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Classification: Marijuana isn’t part of a specific drug class. It is considered a Schedule 1 narcotic by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which means it has no accepted medical uses and has a high potential for abuse.

Street names: Weed, pot, ganja, reefer, dope, bhang, herb, grass.

Method of use: Marijuana can be smoked (inhalation) or ingested (in food or teas).

Short-term effects: Distorted perception/vision, euphoric feeling, loss of coordination, shifting between hilarity and contemplative silence, increased heart rate, impaired short-term memory, difficulty with learning, thinking, and problem-solving, loss of inhibitions, paranoia, dry mouth, bloodshot eyes, munchies, fatigue, depression. Effects peak in 1 – 2 hours and fade in 3 – 4 hours; residual effects on the brain can continue up to 48 hours. Using marijuana and alcohol together can be dangerous. The effects of the drugs are cumulative and one drug can intensify the effect of the other. Marijuana can decrease nausea, a sign some people use to stop drinking and therefore lead to a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC). For others, mixing the two increases nausea and can lead to vomiting.

Long-term effects: Chronic marijuana use is associated with lung disease, immune system impairment, decreased sperm counts and possible erectile dysfunction in men, and possible irregular menstrual cycles in women. Some men may also develop breast tissue (gynecomastia) as a hormonal effect of long-term use.

Tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal: Tolerance does develop with marijuana use, but it is not as easily understood as with other drugs. In general, it appears that marijuana doesn’t cause dependency; the majority of heavy users do not become dependent. Psychological dependence has been reported by some, but this is hard to assess since each person’s situation is unique. Withdrawal can be a problem for some heavy users. Restlessness, irritability, decreased appetite, sweating, mild nausea and insomnia have been reported. It isn’t clear whether marijuana is addictive. There is more to addiction than just withdrawal, but it will always be tempting to use a drug if it helps relieve withdrawal symptoms. More studies are needed to examine marijuana and its effects on the body.

Other drugs with this classification: Marijuana is in its own classification.

More information: The cannabis plant contains over 400 chemicals; about 60 of these are cannabinoids, which means they are only found in the cannabis plant. There are many psychoactive chemicals in the cannabis plant, with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being the most psychoactive. THC is found in the plant’s resin, which is concentrated in the flowers. THC is easily absorbed and stored in fat tissue. Its’ byproducts can be detected in the blood for up to four weeks, depending on how much and how often it is used.
Unfortunately, research limitations have left many unanswered questions. It’s difficult to get funding to research this illegal drug. Studies done so far have focused on THC, so we don’t know much about the other 400+ chemicals and their effects on the body. In addition, researchers may hesitate to publicly challenge the government they depend on for funding.

Although it’s illegal to possess and consume marijuana on a federal level, some states have passed bills to allow limited use of the drug to treat various medical conditions; possible uses include:

• appetite stimulation (AIDS, cancer patients);
• nausea control (cancer patients);
• muscle relaxation (multiple sclerosis patients);
• pain relief (chronic pain, migraines); and
• reduction of fluid pressure in eyes (glaucoma patients).