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
That’s also about all
that everyone can agree on.
Because marijuana has been a
rod for controversy for years,
a line in
the sand between cultures and classes and
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
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.
And too many heavy pot users forget
how to get out.