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In the U.S., some drugs are legal in one place and illegal in others. One means of usage may be more legal or illegal over another, depending on the location. All in all, it can make things a bit confusing, especially when adding in arguments about the safety of the drug itself. Anyone who has been keeping in touch with news and politics in recent years knows that the drug in question is marijuana.

What is Marijuana?

Cannabis or marijuana is a plant-based drug that is a bit controversial compared to other illicit or semi-illicit drugs. It has both recreational and medical uses, many of which are still being determined. Legal usage of the drug, which is isolated to a handful of states in varying degrees, is largely for medical purposes. Most of the time, marijuana is used medically to treat chronic and debilitating conditions like cancer, seizures, PTSD, Crohn’s disease, and pain disorders where medical usage is legalized. About eight states have legalized marijuana for recreational use in addition to medical purposes, most famously Colorado.

Marijuana’s legal status and widespread acceptance do not mean that it isn’t considered an addictive drug. However, it does vary from other addictive substances in that the addiction is based more on psychological rather than physical dependence. Tetrahydrocannbinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, is more psychoactive and doesn’t have the same intensity as other traditionally addictive substances. However, a person can still struggle to stop using marijuana and may experience withdrawal symptoms when they do stop. Those symptoms—irritability, decreased appetite, sleeplessness—are not as intense as, say, the withdrawal symptoms of cocaine.

As mentioned, marijuana is plant-based; the Cannabis plant family includes marijuana and hemp, which has industrial uses. While the plant is native to Asia, it has been grown throughout the world in traditional farming and greenhouse settings alike. The leaves are the part that is primarily used, and they are often dried before being used in whatever method the person prefers. This can include smoking them as cigarettes or in pipes, as well as mixing them into food as an edible. In recent years, vaporizers that take the THC from the marijuana and convert it into a breathable vapor or liquid extract have become popular. There are also extracts that contain THC, like hash oil, that have been used by marijuana users.

Effects on Users

The onset of the effects of marijuana can vary depending on the method used. Smoking or otherwise inhaling can cause the effects to set in up to an hour and as soon as thirty minutes. Edibles do not have any effect until the body begins to digest and absorb them, so it may take hours depending on the potency. A psychological high usually develops once the THC has entered the person’s bloodstream. The person may have altered senses (e.g., sight, hearing), memory, sense of time, and thought processes. Their movements may be impaired or sluggish, as their coordination might be off. Changes in mood are also common, but users rarely have their moods rapidly fluctuate while high.

Physically, a marijuana user may feel relaxed and somewhat euphoric. Their heart rate might increase, and they may appear slightly flushed as a result. Mouth dryness and reddening of the eyes are also common. The stereotype of marijuana users having an increased appetite—or a case of the “munchies”—is true, and a user may find that they are hungrier than usual while high.

With high dosages, these symptoms can increase in intensity. Some users have also reported experiencing additional psychological symptoms. These can include hallucinations, episodes of psychosis, and delusions. However, these effects tend to fade as the drug leaves the person’s system and are not as persistent as they are with other drugs.

Long-Term Effects

Research on the effects of marijuana has yet to establish clear long-term effects of its usage, prolonged or otherwise. There are concerns regarding how it can alter the user’s brain chemistry, causing problems with cognition, coordination, and memory. With younger users, these effects seem to be more evident, but more research is needed to determine if such effects are permanent.

There are proven concerns for those who may take very high dosages of marijuana by accident and the damage that can be caused by doing so. This is particularly true with very young children, who may not be able to identify an edible as being laced with marijuana. Some people, especially if they have never been exposed to marijuana or THC in any form, have exhibited strong reactions. This has included nausea and vomiting, intense symptoms, and accidental self-harm from delusions.


Marijuana is one of the few illicit substances—if not the only—where a traditional overdose isn’t possible. THC has an extremely low toxicity, meaning that it is nearly impossible for a person to consume enough THC or marijuana to cause an overdose. If there is any kind of overdose that a person may experience with marijuana, it is usually as an intense form of the effects listed above. There isn’t any record of a fatal cannabis overdose or a fatality tied to overdose that did not involve another major factor. A person can die with cannabis in their system from accidents caused while under the influence (e.g., driving while high) or from any substance that the marijuana was mixed with (e.g., other drugs, food allergies), but not from the cannabis itself.

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