Marijuana is the dried leaves and flowers of the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant. Stronger forms of the drug include high potency strains – known as sinsemilla (sin-seh-me-yah), hashish (hash for short), and extracts.
Of the more than 500 chemicals in marijuana, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, is responsible for many of the drug’s psychotropic (mind-altering) effects. It’s this chemical that distorts how the mind perceives the world. In other words, it’s what makes a person high.
Strength and Potency
The amount of THC in marijuana has increased over the past few decades. In the early 1990s, the average THC content in marijuana was less than 4 percent. It is now about 15 percent and much higher in some products such as oils and other extracts (see below). Scientists do not yet know what this increase in potency means for a person’s health. Some people adjust how they consume marijuana (by smoking or eating less) to compensate for the greater potency. There have been reports of people seeking help in emergency rooms with symptoms, including nervousness, shaking and psychosis (having false thoughts or seeing or hearing things that aren’t there), after consuming high concentrations of THC.
Smoking extracts and resins from the marijuana plant with high levels of THC is on the rise. There are several forms of these extracts. These resins have 3 to 5 times more THC than the plant itself. Smoking or vaping it (also called dabbing) can deliver dangerous amounts of THC and has led some people to seek treatment in the emergency room. There have also been reports of people injured in fires and explosions caused by attempts to extract hash oil from marijuana leaves using butane (lighter fluid).
How is marijuana used?
There are a few different ways people use marijuana:
- smoking hand-rolled cigarettes called joints or marijuana cigars called blunts (often made by slicing open cigars and replacing some or all of the tobacco with marijuana)
- inhaling smoke using glass pipes or water pipes called bongs
- inhaling vapor using devices that pull the active ingredients (including THC) from the marijuana into the vapor. Some vaporizers use a marijuana liquid extract.
- drinking tea brewed with marijuana or eating food with marijuana cooked into it, sometimes called edibles—such as brownies, cookies, or candy.
These extracts made from the marijuana plant should not be confused with “synthetic marijuana,” sometimes called “K2,” “Spice,” or “herbal incense.” These synthetic drugs are laboratory-made chemicals similar to THC that are sprayed onto plant materials to make it look like marijuana, but are often much stronger and very dangerous. Unlike marijuana, their use sometimes directly results in overdose deaths. Learn more about “synthetic marijuana”.