What is Marijuana?

Marijuana refers to the dried flowers, leaves, stems, and seeds of the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plants. These plants contain over 480 chemical substances, including more than 100 cannabinoids, which are compounds that act on the body’s endocannabinoid system.

The main psychoactive component in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is responsible for the “high” associated with smoking or ingesting marijuana. Another important cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD), which has medical benefits but does not cause intoxication.

Marijuana can be consumed in various ways, including:

Effects of Marijuana Use

Marijuana affects people differently depending on the strain, dosage, method of consumption, and individual factors like tolerance and metabolism. Some common short-term effects include:

The long-term effects of chronic marijuana use may include:

Medical Uses of Marijuana

Marijuana and its chemical compounds have been studied for potential therapeutic benefits. Some of the conditions that marijuana may help treat include:

Several FDA-approved medications contain synthetic THC or CBD, such as:

However, the FDA has not approved the marijuana plant as a medicine. More research is needed to determine the safety and efficacy of using the whole plant.

Risks and Side Effects

Marijuana is not without risks. It can impair judgment, coordination, and reaction time, making activities like driving dangerous. It may also interact with alcohol and other drugs in harmful ways.

Frequent or heavy marijuana use, especially starting in adolescence, has been linked to:

Smoking marijuana can also damage the lungs and respiratory system over time. Marijuana smoke contains many of the same toxins and carcinogens as tobacco smoke.

Edibles pose unique risks because they take longer to produce effects, making it easy to consume too much. They can also look like regular food products, creating a risk of accidental ingestion by children.

Marijuana Laws and Policies

Marijuana laws vary widely around the world. In the United States, marijuana is illegal under federal law. However, many states have legalized it for medical and/or recreational use14.

As of 2023, 37 states allow medical marijuana, and 21 states plus Washington D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana for adults over 21. However, marijuana remains completely illegal in several states.

Even in states with legal marijuana, there are restrictions on:

Marijuana laws are complex and constantly evolving. Individuals need to understand and follow the specific laws in their state.


Marijuana is a controversial and complex substance with a long history of human use. As more places legalize marijuana, it’s crucial to weigh the potential benefits and risks based on scientific evidence rather than stigma or hype.

Responsible marijuana use involves:

With the right precautions and policies in place, marijuana has the potential to provide relief to patients, reduce arrests and incarceration, and generate tax revenue. However, legalization also comes with public health challenges that require ongoing research, education, and harm reduction efforts.