Marijuana has been the subject of public debate for many years and doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. With so much talk coming both enthusiasts and opponents, it can be difficult to cut through the clutter and find the truth about what we actually know about the mysterious green leaf. Here are five things you should know about marijuana.
It hasn’t always been called marijuana
The word “marijuana” wasn’t used to describe the drug until 1910. Up to that point, the green, leafy plant was called “cannabis.” The word “marijuana” was adopted in the early 20th century to link the drug with the influx of Mexican immigrants who brought their smoking habit with them while fleeing the fallout of their country’s civil war. Although cannabis was being smoked and used in medicinal remedies in the U.S. prior to immigrants arrival, the nationwide narrative told by Harry Anslinger and others pinned the drug’s usage primarily on Latino immigrants and African Americans.
Today, cannabis refers to an entire range of plants known as the cannabis species. Within this species are two primary plants that are harvested for consumption today: marijuana and hemp. According to federal classifications, marijuana is any cannabis plant with more than 0.3% of THC. Hemp, by contrast, is any cannabis plant with less than 0.3% of THC. THC is the psychoactive chemical in the cannabis plant that makes a user feel high. The other important naturally occurring chemical in cannabis is CBD, which can be helpful in addressing anxiety and psychosis. Marijuana is primarily harvested for THC, while hemp’s primary purpose is to produce CBD.
Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug
Schedule 1 drugs are defined as those with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, which puts marijuana in company with heroin, LSD, ecstasy and more. However, 11 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana use since 2012 with many more expected to follow suit in the next decade.
While marijuana and THC are still illegal on a federal level, the government has taken a few steps to distinguish between THC and CBD which allow for the production of the latter. The most notable example is the 2018 farm bill that distinguished hemp from marijuana, thus removing it from the controlled substance list. In 2019, Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1325, which matched the 2018 farm bill’s 0.3% THC allowance.
Health benefits associated with CBD
Because of the recent declassification of hemp, there is still work to be done in researching the benefits and risks of CBD. Still, evidence suggests CBD may help with epilepsy, anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain. So far, the most common negative side effects include nausea, fatigue and irritability.
Contrary to popular opinion, marijuana is addictive, especially for teenagers. Research suggests that 9% of users become addicted, and that number increases to 17% for those who use regularly at a young age. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, long-term marijuana users who try to quit report withdrawal symptoms like irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety and drug craving. Not only that, but teens who regularly use marijuana have been shown to have an 8-point decrease in their IQ as they develop into adulthood.
trend of vaping THC
Finally, the novelty of e-cigarettes and marijuana legalization have left a regulatory void that black marketers have taken advantage of. Several counterfeit THC oil products have been purchased and consumed, leading to devastating health effects. The CDC reported in 2020 that more than 2,800 people were hospitalized with e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI), resulting in 68 deaths.
We still have much to learn about the risks and benefits of cannabis. However, enough research has been done to warrant caution and careful reflection as different states and municipalities consider how to handle the substance that has taken center stage on much of our public discourse.
— Joseph Byrum is the coalition coordinator for the Piney Woods Substance Abuse Coalition. If you are a community leader interested in preventing youth substance abuse, email firstname.lastname@example.org.