Marijuana is a green or gray mixture of dried, shredded flowers and leaves of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa.
Before the 1960s, many Americans had never heard of marijuana, but today it is a widely used illegal drug. It is usually smoked as a cigarette (called a “joint” or a “nail”) or in a pipe or bong. In recent years, marijuana has appeared in blunts (cigars that have been emptied of tobacco and refilled with marijuana). Marijuana cigarettes or blunts have come to sometimes include crack cocaine, a combination known by various street names, such as “primos” or “woolies.” Joints and blunts are also sometimes dipped in PCP and are called “happy sticks,” “wicky sticks,” “love boat” or “tical.” Some users mix marijuana into foods or use it to brew tea.
If someone is high on marijuana, he or she might:
- Seem dizzy and have trouble walking
- Seem silly and giggly for no reason
- Have very red, bloodshot eyes
- Have a hard time remembering things that just happened
- Become very sleepy after a few hours, as the early effects fade
The effects of marijuana on each person depend on the type of cannabis and how much THC it contains; the way the drug is taken (by smoking or eating); the experience and expectations of the user; the setting where the drug is used; and whether alcohol or other drugs are also being used. Some people feel nothing at all when they first try marijuana; others may feel high (intoxicated and/or euphoric).
It’s common for marijuana users to become engrossed with ordinary sights, sounds or tastes, and trivial events may seem extremely interesting or funny. Time seems to pass very slowly, so minutes feel like hours. Sometimes the drug causes users to feel thirsty and very hungry—an effect called “the munchies.”
The main active chemical in marijuana is THC. In 1988, it was discovered that the membranes of certain nerve cells contain protein receptors that bind THC. Once securely in place, THC kicks off a series of cellular reactions that lead to the high that users experience when they smoke marijuana.
Marijuana is addictive because it causes compulsive, uncontrollable drug craving, seeking and use, even in the face of negative health and social consequences. In 2004, more than 298,317 people entering drug treatment programs reported marijuana as their primary drug of abuse. Some heavy marijuana users show signs of withdrawal when they do not use the drug. They develop symptoms such as restlessness, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, weight loss, and shaky hands.