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marijuana

The Drug

The effects of marijuana vary with its strength and dosage and with the state of mind of the user. Typically, small doses result in a feeling of well-being. The intoxication lasts two to three hours, but accompanying effects on motor control last much longer. High doses can cause tachycardia, paranoia, and delusions. Although it produces some of the same effects as hallucinogens like LSD and mescaline (heightened sensitivity to colors, shapes, music, and other stimuli and distortion of the sense of time), marijuana differs chemically and pharmacologically.

The primary active component of marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), although other cannabinol derivatives are also thought to be intoxicating. In 1988 scientists discovered receptors that bind THC on the membranes of nerve cells. They reasoned that the body must make its own THC-like substance. The substance, named anandamide, was isolated from pig brains in 1992 by an American pharmacologist, William A. Devane.

Marijuana lowers testosterone levels and sperm counts in men and raises testosterone levels in women. In pregnant women it affects the fetus and results in developmental difficulties in the child. There is evidence that marijuana affects normal maturation of preadolescent and adolescent users and that it affects short-term memory and comprehension. Heavy smokers often sustain lung damage from the smoke and contaminants. Regular use can result in dependence.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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