Marijuana and Synthetics

John Perritano

S E R I E S C O N S U L TA N T SARA BECKER, Ph.D. Brown University School of Public Health/Warren Alpert Medical School

Marijuana and Synthetics D R U G A D D I C T I O N A N D R E C O V E R Y


Alcohol and Tobacco

Causes of Drug Use

Drug Use and Mental Health

Drug Use and the Family

Drug Use and the Law

Hallucinogens: Ecstasy, LSD, and Ketamine

Intervention and Recovery

Marijuana and Synthetics

Opioids: Heroin, OxyContin, and Painkillers

Over-the-Counter Drugs

Performance-Enhancing Drugs: Steroids, Hormones, and Supplements

Prescription Drugs

Stimulants: Meth, Cocaine, and Amphetamines


Marijuana and Synthetics

John Perritano

S E R I E S C O N S U L TA N T SARA BECKER, Ph.D. Brown University School of Public Health Warren Alpert Medical School


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Series Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Chapter One: What Is Marijuana? . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Chapter Two: The Science of Marijuana . . . . . . . . . . 21 Chapter Three: The Debate over Legalization . . . . . . . . 33 Chapter Four: Addiction and Treatment . . . . . . . . . . 47 Further Reading . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 Educational Videos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 Series Glossary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60 Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61 About the Author . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64 About the Advisor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64 Photo Credits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64

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Sidebars: This boxed material within the main text allows readers to build knowledge, gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden their perspectives by weaving together additional information to provide realistic and holistic perspectives. Research Projects: Readers are pointed toward areas of further inquiry connected to each chapter. Suggestions are provided for projects that encourage deeper research and analysis. Text-Dependent Questions: These questions send the reader back to the text for more careful attention to the evidence presented there. Educational Videos: Readers can view videos by scanning our QR codes, providing them with additional educational content to supplement the text. Examples include news coverage, moments in history, speeches, iconic sports moments and much more! Series Glossary of Key Terms: This back-of-the-book glossary contains terminology used throughout the series. Words found here increase the reader’s ability to read and comprehend higher-level books and articles in this field.


Many adolescents in the United States will experiment with alcohol or other drugs by time they finish high school. According to a 2014 study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 27 percent of 8th graders have tried alcohol, 20 percent have tried drugs, and 13 percent have tried cigarettes. By 12th grade, these rates more than double: 66 percent of 12th graders have tried alcohol, 50 percent have tried drugs, and 35 percent have tried cigarettes. Adolescents who use substances experience an increased risk of a wide range of negative consequences, including physical injury, family conflict, school truancy, legal problems, and sexually transmitted diseases. Higher rates of substance use are also associated with the leading causes of death in this age group: accidents, suicide, and violent crime. Relative to adults, adolescents who experiment with alcohol or other drugs progress more quickly to a full-blown substance use disorder and have more co-occurring mental health problems. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimated that in 2015 about 1.3 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 (5 percent of adolescents in the United States) met the medical criteria for a substance use disorder. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these IF YOU NEED HELP NOW . . . SAMHSA’s National Helpline provides referrals for mental-health or substance-use counseling. 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov SAMHSA’s National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides crisis counseling by phone or online, 24-hours-a-day and 7 days a week. 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org


When pro- and anti-drug information sit side-by-side online, it can be hard for kids to separate fact from fiction.

adolescents did not receive treatment. Less than 10 percent of those with a diagnosis received specialty care, leaving 1.2 million adolescents with an unmet need for treatment. The NSDUH asked the 1.2 million adolescents with untreated substance use disorders why they didn’t receive specialty care. Over 95 percent said that they didn’t think they needed it. The other 5 percent reported challenges finding quality treatment that was covered by their insurance. Very few treatment providers and agencies offer substance use treatment designed to meet the specific needs of adolescents. Meanwhile, numerous insurance plans have “opted out” of providing coverage for addiction treatment, while others have placed restrictions on what is covered. Stigma about substance use is another serious problem. We don’t call a person with an eating disorder a “food abuser,” but we use terms like “drug abuser” to describe individuals with substance use disorders. Even treatment providers often unintentionally use judgmental words, such as describing urine screen results as either “clean” or “dirty.” Underlying this language is the idea that a substance use disorder is some kind of moral failing or character flaw, and that people with these disorders deserve blame or punishment for their struggles.


And punish we do. A 2010 report by CASA Columbia found that in the United States, 65 percent of the 2.3 million people in prisons and jails met medical criteria for a substance use disorder, while another 20 percent had histories of substance use disorders, committed their crimes while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or committed a substance-related crime. Many of these inmates spend decades in prison, but only 11 percent of them receive any treatment during their incarceration. Our society invests significantly more money in punishing individuals with substance use disorders than we do in treating them. At a basic level, the ways our society approaches drugs and alcohol— declaring a “war on drugs,” for example, or telling kids to “Just Say No!”— reflect a misunderstanding about the nature of addiction. The reality is that addiction is a disease that affects all types of people—parents and children, rich and poor, young and old. Substance use disorders stem from a complex interplay of genes, biology, and the environment, much like most physical and mental illnesses. The way we talk about recovery, using phrases like “kick the habit” or “breaking free,” also misses the mark. Substance use disorders are chronic, insidious, and debilitating illnesses. Fortunately, there are a number of effective treatments for substance use disorders. For many patients, however, the road is long and hard. Individuals recovering from substance use disorders can experience horrible withdrawal symptoms, and many will continue to struggle with cravings for alcohol or drugs. It can be a daily struggle to cope with these cravings and stay abstinent. A popular saying at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings is “one day at a time,” because every day of recovery should be respected and celebrated. There are a lot of incorrect stereotypes about individuals with substance use disorders, and there is a lot of false information about the substances, too. If you do an Internet search on the term “marijuana,” for instance, two top hits are a web page by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and a page operated by Weedmaps, a medical and recreational


marijuana dispensary. One of these pages publishes scientific information and one publishes pro-marijuana articles. Both pages have a high-quality, professional appearance. If you had never heard of either organization, it would be hard to know which to trust. It can be really difficult for the average person, much less the average teenager, to navigate these waters. The topics covered in this series were specifically selected to be relevant to teenagers. About half of the volumes cover the types of drugs that they are most likely to hear about or to come in contact with. The other half cover important issues related to alcohol and other drug use (which we refer to as “drug use” in the titles for simplicity). These books cover topics such as the causes of drug use, the influence of drug use on the family, drug use and the legal system, drug use and mental health, and treatment options. Many teens will either have personal experience with these issues or will know someone who does. This series was written to help young people get the facts about common drugs, substance use disorders, substance-related problems, and recovery. Accurate information can help adolescents to make better decisions. Students who are educated can help each other to better understand the risks and consequences of drug use. Facts also go a long way to reducing the stigma associated with substance use. We tend to fear or avoid things that we don’t understand. Knowing the facts can make it easier to support each other. For students who know someone struggling with a substance use disorder, these books can also help them know what to expect. If they are worried about someone, or even about themselves, these books can help to provide some answers and a place to start.

—Sara J. Becker, Ph.D., Assistant Professor (Research), Center for Alcohol and Addictions Studies, Brown University School of Public Health, Assistant Professor (Research), Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University Medical School



cannabinoids: organic chemicals that are the active substances in cannabis plants. euphoric: a feeling of great happiness. hallucinating: seeing things that aren’t there. psychedelic: relating to the effects caused by hallucinogenic drugs. psychoactive: substances that have an effect on mood or behavior. synthetic: made by humans, rather than occurring in nature.



Marijuana is one of the most widely consumed drugs in the world. Only alcohol and tobacco are more popular. Although many countries and a few U.S. states have made it legal to sell and smoke marijuana, there is still a lot of disagreement about the drug’s effects. Some say it should be legal everywhere, while others say it is too addictive. Some argue it is not harmful, while some insist it is. Regardless of these disagreements, the plant has a long and storied history as one of the earliest cultivated crops in human history. Marijuana comes from the flowering tops and leaves of two species of plants called Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica . Both species produce hemp, the fiber used in rope and other products. Most experts say the cannabis plant first evolved some 12,000 years ago in Central Asia in what is now Mongolia and southern Siberia. It was the Chinese, however, who first cultivated the crop around 5,000 years ago. They used cannabis as a treatment for rheumatism, gout, and malaria,



Foliage of the cannabis plant.

among other maladies. They also used the plant as an anesthetic during surgery. The Chinese brought cannabis to Korea around 2000 BCE, and the plant later spread across South Asia. As the plant spread, so did its popularity. Many found the leaves had euphoric qualities. In India, for example, the plant was used solely for its intoxicating effects. Elsewhere, some followers of Islam smoked the plant instead of drinking alcohol. They learned how to collect the resin drops that coat its leaves and flowers and turned it into hashish, a more powerful form of cannabis. No one knows exactly when hashish was first discovered, but some stories say it was around 1115 CE. According to legend, an Islamic monk in Persia (modern-day Iran) named Hayder was depressed. He took a walk out into the field and sampled the leaves of the cannabis plant. When he returned to the monastery, Hayder was amazed at how happy he was. His followers asked him why he was so giddy. He told them about the leaves he


ate and made them promise they would not reveal the secret. Eventually, of course, the secret got out, and over time people pressed the resin into blocks of hashish. It eventually spread throughout Persia and North Africa. Marijuana eventually made its way into Europe. Germanic tribes cultivated the plant and took it with them to Britain and other areas. The Vikings in Scandinavia used cannabis as a pain reliever during childbirth and as a remedy for toothaches. The plant then gradually made its way to South America and into North America. Today, cannabis is grown in almost all types of climates. It flourishes in areas that have abundant sunshine and plenty of water. When dried, marijuana is usually green or brown. It often resembles the popular kitchen spice oregano. Pot, as marijuana is often called, can have a strong smell, or it can have none at all. However, when set ablaze, pot usually has a very specific smell, a bit like burning incense. The primary psychoactive ingredient in natural pot is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

An illustration of the cannabis plant from Historia Stirpium (1542) by Leonhart Fuchs, who is considered one of the fathers of botany.



Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of cannabis, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The nation, which borders Pakistan and Iran, produces between 24,710 and 59,305 acres of cannabis a year. Although several other countries have more land under cultivation, no one tops Afghanistan’s estimated annual yield of 1,500 to 3,500 tons of cannabis.


In addition to its intoxicating effects, cannabis plants have played an important role in the development of civilization. Our early ancestors found out that when woven and twisted together as a rope, cannabis fibers— called hemp—were unbelievably strong and malleable. The rope was so strong that it could be used to pull, drag, and fasten all sorts of things. People could tie it into knots, which they then used to shape nets, snares, and traps for capturing fish and other food. Hemp was especially important in colonial America. The British first brought cannabis seeds to the New World and ordered colonial farmers to grow the plants. By the 1600s, hemp had become an important crop in New England, Maryland, and Virginia. The colonies grew the plant to make rope, canvas sacks, and paper. Most of the finished products were then sent to Britain to be sold. When America won its independence from England in 1776, the new U.S. government compelled farmers to grow hemp to bolster the fledgling economy. Some Americans even used hemp to pay their taxes. Rope made from homegrown hemp was vital to the shipping industry as rigging for tall ships. George Washington grew hemp and encouraged others to follow his example.

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