By Rachel Pearson

8 Things to know about the drug:

What is marijuana:
Marijuana–also known as pot, weed, grass, reefer, herb, Mary Jane, or MJ–is a greenish-gray mixture of dried and shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the Cannabis sativa plant. Most users smoke marijuana in hand-rolled cigarettes called joints, but pipes and water pipes, called bongs are also popular. Marijuana can also be mixed into tobacco cigars or mixed in with foods or tea. There are about 400 strains of marijuana sold in stores, and many of those are combined to form hybrid strains.

Who uses marijuana in the United States:
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 12.5 percent of eighth graders have used marijuana in the past, and 17.6 percent of tenth graders are current users. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) estimated that in 2009, marijuana was a contributing factor in over 376,000 emergency room visits, with over 12 percent of the patients between the ages of 12 and 17.

Is marijuana stronger than it was years ago:
Marijuana is stronger than it used to be in the 1970s, but it’s not as strong as the media claims. The media claims that marijuana is upwards of 30 times stronger than it was from the 1970s, when in reality it is about two to seven times stronger. However, many people in the 1970s started smoking marijuana leaves in their 20s, so the immediate and long-term effects weren’t as strong to them. Today, marijuana smokers are more likely to start in their mid-teens and are more inclined to smoke the buds of the Cannabis sativa plant. Today’s younger, more regular users are more at risk to develop mental health problems and dependence than the less frequent users of the 1970s.

How does marijuana produce its effects:
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC) is one of the main ingredients in marijuana. When marijuana is smoked, the THC goes into the lungs and rapidly passes into the bloodstream, where it is passed into many organs in the body, including the brain. The THC binds to specific sites along the surface of nerve cells, called cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are generally found in parts of the brain involved in thinking, memory, pleasure, concentration, movement, coordination, and sensory perception. The THC disrupts the normal function of naturally occurring chemicals that bind to the cannabinoid receptors. An overstimulation of these receptors induces the marijuana “high”, and eventually, the body will stop producing the natural chemicals needed to bind to the receptors. This makes the user have a physical dependence on marijuana in order to stimulate the cannabinoid receptors.

Is marijuana addictive:
Because the body stops producing the chemicals needed to stimulate the cannabinoid receptors, the user has a physical dependence on marijuana. Nearly one in six teenagers who use marijuana will become addicted to it, and 25 to 50 percent of adult daily users will develop a dependence. Marijuana also elevates the rate of other substance abuse for users–like cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine–than for nonusers.

How does marijuana affect a teenage smoker:
Even after discontinuing use, marijuana continues to have an affect on young smokers, particularly those between the ages of 11 and 18. Even after smoking marijuana only 20 times, there is impaired neuron activity in a teenage brain. This is because the frontal lobe of the brain is still developing during adolescence, and cannabis alters the growth and functioning of the frontal lobe, and the abnormalities remain throughout adulthood. Comparatively, adults who smoke marijuana do not have this same problem because their frontal lobes are fully developed.

Is there a link between marijuana use and mental illness:
Research suggests that a strong link exists between cannabis use and psychosis. Marijuana may also worsen any pre-existing mental illnesses, especially schizophrenia. But this relationship relies heavily on the amount of cannabis used, the age at first use, and genetic vulnerability.

How does marijuana affect other aspects of life (school, work, family):
Marijuana’s negative effects on emotions, attention, memory, and learning can last for weeks after the initial high has worn off. As a consequence, those who have used marijuana function at a lower intellectual level. Marijuana has been proven to show a correlation between consistent use and lower grades, and marijuana users are more likely to drop out of high school than nonusers.


8 things to know about the law:

1. Marijuana consumption was legal in Colorado prior to Jan. 1, 2014. Since Dec. 10, 2012, it has been legal for anyone 21 and older to use and possess marijuana. Marijuana use by anyone under 21 years old is still illegal.

2. Jan. 1 was the first day marijuana could be sold at specially licensed stores. More than two dozen marijuana shops opened Jan. 1 in the Denver area. Marijuana purchase requires the customer to show ID, much like a liquor store.

3. Marijuana cannot be smoked at any public establishment, including the stores it is sold at, parks, ski slopes, hotel rooms, and some apartment buildings. Depending on the city, it may even ban backyard, front-porch, and apartment-balcony marijuana use.

4. Taking marijuana out of the state is illegal, and TSA at Denver International Airport (DIA) uses drug dogs to look for marijuana in luggage. It is also illegal to possess marijuana in DIA. Even sending marijuana through the mail is punishable by federal law.

5. It is fine to have marijuana in a vehicle–so long as the owner and driver of the car is 21 or over, and the marijuana is being transported, not consumed.

6. The law states that an adult can possess an ounce of marijuana at a time, which is quite a bit. The average joint contains less than half a gram of marijuana, so an ounce of marijuana can fill about 60 joints. Marijuana runs anywhere from $150 to $300 an ounce before tax.

7. Technically, marijuana use is still illegal by federal law, and the federal government has the ability to override Amendment 64, but President Barack Obama has said that the federal government won’t arrest marijuana users in Colorado and Washington.

8. The Department of Justice has stated eight federal priorities concerning the state laws: preventing marijuana distribution to minors, preventing money from sales from going to criminal groups, preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal to states where it is illegal, preventing criminal groups from using state laws as cover for trafficking of other illegal drugs, preventing violence and the use of illegal firearms, preventing drugged driving and marijuana-related public health problems;, preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands, and preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.

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