Let's Talk POT

It’s time to have a conversation about marijuana.

other-names-marijuanaWhat Is Marijuana?Marijuana comes from the cannabis plant (cannabis sativa). Marijuana contains more than 500 chemicals, including tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC.1  This is the part of the plant that gives the “high” and its strength or potency can vary greatly among different marijuana products. Another main ingredient in cannabis is cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD. This part of the plant cannot get you “high,” but it has been used to relieve pain, inflammation, and other medical conditions. Cannabis plants today are modified to contain different amounts of THC and CBD depending on the desired effects of use.

The cannabis plant can be used in three main forms. These include marijuana, hashish, and hash oil. Marijuana consists of a mixture of the dried flowers, leaves, stems, and seeds of the cannabis plant. It is typically smoked and it is the least potent of the cannabis products.

Hashish is a more potent form of marijuana. It refers to resin from marijuana flowers that is removed from the plant, and then dried, pressed into small blocks, and smoked. It can also be vaporized or added to foods and eaten. Hashish can be made into an even more concentrated form called hash oil which can also be smoked or eaten. Hash oil is the most concentrated form of marijuana.

Key Facts You Need to Know
Potency Has ChangedMarijuana is not the same stuff that some older adults remember using back in the 1970’s, 80’s, and even 90’s. It is different today because:

  • Growers have learned how to alter the plant (through crossbreeding and genetic modification) so that it produces much more THC (the part of the plant that makes you high). The marijuana that people are using today would never grow naturally in nature.2
  • Because today’s marijuana has such high levels of THC (potency), users are getting much more of the chemical in their bodies which puts them a greater risk of negative side effects.
  • Concentrates (used through dabbing, vaporizing, or eating edibles) have extremely high levels of THC (up to 80%) and can cause very bad reactions especially in young people.
  • We are learning more and more about the effects of today’s marijuana. It may be years before we fully understand the effects that it can cause to young people.

Developing Brains are at Greater RiskEffects on Adolescents

Recent science has proven that the young brain continues to develop up until the early to mid-20s.3 Developing brains are much more sensitive to the negative effects of all substances including marijuana. The full impact of marijuana use on adolescent health is not fully known. However, based on the current science that is available, we can say that teens should not use marijuana because of the increased risk for both short-term and long-term negative outcomes.

  • The developing brain is much more sensitive to the negative effects of all drugs, including marijuana.
  • For people who begin using marijuana as a teen, 1 in 6 of them will become dependent in adulthood.4
  • Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, research shows that the earlier a person begins to use drugs, the more likely he or she is to develop serious problems.5
brainEffects on the Brain

When marijuana is used, THC, one of the main active chemicals in marijuana, enters the bloodstream and travels throughout the body and into the brain. THC attaches to cells or neurons with specific kinds of receptors called cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are abundant in parts of the brain that regulate movement, coordination, learning and memory, and higher cognitive functions such as judgment, and pleasure. These functions are the ones most affected by the THC in marijuana.

Learning and Memory

THC disrupts the functioning of a part of the brain that controls learning. This can lead to problems studying, learning new things, and recalling recent events.6


THC also disrupts the area of the brain that controls balance, coordination, and movement. These effects can lower performance in activities such as driving, sports, and video games.7  It is not safe or legal to drive a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.


Because THC affects areas of the brain involved in decision making, using it can cause you to do things you might not normally do such as engaging in risky sexual activity, getting into a car with someone who is under the influence, or making other poor decisions.8

Performance Will Be ReducedMarijuana can affect people differently, but it has been linked with many negative outcomes, all of which are more common among young people. The ability to do well may be lowered across many activities due to possible side effects including: 

  • Dependence
  • Difficulty thinking and concentrating
  • Impaired learning and memory ability
  • Loss of coordination (performance in sports, driving, video games, etc.)
  • Slowed reactions
  • Impaired judgement (bad decisions)
  • Bronchitis, cough, and phlegm among those who smoke it
  • Increased heart rate and risk of heart attack
  • Mental health challenges
  • Weakened immune system
  • Psychosis

Researchers are still studying to understand the full effects of marijuana use, particularly among youth. Further research is needed to develop a concrete understanding of the risks as well as any health benefits. In the meantime it is important to know that there are risks and there may be effects that we are not yet aware of.

graduationHopes & Dreams Will Become Harder to AchieveWhile kids are in school, their brains to be working as well as possible so they can get through classes, graduate, remain motivated, and go on to achieve the goals that they have for their lives.

  • Teens who have used marijuana in the last year are four times more likely to do poorly in school.9
  • Regular marijuana use by adolescents is related to low academic achievement, failure to graduate from high school, lower income, greater welfare dependence, and unemployment.10
  • Marijuana can get in the way of your hopes and dreams.
  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. (2016, March 10). Marijuana drug facts. Retrieved March 14, 2016, from https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/marijuana.
  2. The University of Washington Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute. (2013, June). Potency of marijuana. 
  3. Pujol, J., Vendrell, P., Junqué, C., Martí-Vilalta, J. L. and Capdevila, A. (1993), When does human brain development end? Evidence of corpus callosum growth up to adulthood. Ann Neurol., 34: 71–75. doi: 10.1002/ana.410340113
  4. Hall, W.; and Degenhardt, L. Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. Lancet 374:1383–1391, 2009
  5. Lynskey MT, Heath AC, Bucholz KK, Slutske WS, Madden PAF, Nelson EC, Statham DJ, Martin NG Escalation of drug use in early-onset cannabis users vs co-twin controls. JAMA 289:427-33, 2003.
  6. Schweinsburg AD, Brown SA, Tapert SF. The influence of marijuana use on neurocognitive functioning in adolescents. Curr Drug Abuse Rev. 2008;1(1):99-111.
  7. Hartman RL, Huestis MA. Cannabis effects on driving skills. Clin Chem. 2013;59(3):478-492. doi:10.1373/clinchem.2012.194381.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know.
  9. Lynskey, M., & Hall, W. (2000). The effects of adolescent cannabis use on educational attainment: a review. Addiction, 95(11), 1621-1630.
  10. Fergusson DM, Boden JM. Cannabis use and later life outcomes. Addiction 2008;103 (6): 969–976; discussion 976–8. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2008.02221.x