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Facts on Marijuana

How does smoking pot affect your body and mind as a teen?

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Get the facts on marijuana and information on the different forms of this drug. Learn about the dangers of smoking pot, how it affects your brain and the rest of your body, and how to quit.

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana is a mind-altering illegal drug made from the leaves, stems and other parts of the hemp plant. It goes by more than 200 different names, including pot, weed, grass, herb and Mary Jane. Stronger forms of marijuana include hashish (hash), hash oil and sinsemilla.

Most marijuana users smoke the drug in a pipe, a water pipe (bong) or a cigarette (joint). Some people put marijuana inside cigars (blunts) or into food as well.

How Does Marijuana Work?

Marijuana works by changing how the brain functions. This is part of what makes it risky and harmful, especially for teenagers.

Every type of marijuana contains a chemical called THC. The more THC the marijuana contains, the more "potent" it is considered to be. Researchers believe that THC levels of marijuana have been on the rise since the '70s, meaning that today's pot may be stronger and more dangerous than ever before.

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Using Marijuana?

Marijuana affects different people in different ways, but the following short-term effects are common:

  • problems with thinking and solving problems
  • difficulty remembering and learning things
  • altered perception of light, sound and touch
  • clumsiness
  • increased appetite
  • increased heart rate

Some marijuana users also suffer from paranoid thoughts and intense anxiety while smoking pot or soon afterwards. This is more likely to happen if a stronger form of marijuana is used.

Likewise, people who combine marijuana with alcohol or other drugs often experience more severe side effects.

But Is Marijuana Truly Dangerous?

As mentioned above, even short-term marijuana use carries a lot of risks, especially involving the way your brain works. When you use a mind-altering substance such as marijuana, you are much more likely to make bad decisions. These bad decisions can involve driving a car while under the influence of the drug, making sexual choices that are unsafe or out of character for you, or saying things that you regret to other people.

Marijuana can also affect your judgment about other drugs. You may drink too much or try drugs you never had any intention of using while you're under the influence of marijuana.

How Common Is Marijuana Use Among Teens?

Marijuana use is common among teens, but not as common as you might think. While abuse of prescription drugs is up among teens, some sources such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) say marijuana use is down. In fact, researchers at the University of Michigan found that fewer than one in five teens currently smokes pot.

Why Do Some Teens Use Marijuana?

Teens smoke marijuana for a lot of reasons. One big reason is peer pressure: Teens see their friends experimenting with pot and feel that they must do the same to fit in. Another reason is because they've seen family members try it or because they've seen or hear about marijuana on TV, the radio or online.

Still other teens use marijuana as an escape from the painful and stressful things in their lives: their parents' divorce, abuse, depression, academic troubles, etc.

No matter why other people are using it, you don't have to join them. Your body and your health are your responsibility, and you're the one that needs to speak up and make smart choices to protect them!

How Can I Quit Using Marijuana or Help a Friend Quit?

If you want more information on how to quit using marijuana, your family doctor or a teen health clinic is a good place to start. Many teen health clinics are housed within hospitals and, to a growing extent, inside middle schools and high schools.

There are also a variety of treatment programs for teens who struggle with abusing marijuana and other drugs. There are even special schools and residential rehab programs for teenagers trying to kick an addiction.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Using Marijuana?

Because it's an illegal drug, marijuana has not been studied in the same way many prescription medications have. This means that we don't have all the answers about how it works and the negative effects it can have on people's health in the long run.

That said, researchers suspect that long-term marijuana use may be linked to problems such as cancer (especially lung cancer), respiratory infections, breathing difficulties and decreased immune system functioning (which can lead to more frequent illnesses and infections).

In addition, some scientists believe that long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction and/or tolerance, which means that larger and larger amounts of marijuana must be used to achieve a high.

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