Marijuana has been used since ancient times. While field hands and working people have often smoked the raw plant, aristocrats historically prefer hashish made from the cured flowers of the plant. It was not seen as a problem until a calculated disinformation campaign was launched in the 1930s, and the first American laws against using it were passed.
In 1937, with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act, the United States effectively banned recreational and medicinal use of cannabis. Many nations followed suit and in 1961, through the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, fifty-four nations agreed to "adopt such measures as may be necessary to prevent the misuse of, and illicit traffic in the leaves of the cannabis plant." Despite such restrictive control, cannabis has become the most widely used illicit drug in the western world.
To the best of our knowledge, no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose. In technical jargon, marijuana has no level of acute toxicity. But this doesn’t mean its safe. There is still the possibility of slamming your car into a lamppost while stoned or getting a joint that is laced.
Research shows that marijuana is addictive. Believe it or not, each year, more young adults enter drug treatment with a primary diagnosis of marijuana dependency than for all other illicit drugs combined. One recent study found that when abstaining from marijuana for just three days, regular users experienced withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, drug cravings, anger, irritability, and aggression.
Far more young people use marijuana than any other drug, even with the rise in prescription drug abuse. Among young people who use drugs, approximately 60% use marijuana only.
Smoking one joint is equal to smoking five cigarettes — smoking four joints is like smoking an entire pack. Because marijuana smokers tend to take longer, deeper drags and hold smoke in their lungs for longer, they end up with three to five times more tar and carbon monoxide in their bodies. Plus, marijuana is usually smoked unfiltered (in joints, blunts, bongs, and pipes) and burns at a higher temperature, which is more damaging to the lungs.
Marijuana is even riskier today because so much of the marijuana on the market is grown indoors and bred for specific qualities, like potency. This means that most of the marijuana that students smoke today is much stronger than it was for their parents’ generation. The average THC level rose from less than 1% in the late 1970s to more than 7% in 2001.
A mild hallucinogen, marijuana has some of alcohol’s depressant and disinhibiting properties. User reaction, however, is heavily influenced by expectations and past experience, and many first-time users feel nothing at all.