Here are facts from a National Institute on Drug Abuse study, The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction.

How does marijuana work?

All forms of marijuana are mind-altering (psychoactive), meaning that they change how the brain works. Marijuana contains more than 400 chemicals, including THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the main active chemical in marijuana and the amount of THC determines its strength or potency. The THC content of marijuana has been increasing since the early 1980’s.

How long does marijuana stay in your body?

THC in marijuana is rapidly absorbed by fatty tissues in various organs of the body. Standard urine tests can detect traces (metabolites) of THC several days after use. In heavy users, THC metabolites can sometimes be detected for weeks after use stops.

What happens if you smoke marijuana?

Some people feel nothing at all when they smoke marijuana. Others may feel relaxed or “high”.   Some experience sudden feelings of anxiety and paranoid thoughts.  Regular marijuana use has also been linked to depression, anxiety, and a loss of drive or motivation. Marijuana’s effects can be unpredictable, especially when mixed with other drugs.

Short-term effects of using marijuana include:

  • Problems with learning and memory
  • Distorted perception (sights, sounds, time, touch)
  • Poor motor coordination
  • Increased heart rate

What does marijuana do to the brain?

Scientists and medical professionals know where marijuana acts in the brain and how it affects specific sites called cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are found in brain regions that influence learning and memory, appetite, coordination, and pleasure. That’s why marijuana produces the effects that it does.

Scientists use brain-imaging techniques to study the living brain and are still in the early stages of that research when it comes to marijuana. While we do know there are differences in the brains of marijuana users (versus nonusers), we do not yet know what these differences mean or how long they last, especially when someone stops using the drug.

How does smoking marijuana affect the lungs?

Regular marijuana smokers may have many of the same breathing and lung problems that tobacco smokers have, such as a daily cough and a greater risk of lung infections like pneumonia. Like tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke has a toxic mixture of gases and tiny particles that can harm the lungs.

How is marijuana likely to affect you?

Marijuana’s effects on attention and memory make it difficult to learn something new or do complex tasks that require focus and concentration.  Marijuana affects sports performance because it can alter judgment in relation to timing, movement, and coordination.

Is marijuana addictive?

Yes, marijuana has been proven to be addictive. About 1 in 6 people who start using marijuana as a teen become addicted.

Does marijuana use lead to other drugs?

Long-term studies of drug use patterns show that very few high school students use other illegal drugs without first trying marijuana. However, many young people who use marijuana do not go on to other drugs.

Exposure to marijuana may affect the brain, particularly during development, which continues into the early 20’s. Effects may include changes to the brain that make other drugs more appealing.

Someone who is using marijuana is likely to be in contact with other users and sellers of other drugs, thus increasing the risk of being encouraged or tempted to try other drugs.

People at high risk of using drugs may use marijuana first because it is relatively easy to obtain.

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