Marijuana Fact Sheet

Marijuana: What you need to know

Eden Recovery Centre works with addicts who are struggling with marijuana.  During treatment, there tends to be a similar pattern seen within the group of people receiving help. There are often many youngsters (ages of 18 – 24) who are struggling to finish school or university, with motivation and apathy being key problems for them.  Where smoking marijuana started out as a relaxing activity, ultimately, they are unable to live the life they dream of.  We also see marijuana addiction as a secondary drug of choice in treatment. Many people do not realise that to recover successfully, they need to give up marijuana as well.

What is marijuana?

Marijuana is a mixture of the dried and shredded leaves, stems, seeds and flowers of the cannabis sativa plant. The mixture can be green, brown, or grey.  Marijuana has a chemical in it called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC. A lot of other chemicals are found in marijuana as well – about 400 of them – many of which can affect your health, but THC is the main psychoactive (mind-altering) ingredient. In fact, marijuana’s strength or potency is directly related to the amount of THC it contains. The THC content of marijuana has been increasing since the 1970s.

Other names

  • Cannabis
  • Pot
  • Herb
  • Weed
  • Grass
  • White
  • Widow
  • Ganja
  • Astroturf
  • Bhang
  • Dagga
  • Dope
  • Home grown
  • J
  • Mary Jane
  • Roach

How is it used?

It can be smoked in a cigarette or in a pipe.  Sometimes, the leaves are mixed with food and eaten or brewed as tea.  Marijuana can be mixed with many other drugs, such as heroin or mandrax.

Who Uses Marijuana in South Africa?

In South Africa, research figures collected from treatment centres in the country reflect that marijuana is a primary drug of choice in treatment in the Eastern Cape, KZN and the Central Region.  In treatment centres across South Africa, the predominant substance of abuse for patients under the age of 20 is marijuana.

In 40% of admissions in Gauteng, the Northern Region and KZN, the dominant substance being abused is marijuana. In a 3 Metros study in 2004 by the Medical Research Council, 1050 arrestees were tested in the Cape, Gauteng and in KZN.  A large portion of those who tested positive were positive for marijuana (45%). South Africans use twice the amount of marijuana than in any other country and according to the United Nations, 4% of South Africans are considered to be frequent users.

Legal Implications

South African law states that possession of marijuana, or any related paraphernalia (a joint or marijuana itself), is an offence punishable for up to 15 years.  Dealing of marijuana is also an offence, punishable for up to 20 years.

You can be arrested under the following conditions:

  1. Consuming the drug in public
  2. Intoxicated behaviour witnessed
  3. Witness of the sale of the drugs
  4. Possession of paraphernalia.

What is medical marijuana

In March 2016, South Africa will bear witness to a historical court case that seeks to have anti-cannabis laws overturned.  Important and vital research needs to be done on medical marijuana and at Eden, we see the consequences of what really happens with marijuana abuse and addiction.

  • The term medical marijuana refers to treating a disease or symptom with the whole, unprocessed marijuana plant or its basic extracts.
  • The FDA (in the USA) has not recognised or approved the marijuana plant as medicine.
  • However, scientific study of the chemicals in marijuana called cannabinoids, has led to two FDA-approved medications in pill form.
  • Cannabinoids are chemicals related to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s main mind-altering ingredient.
  • The body also produces its own cannabinoid chemicals.
  • Currently, the two main cannabinoids from the marijuana plant that are of interest for medical treatment are THC and cannabidiol (CBD).
  • Scientists are conducting pre-clinical and clinical trials with marijuana and its extracts to treat numerous diseases and conditions.
  • Two FDA-approved marijuana drugs are dronabinol and nabilone, both used to treat nausea and boost appetite.

What short-term effects does marijuana have?

  • Sensory distortion
  • Panic
  • Anxiety
  • Poor coordination of movement
  • Lowered reaction time
  • User feels sleepy or depressed after the initial high
  • Increased heartbeat.

What long-term effects does marijuana have?

  • Marijuana makes it harder to learn and remember things
  • Students who use marijuana get lower grades than students who don’t use
  • Workers who use marijuana have more problems at work than those who don’t use
  • Smoking marijuana damages the lungs and can cause:
    frequent chest colds, bronchitis, emphysema and lung cancer
  • THC makes it harder for the body’s immune system to fight infection and disease
  • Apathy, drowsiness, lack of motivation
  • Personality and mood changes.

Marijuana addiction and teens

Studies show that marijuana interferes with attention, motivation, memory, and learning. Students who use marijuana regularly tend to get lower grades and are more likely to drop out of highschool than those who don’t use. Those who use it regularly may be functioning at a reduced intellectual level most or all of the time. A few more facts:

  • Most marijuana use begins in adolescence: 78% of the 2.4 million people who began using in the last year were aged 12 to 20.
  • As perception of harm decreases, teen marijuana use increases.
  • Every day, 3,287 teens use marijuana for the first time.

The bottom line

Marijuana may hurt developing teens’ brains. Because a teenager’s brain is still developing, it is especially vulnerable to drug use. Regular heavy marijuana use by teens can lead to an IQ drop of up to eight points.

Heavy marijuana use by teens is linked to:

Educational outcomes

  • Lower grades and exam scores
  • Less likely to enroll in university
  • Less likely to graduate from highschool or college.

Life outcomes

  • Lower satisfaction with life
  • More likely to earn a lower income
  • More likely to be unemployed.

How does marijuana affect driving?

  • Even low doses of marijuana reduce driving ability. Adding alcohol reduces it even further
  • Reaction time and coordination are affected even after people stop feeling high
  • 7% of all fatal crashes involve marijuana.

Using marijuana during pregnancy

  • Babies are generally born with a lower birth weight
  • Brain and nerve problems
  • Later in life, children exposed to THC during pregnancy can have trouble learning and making decisions.

Is marijuana addictive?

  • Long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction
  • People are addicted if they keep using marijuana even though it affects their lives
  • Withdrawal can include:
    Cravings for marijuana, anxiety, crankiness and insomnia.

How does marijuana affect recovery?

  • People who are heavy users of marijuana are more likely to drink heavily and use illicit drugs
  • Marijuana use increases the risk of relapse to meth use
  • People often use marijuana to avoid personal or family problems.

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