Also known as “pot,” “grass,” “herb,” “weed,” “Mary Jane,” “reefer,” “skunk,” “boom,” “gangster,” “kif,” “chronic,” “ganja,” and many other street names, marijuana is a collection of dried, shredded leaves, stems, flowers and seeds of the plant Cannibas Sativa. It is most commonly smoked, either rolled up in paper as a “joint,” through a water pipe known as a bong, or in a hollowed out cigar as a “blunt.” It can also be ingested, and some users even make it into a tea. Marijuana contains a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, that binds to receptors in the brain and releases dopamine, which causes the “high” feeling that users seek. Marijuana can also have many harmful effects, however, including increased heart rate, an inability to focus, slowed reflexes and reaction time, short-term memory loss, an inability to learn, and an increased risk for lung cancer. Marijuana has also been shown to interfere with a person’s social interactions and career responsibilities. In high doses, marijuana can cause paranoia and respiratory issues. Although the high feeling wears off after a relatively short period, THC stores in fatty tissues in the brain synapses for up to 30 days, continuing to interfere with proper brain function; the negative consequences far outlast the high.

Despite the common misconception that marijuana is non-addictive, about 9 percent of people who use marijuana become addicted to it, according to studies conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This number increases to 25 to 50 percent among daily users. Addiction is “a disease where people continue to do something, even when they are aware of the severe negative consequences at the personal, social, academic, and professional levels” (NIDA). Regular marijuana users who have become dependent on it may experience withdrawal syndrome when they stop taking the drug. Withdrawal symptoms include irritability, problems sleeping, and weight loss, as well as a strong desire for the drug.

Marijuana use among teenagers is a serious problem in the United States, though not as prevalent as many teenagers think. 6.5% of 8th graders, 17% of 10th graders, and 22.9% of 12th graders reported using marijuana in the past month on a 2012 NIDA survey, up from the same survey in 2007. Addiction rates increase among those who begin using marijuana early in life, and studies show a significant drop in IQ for regular users, even those who quit eventually. Marijuana also interferes with learning, cognition, and memory during essential development and education in a young person’s life.

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