Sorting out marijuana facts from fiction and misinformation can help parents recognize potential abuse in teens and intervene appropriately.
What Is Synthetic Marijuana?
Synthetic cannabinoids include a growing number of manmade mind-altering chemicals that are either sprayed on dried, shredded plant material to be smoked (herbal incense) or vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices (liquid incense). Synthetic cannabinoids are widely referred to as “synthetic marijuana” and marketed as safe alternatives to natural marijuana. However, chemical tests show that the active, mind-altering ingredients are cannabinoid compounds made in laboratories. In fact, they may affect the brain far more powerfully than marijuana and the actual effects can be unpredictable, severe and even life-threatening.1
Is Smoking Marijuana Safer Than Smoking Tobacco Cigarettes?
No. Smoking one marijuana cigarette results in airflow obstruction equivalent to smoking two and a half to five tobacco cigarettes. Most of the carcinogens in tobacco are also present in cannabis, which may explain why studies have found that long-term marijuana use increases the risk of oropharyngeal, lung and testicular cancers.2
Does Marijuana Use in Teens Lead to Other Drugs?
This depends to a large degree on personal and social factors. Long-term studies on drug use patterns indicate most high school students who use other illegal drugs tried marijuana first. Exposure to marijuana before the brain is fully developed impacts cognitive function, possibly making other drugs more appealing. For example, animal research suggests that early exposure to marijuana makes opioid drugs (e.g. Vicodin, heroin) more pleasurable. A person who is a chronic marijuana user is more likely to know people who encourage them to buy and try other drugs.3
Why Does Marijuana Affect People Differently?
While there are commonalities in symptoms caused by marijuana use, every individual processes drugs differently. Reactions to marijuana use are based on a person’s genes, the potency of the marijuana, previous experience with the drug, frequency and duration of use, how it is used (smoked or ingested) and whether there is concurrent drug use (e.g. alcohol, opioids or cocaine). Its effects are especially unpredictable when mixed with other drugs.3
- What are synthetic cannabinoids? National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cannabinoids Updated November 2015. Accessed October 5, 2016.
- Andrade C. Cannabis and neuropsychiatry, 1: benefits and risks. J Clin Psychiatry. 2016 May;77(5):e551-4. doi: 10.4088/JCP.16f10841.
- Want to Know More? Some FAQs about Marijuana. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/marijuana-facts-teens/want-to-know-more-some-faqs-about-marijuana Updated May 2015. Accessed October 5, 2016.