Marijuana

What is Marijuana?

  • Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant. The plant contains the mind-altering chemical THC and other similar compounds.
Marijuana plant Cannabis sativa

Marijuana is the most commonly used addictive drug after tobacco and alcohol.1 Its use is widespread among young people. In 2018, more than 11.8 million young adults used marijuana in the past year.1 According to the Monitoring the Future survey, rates of past year marijuana use among middle and high school students have remained steady, but the number of teens in 8th and 10th grades who say they use it daily has increased.

With the growing popularity of vaping devices, teens have started vaping THC (the ingredient in marijuana that produces the high), with nearly 4% of 12th graders saying they vape THC daily. In addition, the number of young people who believe regular marijuana use is risky is decreasing.

How does marijuana affect the brain?

Marijuana has both short-and long-term effects on the brain.

Short-term Effects

THC acts on numerous areas in the brain (in yellow).

When a person smokes marijuana, THC quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. The blood carries the chemical to the brain and other organs throughout the body. The body absorbs THC more slowly when the person eats or drinks it. In that case, they generally feel the effects after 30 minutes to 1 hour.

THC acts on specific brain cell receptors that ordinarily react to natural THC-like chemicals. These natural chemicals play a role in normal brain development and function.

Marijuana over activates parts of the brain that contain the highest number of these receptors. This causes the “high” that people feel. Other effects include:

  • altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors)
  • altered sense of time
  • changes in mood
  • impaired body movement
  • difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
  • impaired memory
  • hallucinations (when taken in high doses)
  • delusions (when taken in high doses)
  • psychosis (risk is highest with regular use of high potency marijuana)

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