Children's Hospital Colorado

The Facts About Marijuana

Closeup of a woman's hand holding a jar of marijuana.

Before you can effectively talk to your children about marijuana, you need to understand some basic information about the drug. Our experts answer the most frequently asked questions about marijuana, how it’s used and its effects on kids.

What is marijuana?

Marijuana is the dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds of the cannabis plant. It contains various compounds known as cannabinoids, including the psychoactive (mind-altering) chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This chemical causes the “high” experienced by users.

People typically smoke marijuana in hand-rolled cigarettes (joints), in pipes or water pipes (bongs). They can also smoke it in blunts—cigars that have been emptied of tobacco and refilled with a mixture of marijuana and tobacco. Marijuana smoke has a pungent and distinctive, usually sweet-and-sour, odor.

Vaping is another way that people use marijuana. Vaping involves using an e-cigarette or vaping pen to vaporize and inhale marijuana.

Highly concentrated (high potency) THC concentrates (called “dabs”) are also readily available. The concentration of THC in dabs is at least three times higher than normal, increasing the risks of side effects. Dabs are also called “shatters,” “waxes” and “budders.” These products can also be eaten, smoked or vaped.

You may hear marijuana called by many different names. Common slang for marijuana includes pot, weed and grass. When people use marijuana, they refer to it as “getting high” or “getting stoned.”

Is marijuana a drug?

Yes. The THC in marijuana affects the way your brain works. It is a mind-altering chemical that can affect learning, memory and reaction time. With continued use, the drug can lead to paranoia, anxiety, vomiting and psychosis, including delusions and hallucinations. Habitual use can impact youth brain development, academic achievement and put them at risk for addiction and use of other drugs.

What are marijuana edibles?

You can also use marijuana by eating or drinking it. Marijuana edibles are any foods that contain THC. You can find marijuana in products such as baked goods (brownies, cookies), chocolate, gummy candy and even beverages. In many cases, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between a regular food item and a marijuana edible. That can make edibles very dangerous for children who may accidentally eat them. It’s important for parents to know the signs of possible marijuana intoxication in children. If you have marijuana edibles in your home, know how to keep them safe and away from your children.

What is CBD?

CBD is short for cannabidiol, another cannabinoid in marijuana. Unlike THC, cannabidiol does not cause drug-induced “high.” CBD is sold as an oil or extract. It is found in a wide range of over-the-counter products—such as muscle rubs, massage oils, sleep aids and face creams. Many health claims of CBD products have no substantial research behind them. These products are also unregulated and can contain various amounts of advertised CBD or potentially harmful contaminants. The only FDA-approved CBD product is an antiseizure drug used to treat certain refractory epilepsy syndromes.

How is spice different from marijuana?

Spice (which also goes by many other names including K2, Black Mamba, fake weed or synthetic cannabis) is a dangerous synthetic (man-made) drug. It is typically made of synthetic cannabinoids that are sprayed on or combined with herbs and plant materials. The resulting product looks like marijuana, but the chemicals in spice can have stronger, potentially more hazardous, effects.

Why do people smoke or ingest marijuana?

People smoke and ingest marijuana for many reasons: for fun, for a new experience, or to relax or cope with overwhelming emotions. Teens may experience peer pressure from their friends and feel they have to use marijuana to fit in. Some people use marijuana as a treatment for medical conditions, often without guidance from a medical professional.

What are side effects of using marijuana?

Using marijuana can have a variety of physical, mental and emotional side effects. Marijuana smoke can contain similar carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds) to those in cigarette smoke.

While some people feel relaxed after smoking or eating marijuana, harmful side effects can include:

  • Paranoia or anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Problems with learning or memory
  • Altered sensory perception
  • Trouble with coordination
  • Increased appetite
  • Abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting

Is marijuana addictive?

Yes, marijuana can be addictive. People who use marijuana regularly may develop a marijuana use disorder — including dependence on the drug or addiction. These disorders are 4 to 7 times more common in people who begin using marijuana before age 18.

What effects can marijuana use have on children and teens?

Marijuana can impact scholastic performance in tweens, teens and young adults. Young people who use marijuana are less likely to graduate high school. Marijuana use affects attention, learning and memory and can impair athletic performance. Marijuana use in young people can also impact brain development and mental health.

There is some evidence linking regular marijuana use to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders — including schizophrenia and psychosis. This risk is higher with use of highly concentrated products, and among those who use more regularly and for a longer period of time.

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