How Marijuana Works

Marijuana Usage
An industrious grower
An industrious grower

People typically use marijuana in one of the following different ways:

  • Cigarette -- Dried marijuana buds are rolled into a cigarette, also called a joint.
  • Cigar -- Slice open a cigar, remove the tobacco and refill it with marijuana. Often called a blunt.
  • Pipe – Tobacco pipes are also used to smoke marijuana.
  • Bong -- Water pipes, typically with a long tube rising out of a bowl-shaped base, trap smoke until it's inhaled, raising the amount of THC taken in.
  • Food -- Marijuana is sometimes baked into foods, such as brownies, or brewed as tea.

With millions of users, marijuana use isn't limited to one demographic. However, marijuana use is highest among younger people. Marijuana use in teenagers doubled from 1992 to 1999, when one out of every 13 kids aged 12 to 17 was a current user. In 1998, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (NCASA), half of all 13-year-olds said that they could find and purchase marijuana, and 49 percent said that they had first tried marijuana at age 13 or younger.

Since that time, emergency room mentions of marijuana among 12- to 17-year olds have jumped 48 percent, possibly due to the drug's increased potency. In 2004, NCASA reported that children and teens were "3 times likelier to be in treatment for marijuana than for alcohol, and 6 times likelier to be in treatment for marijuana than for all other illegal drugs combined" [source: NCASA]. Following the teenage years, young adults are the most likely demographic to regularly toke up, although the percentage of people who have tried it remains higher among baby boomers and their children [source: Saad].

As of January 2014, 20 U.S. states have decriminalized or legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Colorado and Washington have legalized growing and possessing small amounts of the drug for recreational use, with Florida, New York and other states considering looser laws. Meanwhile, there is evidence of backlash in some counties and towns, which are moving to ban sales within their boundaries, much as some counties are dry [sources: Johnson; Reuters]. In places where possession and/or use remain illegal, the following factors typically affect sentencing.

  • Quantity - Penalties vary based on the amount of marijuana found in the person's possession.
  • Selling - Penalties are more severe for those intending to sell marijuana.
  • Growing - Penalties are also more severe for those cultivating cannabis.
  • Location - A person arrested for selling marijuana near a school will often face harsher penalties.

(There's a state-by-state guide to facts about marijuana penalties at NORML.)

Jail sentences and fines have done little to suppress the use of marijuana in the United States. Despite health and legal risks, pot continues to be the illegal drug of choice for many Americans.

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