to deal with everyday life stress. At the moment, there are no medications available for treating this addiction, but researchers have made discoveries about the mechanisms of the endocannabinoid system, and believe they are close to developing medications that would ease withdrawal, help block marijuana intoxication, and even prevent relapse.

Marijuana and its use

Do you still have questions about marijuana?  Please leave your questions, comments, or feedback in the comments section below. We’ll do our best to respond to you personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: Department of Defense: Marijuana
White House : State Laws Related to Marijuana
NCJRS: Marijuana myths and facts
National Institute of Drug Abuse: Marijuana
DEA Museum: Cannabis
Stanford Universuty – HOPES: Medical Marijuana Policy in the United States
Canadian Court Info: Marijuana short and long term effects

Photo credit: fotobias

Leave a Reply

2 Responses to “What is marijuana used for?
John
1:55 am July 18th, 2014

Show me documentation that marijuana is physically addictive? Mentally? Perhaps. Decrease in appetite after stopping smoking, yes. These are short term effects.

10:17 pm July 27th, 2014

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2797098/

Google the term: “site:.gov marijuana dependence” or look into Google scholar article on marijuana dependence. While physical dependence is not addiction in an of itself, the two conditions are related.

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