Marijuana is the term used to describe the dried leaves, stems, seeds, or flowers of the marijuana plant, Cannabis sativa, a plant with origins in the ancient world. Marijuana is one of three main forms of cannabis. Medical marijuana refers to use of the dried plant parts or extracts to treat certain medical conditions or relieve disease symptoms.
The resins from the cannabis plant that produce effects on the brain, mood, or consciousness are called cannabinoids. Cannabis extracts make up the most widely used illicit drug in the United States. Illicit refers to the risk of addiction to the drug and the fact it is illegal. Marijuana can be smoked in hand-rolled cigarettes, special pipes, or bongs (water pipes). The drug also can be added to foods or as a brewed tea to drink. Active ingredients also can be added to a salve, similar to lip balm, that can be applied to the skin. The intoxicant effect or high from marijuana is in an active ingredient called delta-9-tetrahydro-cannibinol, or THC. The compound called cannabidiol (CBD) does not have the intoxicating effects of THC.
Types of Marijuana Use
Recreational use of marijuana involves no medical professional or reason for use, other personal choice. People who use marijuana notice rapid effects when they smoke marijuana as the THC moves from the lungs to their bloodstream. The compound travels to the brain through the blood. The effects are nearly immediate when marijuana is smoked, and take up to one hour if marijuana is eaten. In general, people smoke marijuana recreationally to get a high, often defined as a sense of relaxation and mild euphoria, or joy. Medical marijuana, on the other hand, is used to relieve symptoms related to medical conditions, diseases, or treatment side effects. For example, medical marijuana has been used to help people with nausea and pain, and with symptoms relating to dementia, heart disease, Parkinson's disease, and HIV/AIDS.
Benefits of Medical Marijuana
There are more than 100 types of cannabinoids and other substances in cannabis. CBD has been shown to relieve pain and ease inflammation. There also is some evidence CBD can lessen anxiety and help regulate mood and sleep. A 2017 report from the National Academy of Sciences stated there was substantial evidence that cannabis is effective for treating chronic pain in adults and for helping people with multiple sclerosis or similar diseases to ease symptoms. Strong evidence also supported use of oral cannabinoids to ease nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy. There was some evidence in the report that medical marijuana could improve sleep in people who had trouble sleeping because of problems such as apnea or conditions causing chronic pain. Slight evidence also was found that medical marijuana could increase appetite in people with HIV/AIDS, improve symptoms of Tourette's syndrome, and relieve symptoms of social anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder. Many other findings were not conclusive until more research is completed.
There is some evidence that increasing use of medical marijuana for pain in patients can help lead to fewer addictions to opioids, which are narcotic and highly addictive pain killers. Studying the health effects of medical marijuana presents special challenges, including legal restrictions and inconsistent concentrations of cannabinoid chemicals extracted from plants. Studies eventually should lead to better understanding of how to use medical marijuana as safely and effectively as possible.
Risks and Harms of Marijuana Use
Among harms of medical marijuana are possible addiction and impaired thinking. Teens who use marijuana regularly can demonstrate lower verbal abilities, impaired thinking, and even decreases in total IQ years later. In the short term, smoking marijuana can make a person drowsy and less coordinated, impairing ability to drive or perform work tasks. Long-term effects could include higher risk of lung diseases such as lung cancer, decreased memory or ability to learn, and lower motivation to study, work, or concentrate on difficult tasks. Parents and physicians should supervise carefully children and teens who are prescribed medical marijuana.
Signs of marijuana use include being dizzy, having red or bloodshot eyes, and forgetting recent events. People generally report that time seems to slow down and their appetite increases while high. The effects depend on the amount used, the type or compounds in the marijuana, and whether a person smokes, drinks, or eats the marijuana.
Social and Legal Controversy
Despite increasing public acceptance of marijuana, especially medical marijuana, the drug and other cannabinoids are illegal in the United States except for designated research. However, many states have introduced or passed laws making medical marijuana legal with restrictions, and even making limited recreational use legal in nine states. There typically are restrictions on legal amount allowed, age that can purchase, and where marijuana products can be sold. As of November 2018, 33 states, plus the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico, had approved public medical marijuana programs. The laws vary in restrictions on uses, but generally require prescriptions from medical providers and designated dosages. Some countries also have approved medical and recreational use of marijuana. For example, Canada made medical marijuana use legal, and then became only the second country in the world to pass to allow nationwide sales. The debate over whether medical marijuana should be legalized and enforcement of federal laws is affected by political and public opinion.