What Is Marijuana?

New research and preclinical studies are finding that the marijuana plant may have numerous health benefits when processed and used a certain way. Ten states have legalized both recreational and medicinal marijuana, while dozens more have legalized the use of medicinal marijuana or CBD products. Recently, the FDA approved a new, cannabis-based drug for treating epilepsy. For years, medical marijuana has been used to treat pain, and multiple sclerosis, and some mental health disorders.

But, the DEA still considers marijuana a schedule 1 substance, ranking it more addictive than prescription oxycodone and other opiate derivatives. For years, marijuana was considered a gateway drug. In many parts of the U.S., possessing, growing, selling, or using marijuana is a crime, and people can be fined, jailed, or labeled as felons for life and lose their right to vote. So, in what instances is marijuana a dangerous drug, or a harmless plant that can alleviate pain? In some cases, it’s both.

Introduction: The Marijuana Plant

Marijuana is a part of the cannabis plant family. There are two different types of cannabis – marijuana, and hemp. The marijuana plant contains a cannabinoid compound called THC, which is what gets a person high. The hemp plant does not. For most of history, hemp was used for industrial purposes. It is a sturdy plant that can be harvested into textile fibers, and also oils, including CBD oils. Both the marijuana and the hemp plant contain hundreds of different, beneficial cannabinoids that can be harnessed and processed into medicinal products.

Marijuana and hemp can be further broken down into two plant species – sativa and indica. These plants look different, and they also grow differently, too. The sativa strain has bright, spiky green leaves and the plants are tall and skinny. The growing season in cannabis sativa is also more extended, and these plants do well in warm climates. Cannabis indica varieties are dark green, with broad leaves and the plants are short and squat. These plants prefer colder weather and the growing cycle is also shorter.

Marijuana, hemp, and sativa and indica varieties are often referred to as “cannabis.” On the street, these plants are called “pot.” Some pot enthusiasts claim that sativa and indica varieties have different effects on the user. Allegedly, indica strains create a heavy, sedated “high” that is ideal for pain relief and sleep disorders. In contrast, sativa plants are supposed to stimulate creativity and sociability. There are, however, no current clinical studies to bolster these claims at this time.

The Origins of the Marijuana Plant

Cannabis has a long and varied history of cultivation and human use, but using the plant for recreational purposes was not its first intention. Thousands of years ago, marijuana was grown and processed as an ingredient in traditional herbal medicines. Proof of these practices in Asia go back to 500 B.C. Tradesman from Asia introduced the plant to African and European empires. Eventually, marijuana was brought to the Americas and farmed.

In the U.S., the earliest known use of marijuana can be traced back to the early colonial period, where farmers grew hemp plants for rope and other textiles. Hemp seeds were also used for food. Marijuana and hemp are hardy plants with a varied genome and can grow in a variety of climates and terrains, making them ideal for trade. In the early 1600s, New England and Virginia farmers were legally required to grow hemp for rope, paper, cloth, sails, and food products.

The plants that were grown in colonial times were primarily hemp, and were either free of THC or had very little of the cannabinoid known for getting people high. Ancient cultures, however, were aware of the psychoactive effects of marijuana and grew strains that had large amounts of THC. It is thought that cannabis was used in healing and other shamanic rituals in Asian cultures. In the Middle East and parts of Africa, hashish, which is a form of purified cannabis, was smoked for recreational purposes.

An Irish doctor in the early 1800s found that cannabis extracts could alleviate stomach pain and nausea. Throughout the 1800s, cannabis extracts became increasingly popular for relieving a variety of symptoms and were sold in doctor’s offices and pharmacies throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Around the turn of the 20th century, Mexican refugees from the Mexican Revolution brought recreational marijuana to the U.S. but the economic strain of the Great Depression worsened racial tensions in the U.S., and voters began to view immigration and recreational marijuana with fear and distrust. In the early and mid-1900s, ethnic and political issues led to the banning of marijuana and hemp for any use, recreational or otherwise. It wasn’t until the latter part of the 20th century that some states started to legalize marijuana again.

The Effects of Using Marijuana

Marijuana, or pot, can be smoked, vaporized, or eaten. The dried buds or flowers of the plant and the leaves contain the highest levels of THC and are used to induce a euphoric feeling. Smoking or vaporizing marijuana will give a person almost immediate effects while processing the flowers and leaves into a food product and then eating it can take anywhere from a half hour to two hours before effects are produced. Because of the delayed response, people who eat marijuana products may accidentally consume more than intended.

Fortunately, it is not possible to overdose and die on marijuana. But, people who take too much can have unpleasant, short-term effects. A pleasant experience while high on the substance won’t always happen for everyone. Some people are more sensitive to THC than others, and THC can induce paranoia and panic attacks in some people.

Using marijuana can produce both short-term and long-term mental and physical effects. For most people, consuming moderate amounts of marijuana will produce a euphoric high that can last for one to three hours if smoked or vaporized. People who consume marijuana can experience a high that lasts for even longer. Other short-term effects include:



Slowed reaction times


Altered mental and emotional state

Loss of short-term and working memory


Increased appetite, heart rate, and blood pressure


Dry mouth

While a high may only last for a few hours, THC can be detected in the blood and urine for several weeks after use. Heavy marijuana users may test positive for THC months after stopping.

Concerns of Long-term Marijuana Use

Marijuana is one of the most popular drugs on the market. Mild to moderate use in adulthood is not positively correlated to increased risk of long term, adverse effects. But that changes for pregnant women who smoke, and people with heart disease. In people with heart disease, marijuana use can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Pregnant women should not use marijuana. THC can cause memory issues in exposed infants, and THC can also be passed through breast milk.

People who smoke marijuana as teens and people who use marijuana can experience adverse long-term effects. Heavy, prolonged pot use is associated with poor dopamine release in users. Young people who start using marijuana as teens increase their risk of addiction, withdrawals, lower cognitive abilities, and short-term memory issues.

Is marijuana addictive?

It is a dangerous myth that marijuana is not addictive. Although the rate of addiction is lower for marijuana than other drugs, it can still happen. People who start using marijuana at age sixteen or younger have a one in six chance of becoming addicted by age 20. For everyone else who uses marijuana, there is a one in ten chance of addiction.

Withdrawal is also an issue with marijuana use. Irritability, sleep issues, nightmares, trouble eating, drug cravings, and restlessness are the most common withdrawal symptoms in marijuana addiction. Symptoms tend to manifest and peak within the first week of cessation and can last for two weeks or longer.

How is CBD different than marijuana?

The substance in marijuana that makes it addictive and causes adverse, and potentially long-term consequences is THC. CBD is an entirely different chemical compound found in the cannabis plant. It is non-addictive and is not associated with many of the severe long-term effects present in marijuana use. It is possible to find CBD oils and products that contain small amounts of THC. People sensitive to THC, and people with a history of depression and anxiety should not use products containing THC.

Is it legal to grow cannabis for CBD oil?

It depends. The legalities surrounding the manufacture, sale, and use of CBD vary significantly from one state to the next. In states where recreational and medicinal marijuana is legal, it is legal to grow and cultivate hemp plants for CBD cultivation. But it is not easy to obtain a licensed permit to grow hemp. Currently, 17 states have laws that specifically mention CBD and CBD oil. For people who want to purchase or grow hemp plants for CBD oil, it is critical to check and make sure it is legal in their state.