What Is Marijuana and How Is It Used?

Reviewed Nov 28, 2016

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Summary

Marijuana is:

  • A useful symptom reducer for some health problems
  • Addictive to those at risk for addiction, or who use it often

It’s hard to open a newspaper, read a news website or watch the TV news today without finding a story about marijuana.

Some states are legalizing it or thinking about dropping laws against recreational use. Farmers are talking about growing it as a cash crop and dispensaries are opening to sell it to people with serious illnesses like chronic pain, AIDS or cancer.

Some people say, if it is used in small amounts once in a while, it’s as harmless as a glass of beer or wine.

Is it harmless?

Marijuana can be both harmless and dangerous, depending on how it is used and why. Marijuana use disorder and addiction are very different from marijuana use within reasonable bounds or prescribed for a health condition, says psychologist and author Tina Tessina.

What is it?

Marijuana—often called pot—is a mixture of dried leaves and flowers of a hemp plant that have been shredded or chopped to make it easy to smoke or eat. Usually made from parts of the cannabis sativa or cannabis indica plants, it contains the mind-altering chemicals THC and CBD. They affect the brain and can change the way you handle stress and self-control. In very low doses, THC also seems to reduce pain, swelling or nausea in people who are very sick.

Used by 4.5 million people in the U.S., it is the most commonly used recreational drug. Use declined among teens from 2000-2010 but has grown since that time. The rise in use comes at the same time that society’s attitude toward pot is changing. As more and more states legalize it or allow medical-marijuana dispensaries, the public has come to see it as harmless, or at least, no more harmful than booze, if used properly.

It may come from something natural, but so does alcohol. And just like alcohol, aspirin and drugs used to treat mental illness, pot carries risks to users.

Who uses it?

According to a 2012 survey done by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more teenagers said they were “current (past-month) smokers of marijuana than of cigarettes.” About 45 percent of teens say they have used the drug at some point in their lives.

Almost 150 million people around the world use it, more than those who use stronger drugs. Use has increased quickly in recent years in the U.S., Canada, Western Europe and Australia. Young people are more likely to use it than older people.

How is it used?

It can be smoked in a cigarette or pipe, or eaten in prepared food like cookies or brownies. For medical use, you can breathe in marijuana fumes from a vaporizer, or take capsules of cannabis oil.

If you roll it into a cigarette, called a joint, you breathe in about 10 percent to 20 percent of the THC.

If you empty out a cigar and fill it with pot, it is called a blunt. These are bigger than joints and carry more mind-altering drugs to your brain.

If you smoke it in a pipe, you get about 40 percent to 50 percent of the THC in your system.

Some people do not like the heat of a cigarette so they smoke pot through a water pipe. The water cools the smoke but the pipe is also designed to raise the amount of THC you inhale.

Some people brew tea from marijuana and drink it.

The quickest way to get high from pot is to heat it or burn it and breathe in the smoke. The slowest ways are eating, inhaling or taking it in the form of a pill. In fact, medical marijuana is given in very low doses, so a patient never feels high, but gets relief from pain, nausea or insomnia.

Marijuana can be used:

Recreationally

People use pot to get high. If you are stressed out, it calms you. If you are unhappy, it lightens your mood. If you are worried about tomorrow, you might not think of tomorrow while you are high. In fact, you will lose track of time. If you have always been a focused and serious person, pot may make you playful or mellow.

But, not everyone has the same reaction to pot. It makes some people afraid. Others do not like the feeling of losing control of their thoughts. Feeling tipsy or acting silly is not everyone’s idea of a good time. In fact, some people may not like what they feel or do when their guard is lowered by a mind-altering drug.

Medicinally

Limited research shows that marijuana can be used to ease pain, help people sleep better, keep them from throwing up after chemo treatments, or lessen anxiety that goes along with some physical illnesses, with few side effects. It has been used in low doses by people with arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and even cancer, to make them feel better.

This is important: Marijuana will not cure those health problems, but it can lessen some of the irritating symptoms, like swelling and nausea.

Downsides to using it

There are many. Because it works to change part of the brain, it can:

  • Be addicting. About 10 percent of people who use it recreationally will become hooked, in part, because they carry a gene that reacts to the THC.
  • Damage young, unformed brains. It is especially bad for young teens whose brains haven’t fully developed.
  • Make underlying—and, maybe, undiagnosed—mental health conditions worse. When the high wears off, it increases depression and anxiety in those who already have it. For some people, the symptoms of their mental health problem become worse.
  • Affect the development of an unborn child, if a woman uses during pregnancy.
  • Make you drowsy, which can lead to accidents. You should never drive high.

“Even if marijuana is legalized in your state, driving stoned will never be legal,” says Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist who helps many people deal with addiction.

There are physical risks as well:

  • It raises your heart rate for as long as 3 hours, increasing your risk of stroke or heart attack.
  • THC and CBD can stay in your body for as long as a month.
  • A joint has more toxic substances in it than a cigarette made with tobacco, raising your risk of lung and other cancers.
  • Pot smoke irritates the throat and lungs, setting you up for infections in those areas and beyond.
  • When you smoke or eat pot, you do not really know what you are putting in your body. Plants could have been sprayed with poisons or growth hormones. Rats or insects sometimes live in the dried leaves before they are sold.

Bill Shryer, clinical director of a mental health clinic in California, says the average marijuana plant grown today has been bred to have 10 times as much THC as plants grown 30 years ago. People may not know what they are getting into when they smoke pot, he says.

Also, levels of THC and CBD vary from plant to plant. You may have no problem with pot one day, but big problems the next time you use it.

Resources

National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information
www.samhsa.gov

National Institute on Drug Abuse
www.nida.nih.gov

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Jenny Karstad, MA, LADC, LCMHC, clinical supervisor, Brattleboro Retreat Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Center, Brattleboro, VT; Joseph Lee, MD, psychiatrist, medical director for youth services and national advocate for adolescent addiction and mental health issues, Hazelden Addiction Treatment Centers, Minneapolis, MN; William Shryer, DCSW, LCSW, clinical director, Diablo Behavioral Healthcare Centers, Danville, CA; Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of The Real 13th Step: Discovering Confidence, Self-Reliance, and Independence Beyond the 12-Step Programs, Long Beach, CA
Reviewed by Arkady Bilenko, MD, Vice President, Regional Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

Marijuana is:

  • A useful symptom reducer for some health problems
  • Addictive to those at risk for addiction, or who use it often

It’s hard to open a newspaper, read a news website or watch the TV news today without finding a story about marijuana.

Some states are legalizing it or thinking about dropping laws against recreational use. Farmers are talking about growing it as a cash crop and dispensaries are opening to sell it to people with serious illnesses like chronic pain, AIDS or cancer.

Some people say, if it is used in small amounts once in a while, it’s as harmless as a glass of beer or wine.

Is it harmless?

Marijuana can be both harmless and dangerous, depending on how it is used and why. Marijuana use disorder and addiction are very different from marijuana use within reasonable bounds or prescribed for a health condition, says psychologist and author Tina Tessina.

What is it?

Marijuana—often called pot—is a mixture of dried leaves and flowers of a hemp plant that have been shredded or chopped to make it easy to smoke or eat. Usually made from parts of the cannabis sativa or cannabis indica plants, it contains the mind-altering chemicals THC and CBD. They affect the brain and can change the way you handle stress and self-control. In very low doses, THC also seems to reduce pain, swelling or nausea in people who are very sick.

Used by 4.5 million people in the U.S., it is the most commonly used recreational drug. Use declined among teens from 2000-2010 but has grown since that time. The rise in use comes at the same time that society’s attitude toward pot is changing. As more and more states legalize it or allow medical-marijuana dispensaries, the public has come to see it as harmless, or at least, no more harmful than booze, if used properly.

It may come from something natural, but so does alcohol. And just like alcohol, aspirin and drugs used to treat mental illness, pot carries risks to users.

Who uses it?

According to a 2012 survey done by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more teenagers said they were “current (past-month) smokers of marijuana than of cigarettes.” About 45 percent of teens say they have used the drug at some point in their lives.

Almost 150 million people around the world use it, more than those who use stronger drugs. Use has increased quickly in recent years in the U.S., Canada, Western Europe and Australia. Young people are more likely to use it than older people.

How is it used?

It can be smoked in a cigarette or pipe, or eaten in prepared food like cookies or brownies. For medical use, you can breathe in marijuana fumes from a vaporizer, or take capsules of cannabis oil.

If you roll it into a cigarette, called a joint, you breathe in about 10 percent to 20 percent of the THC.

If you empty out a cigar and fill it with pot, it is called a blunt. These are bigger than joints and carry more mind-altering drugs to your brain.

If you smoke it in a pipe, you get about 40 percent to 50 percent of the THC in your system.

Some people do not like the heat of a cigarette so they smoke pot through a water pipe. The water cools the smoke but the pipe is also designed to raise the amount of THC you inhale.

Some people brew tea from marijuana and drink it.

The quickest way to get high from pot is to heat it or burn it and breathe in the smoke. The slowest ways are eating, inhaling or taking it in the form of a pill. In fact, medical marijuana is given in very low doses, so a patient never feels high, but gets relief from pain, nausea or insomnia.

Marijuana can be used:

Recreationally

People use pot to get high. If you are stressed out, it calms you. If you are unhappy, it lightens your mood. If you are worried about tomorrow, you might not think of tomorrow while you are high. In fact, you will lose track of time. If you have always been a focused and serious person, pot may make you playful or mellow.

But, not everyone has the same reaction to pot. It makes some people afraid. Others do not like the feeling of losing control of their thoughts. Feeling tipsy or acting silly is not everyone’s idea of a good time. In fact, some people may not like what they feel or do when their guard is lowered by a mind-altering drug.

Medicinally

Limited research shows that marijuana can be used to ease pain, help people sleep better, keep them from throwing up after chemo treatments, or lessen anxiety that goes along with some physical illnesses, with few side effects. It has been used in low doses by people with arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and even cancer, to make them feel better.

This is important: Marijuana will not cure those health problems, but it can lessen some of the irritating symptoms, like swelling and nausea.

Downsides to using it

There are many. Because it works to change part of the brain, it can:

  • Be addicting. About 10 percent of people who use it recreationally will become hooked, in part, because they carry a gene that reacts to the THC.
  • Damage young, unformed brains. It is especially bad for young teens whose brains haven’t fully developed.
  • Make underlying—and, maybe, undiagnosed—mental health conditions worse. When the high wears off, it increases depression and anxiety in those who already have it. For some people, the symptoms of their mental health problem become worse.
  • Affect the development of an unborn child, if a woman uses during pregnancy.
  • Make you drowsy, which can lead to accidents. You should never drive high.

“Even if marijuana is legalized in your state, driving stoned will never be legal,” says Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist who helps many people deal with addiction.

There are physical risks as well:

  • It raises your heart rate for as long as 3 hours, increasing your risk of stroke or heart attack.
  • THC and CBD can stay in your body for as long as a month.
  • A joint has more toxic substances in it than a cigarette made with tobacco, raising your risk of lung and other cancers.
  • Pot smoke irritates the throat and lungs, setting you up for infections in those areas and beyond.
  • When you smoke or eat pot, you do not really know what you are putting in your body. Plants could have been sprayed with poisons or growth hormones. Rats or insects sometimes live in the dried leaves before they are sold.

Bill Shryer, clinical director of a mental health clinic in California, says the average marijuana plant grown today has been bred to have 10 times as much THC as plants grown 30 years ago. People may not know what they are getting into when they smoke pot, he says.

Also, levels of THC and CBD vary from plant to plant. You may have no problem with pot one day, but big problems the next time you use it.

Resources

National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information
www.samhsa.gov

National Institute on Drug Abuse
www.nida.nih.gov

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Jenny Karstad, MA, LADC, LCMHC, clinical supervisor, Brattleboro Retreat Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Center, Brattleboro, VT; Joseph Lee, MD, psychiatrist, medical director for youth services and national advocate for adolescent addiction and mental health issues, Hazelden Addiction Treatment Centers, Minneapolis, MN; William Shryer, DCSW, LCSW, clinical director, Diablo Behavioral Healthcare Centers, Danville, CA; Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of The Real 13th Step: Discovering Confidence, Self-Reliance, and Independence Beyond the 12-Step Programs, Long Beach, CA
Reviewed by Arkady Bilenko, MD, Vice President, Regional Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

Marijuana is:

  • A useful symptom reducer for some health problems
  • Addictive to those at risk for addiction, or who use it often

It’s hard to open a newspaper, read a news website or watch the TV news today without finding a story about marijuana.

Some states are legalizing it or thinking about dropping laws against recreational use. Farmers are talking about growing it as a cash crop and dispensaries are opening to sell it to people with serious illnesses like chronic pain, AIDS or cancer.

Some people say, if it is used in small amounts once in a while, it’s as harmless as a glass of beer or wine.

Is it harmless?

Marijuana can be both harmless and dangerous, depending on how it is used and why. Marijuana use disorder and addiction are very different from marijuana use within reasonable bounds or prescribed for a health condition, says psychologist and author Tina Tessina.

What is it?

Marijuana—often called pot—is a mixture of dried leaves and flowers of a hemp plant that have been shredded or chopped to make it easy to smoke or eat. Usually made from parts of the cannabis sativa or cannabis indica plants, it contains the mind-altering chemicals THC and CBD. They affect the brain and can change the way you handle stress and self-control. In very low doses, THC also seems to reduce pain, swelling or nausea in people who are very sick.

Used by 4.5 million people in the U.S., it is the most commonly used recreational drug. Use declined among teens from 2000-2010 but has grown since that time. The rise in use comes at the same time that society’s attitude toward pot is changing. As more and more states legalize it or allow medical-marijuana dispensaries, the public has come to see it as harmless, or at least, no more harmful than booze, if used properly.

It may come from something natural, but so does alcohol. And just like alcohol, aspirin and drugs used to treat mental illness, pot carries risks to users.

Who uses it?

According to a 2012 survey done by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more teenagers said they were “current (past-month) smokers of marijuana than of cigarettes.” About 45 percent of teens say they have used the drug at some point in their lives.

Almost 150 million people around the world use it, more than those who use stronger drugs. Use has increased quickly in recent years in the U.S., Canada, Western Europe and Australia. Young people are more likely to use it than older people.

How is it used?

It can be smoked in a cigarette or pipe, or eaten in prepared food like cookies or brownies. For medical use, you can breathe in marijuana fumes from a vaporizer, or take capsules of cannabis oil.

If you roll it into a cigarette, called a joint, you breathe in about 10 percent to 20 percent of the THC.

If you empty out a cigar and fill it with pot, it is called a blunt. These are bigger than joints and carry more mind-altering drugs to your brain.

If you smoke it in a pipe, you get about 40 percent to 50 percent of the THC in your system.

Some people do not like the heat of a cigarette so they smoke pot through a water pipe. The water cools the smoke but the pipe is also designed to raise the amount of THC you inhale.

Some people brew tea from marijuana and drink it.

The quickest way to get high from pot is to heat it or burn it and breathe in the smoke. The slowest ways are eating, inhaling or taking it in the form of a pill. In fact, medical marijuana is given in very low doses, so a patient never feels high, but gets relief from pain, nausea or insomnia.

Marijuana can be used:

Recreationally

People use pot to get high. If you are stressed out, it calms you. If you are unhappy, it lightens your mood. If you are worried about tomorrow, you might not think of tomorrow while you are high. In fact, you will lose track of time. If you have always been a focused and serious person, pot may make you playful or mellow.

But, not everyone has the same reaction to pot. It makes some people afraid. Others do not like the feeling of losing control of their thoughts. Feeling tipsy or acting silly is not everyone’s idea of a good time. In fact, some people may not like what they feel or do when their guard is lowered by a mind-altering drug.

Medicinally

Limited research shows that marijuana can be used to ease pain, help people sleep better, keep them from throwing up after chemo treatments, or lessen anxiety that goes along with some physical illnesses, with few side effects. It has been used in low doses by people with arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and even cancer, to make them feel better.

This is important: Marijuana will not cure those health problems, but it can lessen some of the irritating symptoms, like swelling and nausea.

Downsides to using it

There are many. Because it works to change part of the brain, it can:

  • Be addicting. About 10 percent of people who use it recreationally will become hooked, in part, because they carry a gene that reacts to the THC.
  • Damage young, unformed brains. It is especially bad for young teens whose brains haven’t fully developed.
  • Make underlying—and, maybe, undiagnosed—mental health conditions worse. When the high wears off, it increases depression and anxiety in those who already have it. For some people, the symptoms of their mental health problem become worse.
  • Affect the development of an unborn child, if a woman uses during pregnancy.
  • Make you drowsy, which can lead to accidents. You should never drive high.

“Even if marijuana is legalized in your state, driving stoned will never be legal,” says Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist who helps many people deal with addiction.

There are physical risks as well:

  • It raises your heart rate for as long as 3 hours, increasing your risk of stroke or heart attack.
  • THC and CBD can stay in your body for as long as a month.
  • A joint has more toxic substances in it than a cigarette made with tobacco, raising your risk of lung and other cancers.
  • Pot smoke irritates the throat and lungs, setting you up for infections in those areas and beyond.
  • When you smoke or eat pot, you do not really know what you are putting in your body. Plants could have been sprayed with poisons or growth hormones. Rats or insects sometimes live in the dried leaves before they are sold.

Bill Shryer, clinical director of a mental health clinic in California, says the average marijuana plant grown today has been bred to have 10 times as much THC as plants grown 30 years ago. People may not know what they are getting into when they smoke pot, he says.

Also, levels of THC and CBD vary from plant to plant. You may have no problem with pot one day, but big problems the next time you use it.

Resources

National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information
www.samhsa.gov

National Institute on Drug Abuse
www.nida.nih.gov

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Jenny Karstad, MA, LADC, LCMHC, clinical supervisor, Brattleboro Retreat Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Center, Brattleboro, VT; Joseph Lee, MD, psychiatrist, medical director for youth services and national advocate for adolescent addiction and mental health issues, Hazelden Addiction Treatment Centers, Minneapolis, MN; William Shryer, DCSW, LCSW, clinical director, Diablo Behavioral Healthcare Centers, Danville, CA; Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of The Real 13th Step: Discovering Confidence, Self-Reliance, and Independence Beyond the 12-Step Programs, Long Beach, CA
Reviewed by Arkady Bilenko, MD, Vice President, Regional Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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