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Marijuana and Teens

What is marijuana?

Marijuana is a plant also known as hemp. Teens sometimes use marijuana to get high. The plant is usually dried and shredded and then smoked like a cigarette (called joints or blunts). Sometimes the smoke is inhaled from bongs (water pipes). You may hear of other kinds of marijuana, such as Hashish, which is the resin of the hemp plant. There are over 200 slang names for marijuana, including pot, weed, gangster, or chronic. It is the most commonly used drug after alcohol.

How does it work?

A chemical in the plant, called THC, causes a person to get high. The chemical is absorbed through the lungs and goes into your blood. THC causes the brain to release a chemical that makes you feel "high." THC stays in your body's organs for several days. Marijuana is much more potent then it used to be. A joint has 10 times more THC in it now then it did back in the 60s and 70s. Marijuana can cause very serious health problems.

Why use marijuana?

There are a variety of reasons teens choose to get high. You may get high because:

  • Peer pressure. You are trying to find a way to fit in with a group of peers.
  • Entertainment. You think it is fun.
  • Stress. You get high because it lets you "chill" or relax. Getting high lets you temporarily escape from a stressful situation, forget about the days problems, or a difficult family situation.
  • Depression or anxiety. You are suffering from depression or anxiety and you are treating your problem with drugs, rather than getting professional help.
  • Everybody does it. Although many people say that all teenagers use marijuana, it is definitely not the case. The majority of kids in school do not use marijuana. In 2001, only 6% percent of high school seniors reported that they used marijuana every day.

What effects does marijuana have on the body?

  • Brain: Short term effects include a distorted perception of reality, difficulty with memory and learning, trouble problem solving and thinking clearly, and loss of motor coordination (reflexes and quickness). There are significant long term effects of marijuana use as well. Marijuana use can cause memory and learning problems for weeks after using it.
  • Emotional: Marijuana users are more likely to be depressed and anxious. Daily problems often get worse. Relationships get worse and job and school performance suffers. You may develop a lack of interest in life, school, family, and friends.
  • Lungs: There are multiple cancer causing agents and tars in marijuana which are similar to those in tobacco cigarettes. Marijuana smoke contains much more cancer-causing hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke. One joint is equal to 10 to 40 tobacco cigarettes. Marijuana smokers have more coughs and lung infections than nonsmokers.
  • Heart: Marijuana can increase blood pressure and heart rate. Because of the carbon monoxide inhaled, blood is less able to carry oxygen.
  • Immune System: THC can change the way your body fights infection and cancer.
  • Pregnancy: Smoking marijuana while pregnant can cause lasting effects on a child. The baby may not develop normally. They have trouble with language, memory, and paying attention. These problems can last through the early school years. You are putting your child at a significant disadvantage if you smoke marijuana during pregnancy.

What about medical marijuana?

THC is used occasionally to help people with certain eye problems or who suffer severe pain from cancer. In these cases, a doctor can legally prescribe a pill form of THC. This is only legal in a few states.

Does using marijuana affect driving?

Yes. Because THC affects parts of the brain that control coordination and reaction time, your ability to drive is impaired when using marijuana. If combined with alcohol driving performance decreases even more dramatically.

Can you become addicted to marijuana?

Yes. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is addictive. Often, a teen's use of marijuana turns from occasional use into daily use. Users say they need marijuana to deal with the day. People dependent on marijuana, like those dependent on other addictive drugs, have trouble quitting. They also have withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, anger, depressed mood, headaches, restlessness, lack of appetite, and drug craving. This can make it difficult to stop using the drug.

Does marijuana use lead to other drug use?

Often, marijuana is referred to as a gateway drug. It is usually the first illegal drug a teenager tries. Not all people who use marijuana go on to use other drugs, but it is a risk. The younger you are- especially if you are 12, 13, or 14 when you use marijuana the first time, the greater the chance that you will go on to try "harder" drugs such as ecstasy, methamphetamine, mushrooms, LSD, cocaine, or heroin. An additional concern is that often people mix in these other drugs with marijuana, without you even knowing it.

Is marijuana for you?

Just like any decision you make, you need to look at the risks and benefits of that choice, and how it may affect you. There are serious short-term and long-term medical and psychological affects that are outlined in this handout. Additional information that can influence your decision is what your parents think about your using marijuana. Are there consequences at home, or in school? Certainly it is illegal to use marijuana, and if caught at school, or in the community by police, you are breaking the law and may have criminal charges filed against you. Often, students are suspended and made to take drug classes in a school setting. Ultimately you make the choice. If you do choose to use, carefully think about why you are making that choice and try to get help for the underlying reasons addressed by a health professional.

Do you have a problem with marijuana use?

There are several areas of your life to examine to see whether or not marijuana or other drugs are affecting your life.

  • Have your grades gone down?
  • Have you dropped out of school?
  • Have relationships with friends or family gotten worse? Are you fighting more?
  • Are you taking risks under the influence, such as driving, or having sex when you otherwise wouldn't?
  • Do you find yourself "needing" to get high to deal with certain situations?
  • Is your frequency of marijuana use increasing?
  • Do you get high before or during school?
  • Are you depressed, anxious, or paranoid?
  • Does it take more marijuana to get you high than it used to?
  • Have you gotten into trouble with the law?
  • Are you stealing, or trading sex to get either money or drugs?
  • Have you blacked out?
  • Have you tried to decrease or stop your marijuana use and been unable to?

If you have answered YES to any of these questions, then your marijuana use is causing problems that need to be addressed.

How do I get help?

There are many ways you can get help.

  • Talk to your school counselor. They can help guide you sort through your issues and guide you to substance use programs, if necessary. Frequently schools have drug counseling classes.
  • See your health care provider. He or she can help you figure out how severe your drug problem is and help you and your family decide what kind of drug treatment program you may need. A health care provider can also help sort out whether you have depression, ADHD, or other problem that needs treatment.

You can talk with a professional about your substance use confidentially. Unless it is a life threatening situation, your parents do not need to know, though including them in the discussion can be helpful in dealing with the problem.

Written by Eric Sigel, MD.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2006-10-12
Last reviewed: 2006-05-01
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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