Teens and drugs: What you need to know

From ecstasy to heroin, a parents' field guide to what's out there.

By Kristin Jenkins

Teens and drugs: Marijuana
Marijuana
Street names: blunt, bomb, bud, chronic, doobie, dope, ganja, grass, hash, herb, homegrown, hydro, jay, joint, Mary Jane (MJ), pot, reefer, weed

What is it?
Marijuana, hashish (hash) and hash oil all come from a hemp plant known as Cannabis sativa. The active ingredient in all three is called THC. Marijuana is the flowering tops and dried leaves of the hemp plant; hash comes from the sticky resin that coats the flowers.

What does it look like?
Marijuana:
• Green, brown or grey mix of dried and shredded leaves, stems, seeds and flowers
• Often rolled in cigarette papers and smoked like a cigarette
• May be stashed in a drawer, in a small plastic bag or tin foil

Hash:
• Dark brown or black chunks
• Often carried in tin foil

Hash oil

• Green or red-brown
• Often carried in tin foil or a small (pinkie-size) glass vial with screw-top lid

Cost: Marijuana: one-quarter ounce, $75; hashish/hash oil: one-quarter ounce, $90.

Who uses it?
Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in Canada. According to CAMH, almost half (44 per cent) of all Canadians have used it at least once.

Marijuana is also popular with Canadian teenagers. Results out of the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) -- the longest ongoing survey of adolescent drug use in Canada -- shows that:
• 26.5 per cent of Ontario students have used marijuana in the past year, including three per cent of Grade 7 students and 46 per cent of Grade 12 students; and
• 12 per cent of students who use marijuana say they use it every day, representing three per cent, or about 33,200 students.

Physical and mental effects
As with most illegal recreational drugs, you don't really know what you are getting. Marijuana can be mixed with other drugs, making it much more potent. Smoking marijuana may:
• increase heart rate;
• make throat sore and lungs ache;
• distort sense of time, making it seem to pass more slowly;
• heighten hearing and vision;
• affect balance;
• affect ability to think clearly and short-term memory;
• produce feelings of relaxation and lower inhibitions, or, conversely, increase feelings of anxiety, confusion or paranoia;
• cause sleepiness as drug wears off;
• cause hallucinations, especially if a lot is smoked at one time; and
• lead to dependence in some cases.

Health risks
Marijuana smoke contains more tar and more of some cancer-causing chemicals than tobacco smoke. There are at least 400 chemicals in marijuana. Add to that the fact that people who smoke marijuana inhale more deeply and hold the smoke in their lungs longer than tobacco smokers and you get some idea of how unhealthy it is.

In addition, smoking marijuana:
• affects coordination, concentration and reaction time, making it dangerous to drive a car, operate machinery or ride a bicycle;
• irritates lungs and is linked to chronic cough and bronchitis;
• can make asthma worse;
• may have an impact on prescription medication such as antidepressants; and
• can lead to "toxic psychosis," including hallucinations and paranoia.

Telltale signs of use:
• Dry mouth and/or red eyes
• Increased appetite ("the munchies")
• Sleeping more than usual
• A general lack of motivation
• Drop in academic progress
• New friends who are part of a drug culture that involves buying, selling and using drugs

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