Drugwise: Growing Up Straight in a Chemical Culture
 Author:   Jim Parker
Publisher:   Do It Now Foundation

 Publication Date:

  September 2003

 Catalog No:



Just about everyone knows something about marijuana, if only that it comes from the hemp plant and that it grows just about everywhere, except the White House and the bottom of the Red Sea.

That's also about all that everyone can agree on.

Because marijuana has been a lightning rod for controversy for years, a line in the sand between cultures and classes and generations.

So what kind of a drug is marijuana? It's a complicated one, at least.

Although it has a lot of simple-sounding one-syllable nicknames--pot, grass, and weed, among others--marijuana isn't a simple drug.

In fact, it isn't even a single molecule, like most other drugs, but a mix of 420 different chemicals. And some of them (called cannabinoids) don't exist anywhere else except inside the marijuana plant.

The cannabinoid that produces most of pot's effects is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. It triggers a range of effects, from giddiness and euphoria to impairment of short-term memory. Adverse effects include anxiety and paranoia.

Since THC is so complex, the body isn't able to metabolize it quickly. Instead, it breaks it down in stages, so that some breakdown products remain in the body for days after use.

Experts aren't sure whether that means pot keeps producing changes in the body after the high wears off, but certain effects on memory and performance may outlast pot's main drug effects.

Another potential trouble spot is the lungs. Since pot contains many of the same cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco (and since pot smokers hold marijuana smoke in their lungs for a longer time), marijuana may be as harmful to the lungs as tobacco.

It might also affect the way we think and feel in other ways.

Some researchers think that pot reduces the drive for achievement, to set and meet personal goals. Others aren't sure, since goals change as our lives change. They argue that marijuana use is more likely a reflection, rather than a cause, of shifting personal priorities.

But regardless of whether pot causes (or only reflects) these kinds of changes, heavy smokers can seem almost like spectators in their own lives, watching opportunities go by like a Beavis and Butt-head marathon on MTV.

This may be pot's most serious potential effect of all. Because if you're already high, you don't have to do anything to feel good, which may seem cool, while you're high. But when you come down, you come back to the same problems as before, only more so, because you haven't been doing anything to make things better.

That's why marijuana can be a trap--a soft, fuzzy, funny kind of trap--to people who use it all the time. And even though it's soft and fuzzy and usually feels good, it's still a trap if you can't get out.

too many heavy pot users forget how to get out.

Want to jump ahead (or go back) to a particular drug or drug category? Click in the table below to go there, or use the links, below right, to continue with the main text.

Alcohol Downers Speed
Cocaine Marijuana Hallucinogens
Inhalants Narcotics Other Do It Now Info

Continue with Chapter 3: Narcotics
Continue with Chapter 4: Locks & Keys
Go to Table of Contents


This is one in a series of publications on drugs, behavior, and health published by Do It Now Foundation. Check us out online at www.doitnow.org.