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Autor: anton • March 8, 2011 • 1,862 Words (8 Pages) • 438 Views
Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the United States. A dry, shredded green/brown mix of flowers, stems, seeds, and leaves of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, it usually is smoked as a cigarette (joint, nail), or in a pipe (bong). It also is smoked in blunts, which are cigars that have been emptied of tobacco and refilled with marijuana, often in combination with another drug. It might also be mixed in food or brewed as a tea. As a more concentrated, resinous form it is called hashish and, as a sticky black liquid, hash oil. Marijuana smoke has a pungent and distinctive, usually sweet-and-sour odor. There are countless street terms for marijuana including pot, herb, weed, grass, widow, ganja, and hash, as well as terms derived from trademarked varieties of cannabis, such as Bubble Gum, Northern Lights, Fruity Juice, Afghani #1, and a number of Skunk varieties.
The main active chemical in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). The membranes of certain nerve cells in the brain contain protein receptors that bind to THC. Once securely in place, THC kicks off a series of cellular reactions that ultimately lead to the high that users experience when they smoke marijuana.
Extent of Use
In 2004, 14.6 million Americans age 12 and older used marijuana at least once in the month prior to being surveyed. About 6,000 people a day in 2004 used marijuana for the first time--2.1 million Americans. Of these, 63.8 percent were under age 181. In the last half of 2003, marijuana was the third most commonly abused drug mentioned in drug-related hospital emergency department (ED) visits in the continental United States, at 12.6 percent, following cocaine (20 percent) and alcohol (48.7 percent)2.
Prevalence of lifetime,* annual, and use within the last 30 days for marijuana remained stable among 10th- and 12th-graders surveyed between 2003 and 2004. However, 8th-graders reported a significant decline in 30-day use and a significant increase in perceived harmfulness of smoking marijuana once or twice and regularly3. Trends in disapproval of using marijuana once or twice and occasionally rose among 8th-graders as well, and 10th-graders reported an increase in disapproval of occasional and regular use for the same period.
Effects on the Brain
Scientists have learned a great deal about how THC acts in the brain to produce its many effects. When someone smokes marijuana, THC rapidly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream, which carries the chemical to organs throughout the body, including the brain.
In the brain, THC connects to specific sites called cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells and influences the activity of those cells. Some brain areas have many cannabinoid receptors; others have few or none. Many cannabinoid receptors are found in the parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thought, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement4.
The short-term effects of marijuana can include problems with memory and learning; distorted perception; difficulty in thinking and problem solving; loss of coordination; and increased heart rate. Research findings for long-term marijuana abuse indicate some changes in the brain similar to those seen after long-term abuse of other major drugs. For example, cannabinoid (THC or synthetic forms of THC) withdrawal in chronically exposed animals leads to an increase in the activation of the stress-response system5 and changes in the activity of nerve cells containing dopamine6. Dopamine neurons are involved in the regulation of motivation and reward, and are directly or indirectly affected by all drugs of abuse.
Effects on the Heart
One study has indicated that an abuser's risk of heart attack more than quadruples in the first hour after smoking marijuana7. The researchers suggest that such an effect might occur from marijuana's effects on blood pressure and heart rate and reduced oxygen-carrying capacity of blood.
Effects on the Lungs
A study of 450 individuals found that people who smoke marijuana frequently but do not smoke tobacco have more health problems and miss more days of work than nonsmokers8. Many of the extra sick days among the marijuana smokers in the study were for respiratory illnesses.
Even infrequent abuse can cause burning and stinging of the mouth and throat, often accompanied by a heavy cough. Someone who smokes marijuana regularly may have many of the same respiratory problems that tobacco smokers do, such as daily cough and phlegm production, more frequent acute chest illness, a heightened risk of lung infections, and a greater tendency to obstructed airways9. Smoking marijuana possibly increases the likelihood of developing cancer of the head or neck. A study comparing 173 cancer patients and 176 healthy individuals produced evidence that marijuana smoking doubled or tripled the risk of these cancers10.
Marijuana abuse also has the potential to promote cancer of the lungs and other parts of the respiratory tract because it contains irritants and carcinogens9,11. In fact, marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke12. It also induces high levels of an enzyme that converts certain hydrocarbons into their carcinogenic form--levels that may accelerate the changes that ultimately produce malignant cells13. Marijuana users usually inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than tobacco smokers do, which increases the lungs' exposure to carcinogenic smoke. These facts suggest that, puff for puff, smoking marijuana may be more harmful to the lungs than smoking tobacco.
Other Health Effects
Some of marijuana's adverse health effects may occur because THC impairs the immune system's ability to fight disease. In laboratory experiments that exposed animal and human cells to THC or other marijuana ingredients, the normal disease-preventing reactions of many of the key types of immune cells were inhibited14. In other studies, mice exposed to THC or related substances were more likely than unexposed mice to develop bacterial infections and tumors15,16.
Effects of Heavy Marijuana Use on Learning and Social Behavior
Research clearly demonstrates that marijuana has the potential to cause problems in daily life or make a person's existing problems worse. Depression17, anxiety17, and personality disturbances18 have been associated with chronic marijuana use. Because marijuana compromises the ability to learn and remember information, the more a person uses marijuana the more he or she is likely to fall behind in accumulating intellectual,