Marijuana Facts


As written in the University’s Student Code of Conduct:
“The use or possession of medical marijuana in the workplace and on campus is restricted by federal laws, such as the federal Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act and the Drug-Free Workplace Act.   Accordingly, the University of Pittsburgh prohibits the use or possession of marijuana on campus.”

This page includes the following topics about marijuana:

What is marijuana?
What are the short-term effects of Marijuana use?
What are the long-term effects of Marijuana use?
Is marijuana addictive?
How do I recognize a problem with marijuana?
Is marijuana illegal?
Which is safer alcohol or marijuana?

What is marijuana?

Marijuana (aka weed, pot, grass, herb) is the dried flowers, leaves and stems of the Cannabis sativa plant.   THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main active ingredient and is responsible for the mind-altering effects of marijuana.   Marijuana can range from 1% to 8% in THC, while hash can range from 7% to 14% in THC levels.

Marijuana is usually smoked, using a pipe, bong, rolling a joint or forming a blunt.   Marijuana can also be eaten in food (“brownies”), which can delay the onset of the effects, but tend to last longer.   General effects of smoking marijuana include relaxation, drowsiness, heightened sensory awareness, euphoria, altered perceptions and feeling hungry or the “munchies”.   Higher levels of THC may result in a more hallucinogenic reaction.

After smoking marijuana, THC can be stored in the fatty tissue of the body for about three to five days (or up to 3 weeks for heavier users).   Therefore, even after users stop feeling the effects of marijuana, the drug can linger in the body.   That means traces of THC can be detected by standard urine testing methods long.


What are the short-term effects of Marijuana use?

Short-term problems associated with the use of marijuana include extreme paranoia, anxiety and panic attacks.   These symptoms can occur after users smoke or eat too much marijuana.

Although occasional marijuana smokers are less likely to experience ongoing problems as a result of marijuana compared with heavy and longtime users, short-term and long-term health risks can include:

  • Impaired thinking, problem-solving, memory
  • Decreased sperm counts in some men
  • Erectile dysfunction in some men
  • Irregular menstrual cycles in some women
  • Poor coordination and balance
  • Elevated risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Ongoing cough
  • More frequent respiratory infections
  • Hallucinations
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Gynecomastia (development of breast tissue in men) after long term use


What are the long-term effects of Marijuana use?

Recent studies reveal that smoking marijuana has been associated with respiratory (lungs), brain (memory), psychiatric (mental health) as well as additional health effects.

Respiratory problems

Smoking one joint is equal to smoking five cigarettes — smoking four joints is like smoking an entire pack.   Because marijuana smokers tend to take longer, deeper drags and hold smoke in their lungs for longer, they end up with three to five times more tar and carbon monoxide in their bodies.

Marijuana is usually smoked unfiltered (in joints, blunts, bongs, and pipes) and burns at a higher temperature, which is more damaging to the lungs.   The smoke contains numerous chemicals that are similar to tobacco products but with 50 to 70 percent more carcinogens (cancer-causing) than tobacco.   Therefore, frequent marijuana users are just as likely to experience chronic cough and heightened risk of respiratory illness and infection as their tobacco smokers’ counterpart.

Memory and Learning problems

Smoking marijuana causes changes in your brain’s chemistry, inhibiting the function of neurotransmitters that transfer information from one nerve cell to another.   This phenomenon explains what happens when a person is high—they lose their short-term memory and can have impaired coordination.

Regular use of marijuana compromises the ability to learn, focus and remember information as well as decrease motivation to accomplish tasks, even after the high is over.   This can cause poor academic performance.   You might think you’re doing well in school – but you’ll never know if smoking pot is inhibiting your true academic potential.

Mental Health

The long term use of marijuana has been linked to increased prevalence of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and suicidal ideation.   It is important to note that it is not clear whether use of marijuana triggers the onset of these conditions, makes present conditions worse, or is a means of self-medicating the symptoms.

Is marijuana addictive?

In short, no one would argue that marijuana is as addictive as heroin or alcohol.   However, it’s wrong to say that it is not at all addictive.   There is no clear-cut diagnosis for marijuana addiction, but research points to physical and psychological dependence from marijuana use.   Believe it or not, each year, more young adults enter drug treatment with a primary diagnosis of marijuana dependency than for all other illicit drugs combined.   Currently, 62% of teens in drug treatment are dependent on marijuana.

One recent study found that when abstaining from marijuana for just three days, regular users experienced withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, drug cravings, anger, irritability, and aggression.   Moreover, the earlier kids start using marijuana, the more likely they are to become dependent on this or other illicit drugs later in life.


How do I recognize a problem with marijuana?

 Some warning signs are:

  • More frequent use
  • Needing more and more to get the same effect
  • Spending time thinking about using marijuana
  • Spending more money than you have on it
  • Missing class or failing to finish assignments because of marijuana
  • Making new friends who do it and neglecting old friends who don’t
  • Finding it’s hard to be happy without it

Because THC is fat soluble and remains in the body for up to 3 weeks, it’s important to remember that withdrawal symptoms might not be felt immediately.   If you find that you cannot stop using marijuana, then remember, there’s help here on campus .

Is marijuana illegal?

Yes, marijuana is illegal and its possession, use, and sale carry prison fines and disciplinary consequences at the University of Pittsburgh.   See the Student Code of Conduct .

Which is safer alcohol or marijuana?

The direct impact of any drug, whether its marijuana or alcohol, is dependent on the factors of how it’s used, who’s using it, how much, and under what circumstances.   Then again, people who use marijuana or alcohol with the intention of getting high or drunk are more likely to experience the negative consequences of these drugs.   The following is a list of short and long-term consequences which can occur.


 Alcohol Use   Marijuana Use
 Memory loss  Problems thinking clearly
 Impaired judgment  Memory loss
 Academic, relationship or work problems  Dependency
 Liver disease  Smoking-related health problems
 Heart Disease  Throat/Lung Cancer
 Physical Dependency  Depression/Anxiety

An important difference to remember is that it is not possible to ingest a fatal dose of THC from smoking or eating marijuana.   While drinking large amounts of alcohol can lead to alcohol poisoning, an emergency situation or can be fatal. For more details on alcohol emergencies, refer to When a friend has had too much .

Marijuana and alcohol both prove to significantly reduce reaction ability and motor coordination, skills that are needed to participate in everyday activities (i.e. driving, walking, and going to class).   Generally, being drunk or high can compromise judgment and lead to risky decisions that you may not consider when sober.

In short, used responsibly (in the case of alcohol) and/or under the direction of a physician (in places where medical marijuana is legal), these substances can be used safely.   But as is often the case, heavy use can lead to unintended consequences.