Popular opinion regarding marijuana use has shifted dramatically over the past few decades. Marijuana is by far the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, with over 22.5 million users over the age of 12 according to a 2014 study conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Seeing the criminalization of a plant-based substance with medical properties as both a moral and civil issue, many states have legalized marijuana for medical use and some states (like California and Washington) have even permitted regulated recreational use. The popularization of “420 culture” through music, television and even social media contributes largely to the shift in public opinion that has led people to regard marijuana as potentially the safest mind-altering substance you could choose to indulge in.
And pot is definitely one of the safer substances out there—which is good, since you will almost inevitably encounter the opportunity to partake as you grow up and define your social circle. But in case you’re ever offered the opportunity to partake, there are still risks you should keep in mind! Here’s what you need to know about marijuana before you try it.
Marijuana’s physical, mental and emotional side effects vary from person to person.
Although most people report feeling relieved, carefree and giggly, marijuana can affect each individual in a different way. Some people report intense paranoia, social discomfort or inability to communicate with even their closest friends. The more physical side effects of marijuana can include dry mouth, dizziness, drowsiness, increased heart rate, increased appetite and red eyes. That being said, marijuana is commonly viewed as therapeutic and is used medicinally to treat people suffering from eating disorders, insomnia, chronic pain, anxiety or even to counteract the effects of other medications like chemotherapy.
If it is your first time experimenting, you may have been told that you “won’t get high your first time”. While that is a prevalent phenomenon, it may not be true for everyone. Different factors contribute to your experience—including the strain you’re using, how you’re inhaling, and what expectations you’re taking into the experience.
The best precaution to take if you are unfamiliar with the effects of marijuana is to experiment in a controlled environment with a safely acquired product under the supervision of people you trust.
It’s important to know what you’re smoking.
The two species of cannabis plant are indica and sativa. There are a number of useful resources, like this strain-exploring tool, to help you identify what kind of weed you have and what the effects will be. Sativa often gives the user a creative and productive buzz, which is why most people who habitually smoke marijuana will favor sativa for daytime activities. On the other hand, indica has a relaxing, sedative effect that will also improve appetite, which makes it a popular treatment for insomnia, anxiety or chronic pain. There are also hybrid strains that exhibit both properties to different degrees.
There are many different ways to consume marijuana—but mind your dosage!
Smoking the bud of the cannabis plant is generally regarded as the most popular method of using marijuana, but with legalization creating opportunities to market cannabis products to a diverse clientele, there are a number of alternatives for people who aren’t comfortable inhaling burning plant matter.
No matter how you partake, it’s best to be mindful of your dosage, but if you accidentally overdo it, don’t fret: consuming CBD, the other active compound in marijuana besides THC, may also help you come down from an out-of-control high.
Use vaporizers with caution.
Many people use wax or oil pens that vaporize a concentrated oil that can contain high levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)—the chemical compound in marijuana that gets you high. Though you’re still inhaling smoke, there may be little or no smoke exhaled—but that doesn’t mean you’re not consuming THC, so exercise caution with the dosage when using a vaporizer. While vaping can decrease the harmful effects of smoking, there may still be unintended consequences.
When it comes to edibles, you can always eat more, but you cannot eat less.
Edibles are another popular way to consume marijuana, in part because there is no smoking involved. However, edibles can be very potent, even if you cannot taste the marijuana in them. Most store-bought edibles will name the dosage, and most people agree that a suitable dosage is about 10 grams of THC. For homemade edibles, though, all bets are off.
Since you are digesting the cannabis instead of smoking it, it can take up to two hours for an edible to take effect—so it is best to ingest only a very minute amount, wait to gauge the effectiveness, and then decide whether or not to eat more based on how you are feeling after an hour or so. Edibles may kick in sooner if eaten on an empty stomach; on the flip side, if you’ve eaten too much of an edible, consuming a meal may help mitigate the effects. It is also best to avoid drinking in combination with edibles, as the alcohol may exacerbate the effects and lead to vomiting.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with the law—and stay within its bounds.
Marijuana laws vary from state to state: recreational use is fully legalized in some states, whereas other states have merely decriminalized the green stuff, so you could still get slapped with a fine if you get caught. And marijuana remains federally outlawed, so even if you live in a state like Oregon, you’re not protected on a federal level.
And that’s just the start of what you need to know. Pretty much across the U.S., it is illegal to consume marijuana in public spaces such as parks, on the street, sidewalks or on federal land. Although the laws differ by state, most places with legal marijuana allow for use in the privacy of the home for adults over 21. Driving while under the influence of marijuana is considered a DUI, as it can dangerously affect your reaction time; if apprehended, you could have you license suspended, be fined a large amount of money and even spend up to 6 months in jail.
Since marijuana has a distinct scent, concealed marijuana in your car or backpack can still emit an easily identifiable odor and give police a reason to search your vehicle if you are pulled over. Although you do not have to consent to a search, the odor of marijuana can give officers probable cause to search your vehicle whether you consent immediately or not.
If you are pulled over or otherwise impeded by law enforcement, be polite and ask why you are being detained. Knowing your rights is important in this situation. If you find yourself in a scenario like this, voice or video recording of the incident is legal and will help your case later on. If you tell an officer that you do not consent to a search and they continue to press you, repeat your non-consent or remain silent: you are within your rights to do both. Should the police arrest you, it is your right to remain silent and request an attorney. If you are searched without consent and the police find something illegal in your vehicle, your lawyer can file a motion to suppress, meaning that the evidence was unlawfully obtained.
Synthetic marijuana products are not the same as marijuana and are extremely dangerous!
Synthetic marijuana products like salvia and spice are popular in areas where marijuana is illegal—or among people who are drug-tested for work or legal reasons—because it can be sold over the counter, often packaged as incense, and will not show up in a urinalysis drug test. But don’t be fooled. All these products are by law clearly labeled as unsafe for human consumption, and that’s no joke: side effects of these products can include vision blackouts, seizures, high blood pressure, kidney damage, headaches, hallucinations, convulsions, agitation and even full-blown psychosis. And unlike authentic marijuana, repeated use of these products can produce withdrawal symptoms like nausea, vomiting and body tremors.
Unlike marijuana, it is absolutely possible to overdose on these products—and, since frequent changes in production make it almost impossible to know what ingredients were used in any given batch, an overdose can be difficult to treat. Despite their legal status, synthetic cannabinoid products are not a safer alternative and pose a much larger threat to the user than the true cannabinoid products ever could. This is not a risk worth taking.
It can be very difficult to conceal the fact that you are high.
Marijuana is a vasodilator—which means that, yes, those stereotypical red, bloodshot eyes are a very real side effect. Additionally, marijuana has a lingering odor that will bond to your hair and clothes, especially if you are smoking in a confined space like a car or enclosed room. Marijuana may also slow your speech pattern, reaction time and ability to process information, which will make it apparent to a third party that you are impaired.
Additionally, marijuana lingers in your system and is highly detectable in blood, urine and even saliva tests. The amount of time it takes to be able to pass a drug test varies widely from person to person, depending on things like age, size, frequency of use, activity level and diet. Although there is no straightforward answer, research suggests the length of time marijuana stays in your system can be anywhere from 9 to 30 days after use, with an average of about 14 days.
Although marijuana is regarded as non-addictive, it can be habit-forming.
There is a difference between physical addiction and behavioral addiction. While marijuana may not have the same physical properties as other addictive drugs, it can be hard to alter your smoking behavior once you start: marijuana withdrawal can lead to irritability, mood swings, decreased appetite, and other side effects. Still, the consequences of giving up marijuana are significantly minor when compared to those of giving up a physically addictive substance.
Approach all information on marijuana with caution.
Despite the “gateway drug” claims you may have heard in abstinence-only drug education programs, the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other illicit drugs. That said, because of its variable legal status, the people who sell marijuana illegitimately may also have other substances available that they may pressure a young person into trying—illicit trade is still a business, after all.
However, curiosity and experimentation are natural, especially for young people. If you have questions, there are probably a number of people in your social circle or trusted adults whom you can ask about their personal experiences with marijuana to gain a better understanding. Ultimately, as long as you know the associated risks and aren’t afraid to ask for help if things go awry, marijuana experimentation is nothing to be afraid of—as long as it’s really what you want. Which brings us to our final point…
It’s okay to say no!
While it often seems like everyone is using marijuana, it’s okay to choose whether or not you partake. We may roll our eyes at peer pressure, but it’s still very real, and so is the self-imposed pressure to be “cool” or “fit in”. Questioning your own reasons behind the desire to experiment with marijuana may help you make the right decisions regarding your participation.
And as always, when in doubt: don’t. Exercising your best judgement is important, and you shouldn’t feel pressured to do anything you are uncomfortable with. Chances are, if you are offered marijuana without specifically expressing interest, people will generally accept “no” for an answer. If you do feel pressured to try something you are not comfortable with, contact an adult or friend who can remove you from the situation. If you explain the circumstances honestly, you probably won’t be in any kind of trouble. Knowing yourself and your body is important, and whether or not you make the choice to try marijuana is yours and yours alone.
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