Classification:        Depressant, Hallucinogen
     Slang Names:           Dope, weed, herb, grass, pot, hashish, hash
     Method of Use:         Smoking, eating, and intravenous injection
     Dependence Potential:  Psychologically addictive

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana is the common name for a crude drug made from the plant Cannabis Sativa. The main mind-altering (psychoactive) ingredient in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). More than 400 other chemicals also are in the plant. A marijuana cigarette or "joint" is made from the dried particles of the plant. The amount of THC in the marijuana determines how strong its effects. Marijuana available today is as much as ten times more potent than marijuana used in the early 1970s.

What is Hashish?

Hashish is a concentrated form of marijuana made by taking resin from the leaves and flowers of the marijuana plant and pressing them into cakes or slabs. Hash is mostly smoked in a pipe rather than rolled into a cigarette. It is usually stronger than crude marijuana because it contains five to ten times as much THC. Hash oil may contain up to 50 percent THC.

Marijuana in the Body

When marijuana is smoked, it travels down the windpipe and into the lungs. Once in the lungs, the smoke passes through the bronchi and into the alveoli (air sacs) where the THC passes into the bloodstream. THC is then absorbed by most tissues and organs in the body, especially fat cells and organs such as the brain. The "high" reaches its peak in approximately 10-30 minutes and will last from two to eight hours, depending on the amount of marijuana used.

It takes a week to one month for all the chemicals from one marijuana cigarette to leave the body. As more marijuana is smoked, THC accumulates in the cells and the body is never drug free. When chronic users stop using marijuana, it takes about three months for the accumulation of THC to leave the body.

When marijuana is eaten, it enters the stomach and is broken down for digestion by enzymes. At this time, THC passes into the bloodstream. Smoking marijuana puts 5-10 times more THC into the body than eating it.

Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Use

Loud talking and bursts of laughter in early stages of intoxication

Drowsiness or stupor in later stages of intoxication

Forgetfulness in conversation

Chronic redness of the eye

Odor similar to burning rope on clothing or breath

Decrease in school or work performance; truancy

Neglect of personal hygiene

Change of friends

Paranoia, defensiveness, secretiveness, self-centeredness


Mood swings

A motivational syndrome

Distorted sense of time

Use or possession of paraphernalia such as cigarette rolling papers, "roach" clips (used to hold the cigarette), and pipes or a "bong" (a water pipe for cooling smoke so the user can inhale more)

Immediate Effects of Marijuana

Immediate physical effects of marijuana are elevated heart and pulse rates, bloodshot eyes, and a dry mouth and throat.

Marijuana impairs or reduces short-term memory, alters one's sense of time, and reduces the ability to do things which require concentration, swift reactions, and coordination. Experiments have shown that marijuana affects a wide range of skills needed for safe driving. These skills are impaired for a least 4-6 hours after smoking a single marijuana cigarette, long after the "high" is gone. Thinking and reflexes are slowed, making it hard for an impaired driver to respond to sudden, unexpected events. A driver's ability to steer properly, brake quickly, and maintain speed and proper distance between cars is affected, according to research.

Long-Term Effects of Marijuana

Marijuana and its potent chemical THC cause cell abnormalities, alter normal cell division, affect genetic make-up of new cells and lower cell immunity, increasing the possibility of viral infections among users.

THC causes enlargement of the area between nerve cells, resulting in poor transmission of nerve impulses between these cells. This "tampering" has several effects on the nervous system including:

Impaired speech

Difficulty in comprehending complex ideas

Loss of memory

Difficulty in concentrating or focusing on one subject

Irregular sleep habits; insomnia

Mood swings

Lack of body coordination

Decrease in muscle strength

Blurred vision and impaired visual perception

Marijuana is harmful to the entire respiratory system from the sinus cavities to the air sacs within the lungs. Marijuana smoke is more harmful than tobacco smoke, and users have a much higher incidence of respiratory disease than nonusers. Other respiratory problems associated with marijuana use are:

Sinusitis- an inflammation of the lining of the sinuses, which is a result of smoke irritation to the nostrils.

Bronchitis- an inflammation of the bronchial tubes which take air from the windpipe to the lungs. Chronic marijuana users often cough up yellowish-green mucus which may be tinged with blood.

Lung cancer- marijuana smoke contains more cancer-causing chemicals than tobacco smoke. Smoking three to five marijuana "joints" a week is equivalent to smoking 16 cigarettes every day.

Smoking one marijuana cigarette has the immediate effect of increasing heart rate and blood pressure as much as 50 percent. Marijuana increases the amount of toxic carbon monoxide in the blood, thereby reducing the amount of oxygen which reaches the heart. Increased blood pressure and changes in the blood vessels are reflected by the typical red or bloodshot eyes of the marijuana user.

Chest pains have been attributed to marijuana use. People who suffer from angina, high blood pressure, diabetes, or other heart problems take an even greater risk smoking marijuana.

Marijuana can have far reaching effects on the reproductive systems of both males and females.

Effects on males:

Decreased masculinity. Use of marijuana results in lowered levels of the male

hormone testosterone. This hormone is essential for the development and

support of male secondary sexual characteristics such as hair growth, voice

tone, and muscle distribution.

Impotency. Male users of marijuana may experience an inability to function


Infertility[37;0m. Moderate to heavy marijuana use, especially among

12 to 17 year-olds, can result in decreased or zero sperm production.

Studies indicate increased production of abnormal sperm among users,

which can result in birth defects in offspring.

Effects on females:

Decreased femininity. Marijuana use by females increase the amount of

testosterone in the body, causing an increase in acne and such male

characteristics as body and facial hair, and flattening of the breast and


Infertility. Use of marijuana may interrupt the menstrual cycle and interfere

with reproductive health and fertility. THC can cause irreversible damage to

the supply of eggs from the ovaries.

Pregnancy complications. Research suggests that using marijuana during

pregnancy may result in premature births, low-birth weights, birth defects

and an increased infant mortality rate. Nursing mothers can transfer THC to

their babies through their breast milk.

Other Effects of Marijuana

Chronic use of marijuana acts as an escape from stress, allowing the user to block out pain, frustration or confusion. However, as the user repeatedly uses marijuana to escape, he becomes less and less able to cope with everyday challenges. This behavior is known as the amotivational syndrome. Chronic users lose interest in achieving goals and instead become moody, easily fatigued, depressed, and experience difficulty in coping with stressful or complex situations.

Similar to the amotivational syndrome, burnout is the effect of prolonged marijuana use. Heavy users become dull and inattentive and sometimes unaware of their surroundings. They often do not respond when spoken to and do not realize they have a problem.

A common negative reaction to marijuana is the "acute panic anxiety reaction." People describe this an extreme fear of 'losing control," which causes panic. Symptoms usually disappear within five to eight hours.

Gateway Drug

Marijuana is considered to be a gateway drug. This means marijuana users tend to move on to more harmful drugs such as cocaine, heroin or LSD. Evidence shows that 60 percent of marijuana users go on to use harder drugs while the odds against non-users trying other substances are 98 to 1. A survey of heavy marijuana users showed that 74 percent have also used cocaine. However, there is no conclusive evidence that marijuana causes the use of more potent substances.

When marijuana is combined with other drugs such as alcohol, the effects of each are compounded and become several times more harmful.

While marijuana may not be physically addictive, regular users can develop a psychological dependence. Those who are psychologically dependent have difficulty limiting their use of the drug and can experience side effects such as insomnia and irritability when denied access to marijuana.

Source: Valencia Community College Project Infusion Module, Orlando, FL.[37m Reprinted with permission.