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Marijuana is the name given in the United States to the drug produced from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. The use of cannabis derivatives under such names as hashish, charas, bhang, and ganja is widespread throughout the world. The most active ingredient of the plant derivative is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The flowering parts of the plant contain the greatest amounts of THC (Goode, Pp. 567-575). These are usually dried and smoked, but they may be made into a drink somewhat like tea or blended into various cooking recipes.
Many perceptual and emotional effects follow marijuana smoking. Sensory experience may become more intense; smells are richer, textures feel more sensuous, objects are seen as more beautiful, sounds are more brilliant, and ideas flow more freely, although they may be disjointed. The person may experience an emotional high in which he or she feels joyful, tranquil, and happy. The effects of marijuana, however, are like those of other drugs; they very much depend on the person and the setting. Taken in a pleasant, relaxed social situation, marijuana can be quite unpleasant (Earleywine, pp. 123-156). Also, people who are naturally paranoid, suspicious, or aggressive may become more so under the influence of marijuana; the calm, better-adjusted users are more apt to experience a euphoric high.
Moreover, most people use marijuana for the altered states it produces. These states are a little easier to control than those produced by other hallucinogenic drugs, unless the dosage is very high. At low to moderate dosages, hallucinations are not present. Instead, the person typically reports of calmness, increased sensory awareness, changes in space and time, and increased appetite, often with a craving for sweets. At higher dosages, the person may experience thought disturbances, rapid emotional changes, a loss of attention, and a sense of panic.
Marijuana has been one of the most researched drugs in the history of pharmacology, and there is still considerable disagreement about its short-term and long-term effects (Belenko, pp. 34-67). It was made an illicit drug in the United States, and many states have established harsh penalties for those convicted of possession of even small amounts.
In the recent years, there has been a move toward decriminalization of marijuana. Although this policy would not legalize the drug, it would establish more appropriate punishments, for example, fines instead of imprisonment for possession of small amounts for personal use. The growing consensus of research on marijuana would suggest that it is not a safe drug. Indeed, it is doubtful whether any drug taken frequently by choice is advisable. Many researchers have concluded that smoking marijuana is no more dangerous, and perhaps even less so, than smoking cigarettes or using alcohol.
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