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What is marijuana, and what does it do when someone uses it?

Marijuana is the dried leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds from the hemp plant or cannabis plant.  The primary active ingredient in marijuana is a mind-altering chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.  Marijuana is one of the most commonly used illegal and legal drugs in the United States, depending on what state you are in.  It is estimated that over 45% of Americans over the age of 12 have used marijuana at least once in his or her life.  Eleven states have legalized recreational marijuana and 33 states that have legalized medical marijuana, among many other states that have decriminalized marijuana.  Marijuana is illegal at the federal level by way of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and is classified as a Schedule I drug.  There are over 200 different slang terms for marijuana, and it is often classified as a depressant, but can also have stimulant and even hallucinogenic properties.   

The common side effects of marijuana use include altered senses, mood changes, difficult thinking, impaired memory, and copious amounts have the potential to cause hallucinations, psychosis, and delusions, especially when mixed with other drugs.  Within the brain are nerve cells that contain receptors that bind to THC.  This essentially sets off a series of cellular reactions that lead to the high people experience when they use marijuana.  The drug is used recreationally because it elevates a person’s mood and relaxes them.  The level of THC in marijuana determines what the overall effect will be and how the persons respond to marijuana.  The most common method of use for marijuana is to smoke the drug, whether rolled into a cigarette, in a pipe or water bong.  Edible marijuana is also popular, and vaping marijuana has become popular among adolescents and young adults. 

Marijuana is problematic among adolescents because it has long-term effects on mental abilities, such as memory, learning, and cognitive abilities.  Most teens who start to use marijuana will struggle with school and things that require memory and the use of cognitive abilities.  Smoking marijuana also increases the risk of respiratory issues, such as lung infections and bronchitis.  The carcinogens found in marijuana smoke are more toxic than those found in cigarettes; however, there have been no recorded cases of someone contracting cancer from marijuana use.  The cancer cases that have been connected to marijuana cases involved people who were either heavy smokers or heavy drinkers.  There is an inherent risk when using marijuana, and there are also numerous reasons why someone chooses to use marijuana. 

Some of the common reasons why someone chooses to use marijuana include a need to relieve stress or tension.  The average American lives a stressful life and will often turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the stress they are dealing with.  Other individuals use marijuana as an escape from the problems they are facing in life.  It does become much easier to avoid problems with drugs or alcohol, but these problems do become worse with continued use of marijuana.  Marijuana is commonly used to alleviate boredom, and this is a common reason why many people started to abuse drugs or alcohol.  Drugs such as marijuana provide new feelings that relieve the feeling of being bored.  The feel-good and euphoric effects of marijuana are enough for many Americans to use the drugs. Cannabis provides that false sense of feeling good and heightens emotions.  Adolescents will choose to smoke to marijuana to fit in, and peer pressure is still a common motivator for why many teens use marijuana.

What is the scope of marijuana abuse in the United States?

Along with alcohol, marijuana is one of the most widely abused substances in the United States.  In 2018 it was estimated that 43.5 million Americans aged 12 or older had used marijuana in the past year, per the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.  The number of marijuana users that year corresponds to roughly 15% of the population.  The percentage of the people that were using marijuana was higher than the percentages in 2002 and 2017.  The increase in marijuana use reflects increased use among young adults aged 18 to 25 and adults aged 26 or older.  Among adolescents aged 12 to 17, about 1 in 8 adolescents were past-year marijuana users.  This represents over 3.1 million adolescents in the United States who used marijuana in the past year.  In 2018, the percentage of adolescents who used marijuana was lower than the percentage in 2002 through 2004 and in 2009 through 2013.  The percentage of adolescent marijuana users in 2018 was similar to those numbers in 2005 through 2008 and 2014 through 2017.

Young adults aged 18 to 25 made up around 34% of the total past year marijuana users in 2018, which is about 11.8 million young adult Americans.  The percentage of past-year marijuana users within this age group in 2018 was higher than in 2002 through 2016, but much of the same in 2017.  Adults who were older than 26 made up around 13% of past-year marijuana users, which was approximately 28 million American adults.  The percentage of past-year marijuana users within this age group in 2018 was higher than in 2002 through 2017.  As marijuana becomes more increasingly legal throughout the United States, more teens are being exposed to it.  However, there are considerable differences in teen marijuana use within different states.  For example, some states saw double-digit year over year increases in marijuana use, such as Vermont, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Washington.  These are states where recreational marijuana use is legal and or soon to be legal.

The states that had some of the highest rates of youth marijuana use in 2017 among individuals 17 and younger included Alaska, Colorado, California, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, and Oregon.  The states that saw increases each year with adolescent marijuana use included Vermont, Washington, Massachusetts, and Colorado, among many others.  However, the number of states that saw decreases each year with teenage marijuana use was more significant.  There has been no recorded evidence that legalization causes increased use in adolescent marijuana use.  Even in Colorado, where marijuana use has been connected to an increase in traffic-related incidents, there had not been any significant changes with adolescent use since legalization.  The primary issues with legal marijuana in Colorado have been driving while impaired, and car accident fatalities involving marijuana.

If your teen is struggling with marijuana use, it is crucial to get them help.  Marijuana use at a young age does cause cognitive impairment, and drastically affects a developing brain.  Most adolescent marijuana users will continue their use well into their adult years if they do not get the treatment they need.  Marijuana is becoming a more widely accepted drug like alcohol and teens are still becoming exposed to it at a young age.  Drug treatment programs throughout the United States are equipped to help adolescents struggling with any drug addiction.     

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What is the legal status of marijuana in the United States?

On a federal level within the United States, the use, possession, and trafficking of marijuana are illegal by way of the Controlled Substances Act.  Under the Controlled Substance Act, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance, which is determined to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.  However, at the state level, policies regarding medical and recreational cannabis vary greatly, and many states conflict with federal law.  The medical use of marijuana is legalized in 33 states, and four out five permanently inhabited American territories, and the District of Columbia.  Fourteen states have laws that limit THC content to allow access to products that have cannabidiol in them.  Despite cannabis being illegal at the federal level, the Rohrabacher – Farr amendment prohibits federal prosecution of people complying with state medical marijuana laws. 

The recreational use of cannabis is currently legal in 11 states as of 2019.  These states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, and the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam.  There are another 15 states and the American Virgin Islands that have decriminalized marijuana.  The commercial distribution of marijuana is allowed in all jurisdictions where cannabis is legal for recreational use.  However, the state of Vermont and the District of Columbia do not permit the legal distribution of cannabis.  The Food and Drug Administration has also approved derivative compounds for prescription use, despite marijuana being illegal at the federal level. 

Each year more states are considering bills for the legalization of marijuana.  For example, in 2018, 21 states considered bills that would legalize adult use of marijuana.  Many of the bills before state legislatures in 2018 addressed the federal role in marijuana policies.  There were 26 states and the District of Columbia that have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana.  Generally, this means small personal consumption amounts are a civil or local infraction and not a state crime.  Some states have reduced criminal penalties for marijuana convictions and in the last five years’ legislation in at least 16 states have amended marijuana penalties.  Also, in the past four years, at least fifteen states have passed laws addressing the expungement of certain marijuana convictions.    

Marijuana laws are always changing throughout the United States on a state level.  Along with this, millions of Americans are using marijuana recreationally and for medical reasons.  Chronic marijuana use does create problems in life, such as social, financial, and even psychological issues.  The long-term use of marijuana does cause drug dependency and tolerance to the effects of marijuana.  There are also millions of Americans struggling with a substance use disorder where cannabis is cited as being one of the many drugs of choice.  If you are struggling with an addiction to marijuana, many different treatment programs across the nation will help.  Marijuana addiction is effectively treated through either inpatient or outpatient drug rehab.      

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How do you know if someone is addicted to marijuana?

If you are concerned about your loved one’s marijuana use, there some physical and psychological signs you can search for.  Some of the initial signs include bloodshot eyes, increased appetite, lack of motivation, weight gain, nervous or paranoid behavior, impaired coordination, and slowed reaction time.  Other symptoms from marijuana use include anxiety, impaired judgment, distorted perception, relaxed state, sleepiness, feeling high or euphoria, and delayed or poor coordination.  The prolonged use of marijuana can create some psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, motivational issues, and cognitive difficulties.  This is seen more when marijuana use is started at a young age with a developing brain.  The short-term side effects of marijuana are not life-threatening, but there is potential for danger.  Many states saw increased numbers in emergency room visits because of synthetic marijuana and marijuana that was cut with other drugs such as opioids. 

Some of the immediate side effects of marijuana use include paranoia, elevated heart rate, overeating, impaired motor functions, anxiety, and impaired cognition.  The long-term effects of marijuana use are not as severe as other drugs.  However, long-term effects can become severe if marijuana use is chronic among adolescents and young adults before full brain development.  Some of the possible side effects of chronic marijuana use at a young age include mood swings, reduced ability to learn, lung infections, inhibited mental development, panic attacks, and memory loss.  Adolescents see the most significant impact of marijuana use because their brain is still in early development.  Recognizing a marijuana addiction is the first step in being able to help someone who is addicted to the drug.  One of the most significant signs of marijuana use is the urge to use marijuana.  For example, someone who is a chronic marijuana user will use the drug at work, at social gatherings, and anywhere they feel the urge to use. 

Treatment for marijuana addiction is essential, and it is not uncommon for the family to perform an intervention to help a loved one addicted to marijuana.  If the use of marijuana is hindering a productive life for someone, you care about, staging an intervention will help them.  People who have become addicted to marijuana do not always feel there is a problem with their marijuana use.  An intervention is a perfect opportunity to present them with the fact about marijuana being addictive and how it has negatively impacted his or her life.

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