Written by Chloe Nicosia
Marijuana is a mind-altering drug that comes from the hemp plant. All parts of the plant, including the leaves, blossoms, seeds, and stems, contain delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC. Using marijuana produces short- and long-term changes in the brain. Marijuana also has medical uses, as the drug can alleviate some health symptoms. Legalization of marijuana is a controversial topic, as various states either have legalized it already or are exploring the removal of the prohibition of this drug. But marijuana legalization could have an especially negative result for young people.
When compared to other drugs, marijuana often seems less dangerous. People use marijuana by smoking it in pipes or rolled in papers, by inhaling it via a vaporizer, or by mixing it into food and eating or drinking it. Smoking marijuana results in THC entering the bloodstream swiftly, where it moves throughout the body. When smoked, marijuana can cause many of the same health problems associated with smoking cigarettes, such as mouth, throat, and lung damage. When ingesting marijuana, the effects of THC are slower than when smoking it. In the short term, the high from marijuana results in changes to your perception and sense of time, mood changes, impaired coordination, memory lapses, and problems with cognitive processes. Marijuana effects are not always consistent, however. Sometimes, the high feels happy and euphoric, but other times, it may lead a user to feel frightened and paranoid. Over the long term, researchers are speculating that marijuana impairs cognitive function and memory, interfering with the way the brain carries out these processes. These negative impacts may even be permanent with regular use of marijuana. Repeated marijuana use can also lead to addiction in much the same way that people become addicted to alcohol and other drugs.
The public’s opinion of marijuana has changed in recent decades, with many people considering it to be safer than other drugs. This attitude is especially apparent among young people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call marijuana the most commonly used drug, with 19.8 million Americans age 12 and older claiming to have used it during the preceding month in a CDC survey. Part of the push for legalization of marijuana connects to its medicinal effects. Some chemicals present in marijuana can help with symptoms such as nausea, inflammation, muscle control, and pain. These chemicals are called cannabinoids. Cannabidiol is one marijuana chemical that can be effective in relieving some health symptoms, yet it does not produce an intoxicating effect on the body. Scientists are researching the potential impact of medicinal marijuana on diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, some cancers, and HIV.
A number of negative impacts are associated with the legalization of marijuana. Greater accessibility of the drug would likely lead to more use. It’s also likely that marketing of marijuana would include children and teenagers, which would lead to more young people using the drug. Youth using marijuana could lead to higher incidences of abuse and addiction. Some evidence also points to marijuana’s correlation with mental illnesses such as psychoses and schizophrenia. Kids who begin using marijuana may have reduced IQs when compared to young people who don’t use it. Furthermore, the marijuana available today is a vastly different drug than what was available in decades past. THC levels are much higher in marijuana circulating currently, which makes it potentially more damaging to the brain and more addictive. Many experts also consider marijuana a gateway drug. This means that people begin using marijuana and then might move on to more lethal drugs such as heroin. When researching medical marijuana laws and their impacts, studies show that average users do not have terminal or serious illnesses, but they do have addiction rates that are nearly two times higher than in states without medical marijuana laws. The potential for private groups funding the production and marketing of marijuana and all related merchandise will likely not have a positive outcome for anyone, especially the young people who would be a huge marketing target for these products.
- What Is Marijuana?
- Marijuana Summary
- Marijuana Drug Fact Sheet (PDF)
- Considering Marijuana Legalization
- National Estimates of Marijuana Use
- Political Issue: Marijuana
- Top 10 Messages Against Legalization (PDF)
- How Harmful Is Marijuana?
- Marijuana Legalization Pros and Cons
- Is Medical Marijuana a Gateway Drug? The Effect of Medical Marijuana Legalization on Heroin Use Rates (PDF)
- Marijuana in the Workplace
- Up in Smoke: The Unintended Consequences of Marijuana Legalization (PDF)
- The Social and Legal Effects of Medical Marijuana (PDF)
- Johns Hopkins Expert Shares Thoughts on Legalization of Marijuana
- Options and Issues Regarding Marijuana Legalization (PDF)