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What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana is used differently and is much stronger than it was a generation ago. Marijuana is legal for adult recreational use in many U.S. states, so it's easier to get and more socially acceptable in some situations.

Many teens and young adults use marijuana in some form. Parents should understand its risks so they can help their children and teens make good decisions.

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana (also called weed, dope, or pot) is a mix of dried flowers, stems, seeds, and leaves from the cannabis plant. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the ingredient in marijuana that causes someone to feel high.

In the past, most people who used marijuana smoked it like a cigarette (a joint) or from different types of pipes. Now it is more common for someone to vape it with a vape pen. And mixing it into foods or drinks (edibles) like brownies, teas, alcohol, or gummies is increasingly popular. Some people use a “wax pen” or “dab pen” to inhale the oil or other extracts from the cannabis plant. Called “dabbing,” this delivers high concentrations of THC.

What Is Synthetic Marijuana?

Synthetic marijuana (“fake weed”) is made in a lab. It does not contain any THC from a marijuana plant, but it is marketed as having the same effects. The makers often spray the synthetic marijuana onto herbs to give the impression that it's natural, but it is not.

Some of these products (such as K2 and Spice) are sold at gas stations. Fake weed products are largely unregulated, so there is little information about whether they're safe. But it looks like their effects can be unpredictable and dangerous. And withdrawal from synthetic marijuana is more serious and lasts longer than withdrawal from THC products. Because synthetic marijuana doesn't show up on drug tests, some people use it as a way to get high but still have a negative drug test.

What Is Delta-8 THC?

Delta-8 THC is one of the many chemicals found in the marijuana plant. People of any age can buy it in gas stations, convenience stores, and online. It comes in many forms (gummies, cookies, vaping cartridges, sodas, and more). Delta-8 THC is sometimes called “light THC” because the high is supposed to be milder than the high from regular marijuana. It is considered by some to be a legal alternative to marijuana. But it isn't regulated by any government agency, and hospitals are seeing more admissions for bad reactions to it.

What Are the Effects of Marijuana?

Marijuana has both short-term and long-term effects. The effects vary from person to person and depend on how much marijuana is used. Smoking marijuana leads to effects very quickly while edibles take longer to have an effect.

Short-Term Effects

After using marijuana, someone may feel more relaxed, hungry, sleepy, and have a different sense of reality (for example, colors may seem brighter). Some people may feel anxious and distrustful of others. In rare cases, it can cause a short-term psychosis with hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t there) and paranoia (feeling very threatened). It affects the skills needed to drive safely and may lead to car crashes.

Long-Term Effects

People who use marijuana over a long period of time might:

  • Find it harder to remember, multitask, and pay attention.
  • Cough more, get more lung infections, and get lung scarring.
  • Be more likely to get depressed, be anxious, or have thoughts of suicide.
  • Become dependent on marijuana and develop cannabis use disorder. This means they can’t stop using marijuana even when it causes health, social, and school problems. Cannabis use disorder can make someone:
    • have trouble in social situations
    • have memory problems
    • struggle in school or at work

What if My Child Uses Marijuana?

Try to stay calm. Encourage conversation and work together. Start by talking to your child about why they use marijuana. Is it to feel more relaxed? Is it part of their social scene? Brainstorm with them about how they can get the same result without marijuana. Maybe exercising more would help with stress. They could try getting involved with social activities where marijuana isn’t involved.

Trying to help someone stop using marijuana can be tough. But you don’t have to do it alone. Talk to your health care provider. They can talk to your child and recommend programs (texting, online, and in person) that may help.

For more on treatment options, visit:

What Else Should I Know?

Marijuana doesn't only affect a person who uses it. Being around secondhand marijuana smoke and vapor can:

  • cause lung irritation and asthma flare-ups
  • make someone feel high because they contain THC

Also, babies and children who are around secondhand marijuana smoke can have measurable amounts of THC in their blood.

Marijuana edibles like gummies can look appealing to children and be mistaken for candy. There has been a large increase in children (and even pets) accidentally eating edibles. If you or someone in your home uses marijuana in any form, be sure to keep it out of sight and reach, preferably locked in a cabinet or lockbox.