Marijuana: Beyond the Labels

Person holding green bottle with marijuana accessories in background.

The most commonly used addictive substance following alcohol and tobacco is marijuana. Also known as weed, pot or dope, the term marijuana refers to the flowering portion of the cannabis plant used for recreational purposes.

The two most well-known active ingredients in cannabis are delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9 THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Delta-9 THC is the primary psychotropic ingredient in marijuana that makes people feel “high.”

Over the last 25 years, the concentration of delta-9 THC contained in marijuana has continued to rise. Researchers suggest this has caused an increased risk in addiction and may be the reason for the uptick in the number of emergency room visits involving marijuana use.

Unregulated Marijuana

Illegally produced or distributed marijuana is not regulated for how potent or pure it is. “People often do not know the contents of the substances/drugs they buy or get from others. Drugs are often laced with other drugs to cut costs and increase potency which often leads to unintended overdoses and severe adverse events,” said Dr. Kelly Dunn, executive director of clinical treatment at OSU’s National Center for Wellness & Recovery.

Even marijuana products sold by approved retail stores can contain unhealthy by-products and higher than usual concentrations of THC. Delta-8 THC is a product synthetically converted from CBD derived from hemp and has psychoactive properties. With little regulation of delta-8 THC, health officials are finding unidentified compounds in these products and are urging consumers to learn about the contents before purchasing.

Unregulated marijuana may also include toxic substances which can cause infection, cancer and reproductive and developmental problems. Some harmful substances include solvents, pesticides, fungi and heavy metals.

Concerning Trends

Vaping marijuana has become a popular method for teenagers to get “high” with nearly four percent of seniors in high school reporting vaping THC on a daily basis according to the National Institutes of Health. Teenagers often purchase THC vaping products from friends or on the street where the ingredients are not regulated or cannot be verified.

Cannabis extracts are relatively new THC products and are primarily used when smoking or vaping. They deliver extremely high concentrations of THC to the body and are significantly more hazardous than typical marijuana products.

THC edibles have also become a popular way to consume marijuana, but come with unique risks. Because edibles move through the digestive system, it takes longer to achieve maximum effect. Unfortunately, many people choose to eat more to feel the effects more quickly which results in dangerous reactions.

Children can also mistakenly consume edible marijuana products that appear to be safe for them. Hospitals are seeing more children with severe adverse reactions after eating brownies, cookies or fruit-flavored gummies that were made with THC or CBD.

Effects of Marijuana

When marijuana is consumed, THC enters the bloodstream and is distributed to the brain and other organs throughout the body. Marijuana triggers an overreaction in the brain which causes people to feel “high.” Effects include altered senses, impaired memory, mood changes, difficulties with thinking and problem-solving and in some cases, hallucinations, delusions or psychosis.

Marijuana products can cause challenging and life-long effects on children exposed to marijuana in the womb. They are at an increased risk for problems with attention, memory and problem-solving throughout life.

Long-term effects of marijuana may include diminished brain development particularly in teenagers. Marijuana alters how the brain builds connections for learning functions and memory development and research supports that the lost brain development doesn’t fully return even after quitting use as an adult.

Marijuana use is linked to a variety of other physical problems. It elevates a person’s heart rate increasing their chances of a heart attack. It can also cause intense nausea and vomiting which may be associated with Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome.

Severe cannabis-related adverse reactions may include lethargy, low blood pressure and even coma.

Marijuana is an addictive substance that can have life-long effects on physical and mental health, relationships and finances. If you or a loved one suffers from the effects of marijuana use, expert help is available in our outpatient clinic at OSU’s National Center for Wellness & Recovery. 918-561-1890.

Contact the NCWR Addiction Recovery Clinic at OSU at 918-561-1890 to schedule an appointment. In case of a medical emergency, please call 911. For immediate and confidential emotional support, please call 988 to reach the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

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