Marijuana is a mixture of the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. There are over 400 chemicals in marijuana including the psychoactive (mind-altering) chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC changes how the brain works, distorting how the mind perceives the world, and impacts the parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. This can result in the user feeling a sense of euphoria, relaxation, short-term memory loss, impaired motor skills, paranoia or anxiety. The amount of THC in marijuana has been increasing steadily over the past few decades. In 2012, THC concentrations in marijuana averaged close to 15 percent, compared to around 4 percent in the 1980s.
Overall Lifetime Prevalence of Marijuana Use in
Fairfax County Students (8th-12th Grade)
Overall Past Month Prevalence of Marijuana Use in Fairfax County Students (8th-12th Grade)
*From the Fairfax County Youth Survey 2013-2014. See below for further details
Plant Dried leaf Hash Hash Oil Wax
Joint Pipe or "bowl" Water pipe or "bong"
Common symptoms when a person uses marijuana includes:
• Acting silly for no reason
• Being hungry and eating more than usual
• Red eyes or use of eye drops
• Increased irritability
• Reduced motivation and lack of interest in usual activities
• Trouble remembering things that just happened
• A smell on clothes, or the use of incense or other deodorizers
• Owning clothing, posters, or jewelry encouraging drug use
• Possession of pipes or rolling papers
• Stealing money or having money that cannot be accounted for
When marijuana is smoked, THC quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream and is carried to the brain and other organs throughout the body. It is absorbed more slowly when ingested in food or drink.
As it enters the brain, THC attaches to cells, or neurons, with specific kinds of receptors called cannabinoid receptors. Most of the cannabinoid receptors are found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement.
When THC attaches to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, a person will begin to have pleasurable feelings or “high.” Other effects include changes in perceptions and mood, lack of coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and disrupted learning and memory.
Certain parts of the brain have a lot of cannabinoid receptors.
Marijuana also affects brain development. When it is used heavily by young people, its effects on thinking and memory may last a long time or even be permanent. A recent study of marijuana users who began using in adolescence revealed substantial changes in the brain areas responsible for learning and memory. A large long-term study in New Zealand showed that people who began smoking marijuana heavily in their teens lost an average of 8 points in IQ between age 13 and age 38. Importantly, the lost cognitive abilities were not fully restored in those who quit smoking marijuana as adults.
Marijuana use may have a wide range of effects, particularly on cardiopulmonary and mental health. Marijuana smoke is an irritant to the lungs, and frequent marijuana smokers can have many of the same respiratory problems experienced by tobacco smokers, such as daily cough and phlegm production, more frequent acute chest illness, and a heightened risk of lung infections. One study found that people who smoke marijuana frequently but do not smoke tobacco have more health problems and miss more days of work than those who don’t smoke marijuana, mainly because of respiratory illnesses. It is not yet known whether marijuana smoking contributes to risk for lung cancer.
Marijuana use can also result in the following:
• Increased heart rate. Marijuana raises heart rate by 20-100 percent after smoking; this effect can last up to 3 hours. This risk may be greater in older individuals or in those with cardiac vulnerabilities.
• Mental illness. High doses of marijuana can produce a temporary psychotic reaction (hallucinations and paranoia) in some users, and using marijuana can worsen the course of illness in patients with schizophrenia. A series of large studies following users across time also showed a link between marijuana use and later development of psychosis. This relationship was influence by genetic variables as well as the amount of drug used, drug potency, and the age at which it was first taken.
• Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts have been associated with marijuana use among adolescents.
• Heavy marijuana users generally report lower life satisfaction, poorer mental and physical health, more relationship problems, and less academic and career success compared to non-marijuana using peers.
Although some people question the concept of marijuana dependence or addiction, studies clearly indicate that the condition exists, is important, and causes harm (Budney, 2006; Budney and Hughes, 2006; Copeland, 2004; Roffman and Stephens, 2006). The more often you use marijuana the more likely you are to become dependent. If someone uses marijuana everyday, then they have a 50/50 chance of becoming dependent. Young people develop marijuana dependence/addiction more quickly than adults. Marijuana produces dependence less readily than most other illicit drugs. Some 9 percent of those who try marijuana develop dependence compared to, for example, 15 percent of people who try cocaine and 24 percent of those who try heroin. However, because so many people use marijuana, cannabis dependence is twice as prevalent as dependence on any other illicit psychoactive substance. Anthony and Helzer, 1991; Anthony, Warner, and Kessler, 1994). See more at: http://adai.uw.edu/marijuana/factsheets/dependence.htm#sthash.iZYy3LJU.dpuf and Budney, Alan J. et al. “Marijuana Dependence and Its Treatment.” Addiction Science & Clinical Practice 4.1 (2007): 4–16.
Long-term marijuana users trying to quit report withdrawal symptoms including irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety, and drug craving, all of which can make it difficult to abstain.
Slowed reaction time
Impaired short term memory
Altered pain sensation
2013-2014 Fairfax County Youth Survey Data:
*Fairfax County data and tables are from The Fairfax County Youth Survey Report School year 2013-2014 at www.fairfaxcountygov/youthsurvey.
Table 19. Lifetime Prevalence of Marijuana Use, by Selected Demographic Characteristics, Fairfax County, 2010 - 2013 (Values are percentages)
Table 21. Past Month Prevalence of Marijuana Use, by Selected Demographic Characteristics, Fairfax County, 2010-2013 (Values are percentages)
Table 24. Percentage of Students Reporting First Use of Marijuana Before Age 13, by Selected Grades, Fairfax County and U.S., 2013 (Values are percentages)
Youth in Fairfax County are receiving mixed messages about marijuana resulting in a reduced perception of risk and a concomitant increase in marijuana usage. To address this growing problem UPC has developed the NOVA Marijuana Prevention Task Force, made up of coalitions and community members from each jurisdiction in Northern Virginia (the City of Alexandria and the Counties of Arlington, Loudoun, and Prince William County). This collaborative task force strives to educate parents, youth, adults who work with youth, law enforcement, the business community, local delegates and state senators on the risks and harmful consequences of youth marijuana use.
UPC’s Position Statement on Marijuana Legislation:
The UPC strongly opposes any change to Virginia law which expands the legality of marijuana beyond strictly enforced prescription use. Marijuana use has damaging effects on the developing child and adolescent brain, and represents a serious public health and public safety threat in our community. The mission of the Unified Prevention Coalition (UPC) of Fairfax County is to work collaboratively to prevent and reduce substance abuse and related risk factors by youth and young adults.
UPC's Testimony to the Fairfax County Board Regarding Marijuana Legislation's Impact on Our Community:
Audio of Lisa Adler and Sara Freund's Testimony (link coming soon!)
Sara Freund's Testimony (PDF)
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The Unified Prevention Coalition of Fairfax County (UPC) and this website are partially funded by a Virginia Strategic Prevention Framework - State Incentive Grant (SPF-SIG) and a federal SAMHSA Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking grant (STOP). UPC is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization with more than 60 partners and members from the community