NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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Marijuana

What Is Marijuana?

 A hand holding a Marijuana leaf

Also known as: “weed,” “pot,” “bud,” “grass,” “herb,” “Mary Jane,” “MJ,” “reefer,” “skunk,” “boom,” “gangster,” “kif,” “chronic,” and “ganja”

Marijuana is a mixture of the dried and shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of Cannabis sativa—the hemp plant. The mixture can be green, brown, or gray. Stronger forms of the drug include sinsemilla (sin-seh-me-yah), hashish (“hash” for short), and hash oil.

Of the approximately 400 chemicals in marijuana, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, is responsible for many of the drug’s psychotropic (mind-altering) effects. It’s this chemical that changes how the brain works, distorting how the mind perceives the world.

Legal Issues

It is illegal to buy, sell, or carry marijuana under Federal law. The Federal Government considers marijuana a Schedule I substance—having no medicinal uses and high risk for abuse. However, across the United States, marijuana state laws for adult use are changing. As of 2014, 23 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing the use of marijuana as a treatment for certain medical conditions.

In addition, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use. Because of concerns over the possible harm to the developing teen brain and the risk of driving under the influence, marijuana use by people under age 21 is prohibited in all states.

Strength and Potency

The amount of THC in marijuana has increased over the past few decades—from an average of about 4 percent for marijuana and 7.5 percent for sinsemilla in the early 1990’s to almost 10 percent for marijuana and 16 percent for sinsemilla in 2013.1 Scientists don’t yet know what this increase in potency means for a person’s health. It could be that users take in higher amounts of THC, or they may adjust how they consume marijuana (like smoke or eat less) to compensate for the greater potency.

Hash Oil

The honey-like resin from the marijuana plant has 3 to 5 times more THC than the plant itself. Smoking it (also called “dabbing”) can potentially lead to dangerous levels of intoxication requiring emergency treatment. People have been burned in fires and explosions caused by attempts to extract hash oil using butane (lighter fluid).

1. ElSohly MA. Potency Monitoring Program quarterly report number 124. Reporting period: 12/16/2013 -03/15/2014. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse; 2014.