Here’s what you should know about cannabis
Recreational cannabis use seems to be everywhere–from campuses to public places and beyond. In fact, it’s on the rise among most age groups, with people ages 18-25 having the highest rate of use, according to the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration. As the drug continues to become legalized for adults in more states and countries around the globe, it’s important to have a well-rounded understanding of cannabis, including its effects and the legalities of use. At 3rd Millennium Classrooms, cannabis is one of our key focus areas. We work closely with middle schools, high schools, colleges, universities, and courts to educate individuals about cannabis. Below is a guide on cannabis, which provides an overview of crucial things to know about today’s version of the drug.
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What is Cannabis?
Cannabis, commonly referred to as “marijuana” or “weed” among other names, is a psychoactive drug that can be smoked through various methods (e.g. joint, pipe, or bong) or eaten in the form of an edible food or beverage. Its highly concentrated form can also be used in a vaping device. It’s classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which means it has a high potential for abuse and is not federally accepted for medical use, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, cannabis is made up of hundreds of different components; perhaps the most-talked about are CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). The latter is what produces the mind-altering effect, which many users seek out.
Is Marijuana Legal?
Yes, marijuana is legal in some states and countries, but not all. In the states where it is legal, laws vary. For example, in some states marijuana is fully legalized (for both recreational and medicinal use) and decriminalized. In other states, the legal status is mixed, with medicinal use being legal (sometimes only CBD oil is legal), but widespread use is not decriminalized. Additionally, in several states it’s fully illegal. Here’s a map, created by Statista, which outlines the legalities by state as of April 2022.
Whether or not marijuana should be legal everywhere is a common debate. While legalizing marijuana may stop run-of-the-mill possession arrests, cases involving minors and driving under the influence are still cause for arrest. Additionally, legalization has the potential to lead to a steep increase in taxes. In addition, one of the most concerning factors is that studies have shown that legalization and decriminalization may increase use among vulnerable populations, including minors. For example, a large evaluation of more than three million middle and high school students in California revealed that recreational legalization for adults was associated with an increase in marijuana use among adolescents.
Effects of Marijuana
Despite being legal in many places, marijuana has a long-list of potentially harmful effects. It can affect many different aspects of well-being and can have negative impacts on brain health, lung health, mental health, and more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More specifically, according to Mayo Clinic, some of the side effects of marijuana use include:
- Increased heart rate
The side effects for adolescents, whose brains are still developing, is especially alarming. Some of the short- and long-term effects can include:
- Mood changes, including suicidal thinking
- Increased risk of psychosis
- Increased risk of unsafe sexual behaviors
- Lower intelligence
- Mental health problems, including schizophrenia and depression
In addition, marijuana use is associated with violence. Those who use marijuana may experience panic or paranoid feelings, which can ultimately lead to aggressive physical behavior. For example, in a recently published study—which assessed 14 cases of violence—researchers found that chronic marijuana users with pre-existing medical conditions who attempted to use the drug to alleviate their symptoms actually ended up making their symptoms worse over time. Furthermore, marijuana can also have a negative impact on a student’s academic performance. Students who use marijuana may be more likely to skip classes, which can lead to a lower GPA and late graduation, compared to their peers who do not use the drug.
The negative consequences extend beyond personal impact. Marijuana use can also impact others around you. Like alcohol and other drugs, using marijuana impacts the ability to safely drive a vehicle. A person can have delayed reactions and impaired motor skills and coordination–all of which can lead to car crashes. And when a person combines marijuana with other drugs, the likelihood of a car crash is even greater.
Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?
There are a number of studies that indicate that marijuana is a gateway drug, a drug that makes it more likely for users to experiment with other drugs. However, the research on this is mixed. One statistic suggests that adolescents ages 12-17 who use marijuana are 85 times more likely to experiment with other drugs, compared to those who do not use marijuana. On the other hand, some individuals may never experiment with different substances. There are many factors at play based on an individual, their circumstances, and the environment around them. On a related note, there is a handful of evidence suggesting that vaping nicotine can serve as a gateway for marijuana use. This is concerning considering vaping and e-cigarette use among youth in the United States is on the rise and remains a serious public health concern.
Warning Signs of Marijuana Use
While it’s important to know the risks of marijuana use, even more vital (especially for parents, guardians, teachers, and bystanders) is being able to recognize the warning signs of marijuana use. Some of the signs include:
- Unusual odors
- Memory and/or learning issues
- Lack of motivation
- Change in friends
- Change in activities
- Money problems
- Physical changes
Being able to recognize these risks and intervene can help save a person from addiction. Despite the common belief that marijuana is harmless, a person–adolescent or adult–can become addicted. One in 6 individuals who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 can become addicted, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The rate of addiction for adults who use marijuana is 1 in 10.
Marijuana Prevention and Intervention
As marijuana continues to become more prevalent in society, we must rely on evidence-based strategies to help prevent and intervene with marijuana use. Some initiatives have already been implemented, including the NCAA updating marijuana testing best practices, but more resources and widespread efforts are needed. To prevent marijuana use among youth, health departments recommend educational programs that clearly outline risks, harms, and emphasize refusal skills, among other strategies.
At 3rd Millennium Classrooms, we offer comprehensive courses designed to specifically address marijuana use. These courses include Cannabis Wise, a course designed for prevention and general education, and THC 101, a course used for marijuana violations. Both courses are online, evidence-based, and have been used by thousands of secondary schools, colleges and universities, courts, and other organizations around the United States.
In Cannabis Wise, participants will:
- Self assess patterns of marijuana use on a daily and weekly basis
- Understand the difference between CBD, THC, and other components in marijuana
- Discuss the short- and long-term effects of marijuana use
- Learn about cannabis use disorder and factors that increase its likelihood
- Explore negative outcomes related to addiction, tolerance, and dependence
In THC 101, participants will:
- Recognize possible legal consequences of cannabis use, even in states where it is decriminalized for adults
- Explore other substance use and how it interacts with cannabis
- Examine how social situations can influence cannabis use
- Explore financial costs and impact of extended cannabis use
- Identify goals and aspirations that will be helpful in making a change in their personal THC use
Both Cannabis Wise and THC 101 include personalized feedback for all participants.