Though these pioneers of pot most likely smoked unprocessed Cannabis, today’s stoners have additional options, like kief, a powder sifted from leaves and flowers; hashish, concentrated flower resin; and hash oil, extracted from cannabis leaves. These processed Cannabis variations offer benefits like ease of use when cooking weed-infused foods, or increased levels of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient.When one uses marijuana, THC filters through the lungs or stomach, into the bloodstream, then the brain. THC is a cannabinoid – a chemical compound family naturally employed by the nervous system – and freely binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. This biochemical action explains many of weed’s effects, like feelings of euphoria and altered state of consciousness, anxiety, forgetfulness, and loss of time perception. Further, THC can linger in the body for weeks or longer, sustaining low-level effects in the user.
Though marijuana’s immediate effects are well documented, its long-term repercussions remain unclear. Some researchers contend that smoking marijuana at a young age increases adulthood psychosis; indeed, some studies have shown an increased risk in schizophrenia expression for habitual smokers with a family history of the disease. On the physiological side, habitual marijuana smoking creates similar respiratory problems as chain-smoking cigarettes, like coughing, phlegm over-production, and wheezing. However, researchers have yet to find a conclusive correlation between marijuana and lung and throat cancer.
The gateway effect remains one of marijuana’s most widely taught dangers. The theory proposes that young people who use Cannabis are more likely to move on to harder drugs like cocaine, meth, and heroine. Studies do show that hard drug users are likely to start with pot, but this trend doesn’t prove Cannabis causes hard drug use; gateway effect opponents hold that marijuana is simply easier to get at a younger age, so those inclined to use whatever drug available will smoke weed first. Opponents similarly think marijuana criminalization makes smokers more comfortable purchasing black market substances and acquaints them with a subculture where harder drugs are available. This critique is corroborated by a comparison study of San Francisco and Amsterdam smokers that showed Americans more likely to use harder drugs.
Truthfully, alcohol and tobacco are more addictive and physically harmful than marijuana; Cannabis’ stigma arises from our comparatively limited understanding of what it does to the body and how. And while it’s unfair to demonize marijuana simply because it’s poorly understood, for the same reasons, it’s unwise to defend and abuse it.