Understanding the Conversation: Marijuana Q&A

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana refers to the dried leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant.

The Cannabis genus contains three psychoactive plants Cannabis sativa, Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Ruderalis. Cannabis contains a variety of different compounds called cannabinoids.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

1 in 10 Marijuana users will become addicted (known as a marijuana use disorder). That number changes to 1 in 6 if a person begins using as a teen.

Are Cannabis and Marijuana the Same Thing?

The terms cannabis and marijuana are often used interchangeably and refer to the same products. Most cannabis products are commonly referred to as marijuana, a term brought to the U.S. from Mexico in the early 1900s.

There is a movement to refer to all products from the cannabis plant as just ‘cannabis’ to avoid negative stigma.

Other street names include: Weed, Bud, Blunt, Dope, Grass, Green, Hash, Herb, Joint, Mary Jane, Pot, Reefer, Skunk, Smoke, etc.

Since marijuana is the most commonly used term, we refer to all products derived from the Cannabis plant as marijuana.


Are Marijuana and Hemp the Same Thing?

Both Hemp and marijuana come from the Cannabis Sativa family, but there are important differences. Marijuana contains higher levels of THC (15% to 40%) while hemp contains a very low concentration of THC (0.3% or less). If hemp contains more than 0.3% THC, it is considered marijuana. Hemp is grown primarily for industrial purposes, while marijuana is often grown for human consumption.

Efforts to legalize hemp for industrial purposes in Idaho have met with opposition due to a lack of capacity to differentiate between hemp and marijuana. Marijuana is visually indistinguishable from industrial hemp in whole plant form.  It would take an expert to tell the difference. NIK field testing and drug detection dogs (used in law enforcement) and can’t be relied upon to differentiate the two. Only a chemical test can verify the amount of THC in a product and state labs are not equipped to deal with in increase in requests.

The introduction of industrial hemp in Idaho could easily create an affirmative defense for persons in possession of Sativa looking strains of Cannabis.  While someone wouldn’t use industrial hemp as a drug to get high (it really isn’t psychoactive), that doesn’t stop them from claiming what they possess is hemp and not marijuana.  This would take several hundred dollars’ worth of testing out of state to rebut in court, and isn’t a reality for prosecution in the current climate of marijuana prosecution in Idaho.

What is THC?

Marijuana contains more than 480 naturally occurring ingredients, including at least 65 unique chemical structures called cannabinoids. The most well-known is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

THC is responsible for the psychoactive effects of the marijuana and is linked to addiction. Due to genetic modification and modern extraction methods, the level of THC in marijuana products is significantly higher than it was in the 1960s. Higher THC levels change the ‘high’ users experience, from the traditional mellow feeling users describe when using low THC products, to a more intense experience that appears similar to hard drugs.

Average THC levels over time:

1960: 1-3%   1980: 4-6%     Today: 48-99%

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is also a cannabinoid found in marijuana and hemp products. CBD is extracted from the flowers and buds of marijuana or hemp plants and does not produce intoxication. CBD is being touted as a miracle cure-all, but so far, the only research validated use for CBD is in treating two rare and severe forms of Epilepsy. More research is needed to evaluate CBDs effectiveness as a medication (see What is Medical Marijuanabelow).

CBD oil is legal in 30 states where medicinal and/or recreational marijuana is legal and seventeen additional states have CBD-specific laws on the books. CBD is still illegal in Idaho.

Pure CBD oil is generally considered safe, but like most marijuana products, CBD oil is not regulated. A 2017 study done by Bonn-Miller found that nearly 7 of 10 CBD products didn’t contain the amount of marijuana extract promised on the label.

Nearly 43 percent of the products contained too little CBD

26 percent contained too much CBD

1 in 5 products contained THC not listed on the label

Is Marijuana Legal in Idaho?

Many states surrounding Idaho have recently legalized the use of marijuana for recreational and/or medical purposes, however the current Idaho law states that it is illegal for any person to, “manufacture, deliver, possess with intent to manufacture or deliver, or possess marijuana.” This refers to all parts of the plants and of the genus cannabis, and any preparation that contains THC. Idaho law also states that it is illegal to, “publicly use or be under the influence of marijuana.” Recent policies also state that possession of marijuana or other drug paraphernalia or providing a controlled substance to a minor will result in the individual facing up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

What is Medical Marijuana?

The term medical marijuana is a political term, rather than a scientific definition. Medical marijuana simply refers to using the cannabis plant to treat illness. There is no difference in the composition of marijuana used medically or recreationally. Many states have begun to legalize the use of marijuana to treat certain conditions. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t recognized or approved marijuana as medicine because there is a lack of clinical trials showing that marijuana actually works to treat or cure these conditions.

In order for a medication to be FDA approved, it needs to be clinically tested and have well-defined, measurable ingredients that are consistent from one dose to the next. The marijuana leaf contains over 100 chemical compounds, that have different effects in the body, and vary from plant to plant. This makes it difficult to classify marijuana as a medicine in its raw form.

The FDA has approved three drugs that include ingredients found in marijuana:

Dronabinol and Nabilone contain synthetic THC and are used to treat nausea.

Epidiolex is an oral medication for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. This is the first FDA-approved drug that contains a purified drug substance derived from marijuana.

There is no nationally recognized standard for legalizing medical marijuana and it is still illegal federally. As such, it is up to individual states to decide how to regulate marijuana. This has led to loose regulations and miss-labeling of many legally sold products.

What is Recreational Marijuana?

The term recreational marijuana refers to using the marijuana plant without any medical justification. Products containing large amount of THC are generally more popular. High THC levels lead to an intense high and euphoria. Recreational marijuana has been legalized in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, Michigan, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, and the District of Columbia, with many other states considering legalization. Recreational marijuana is the most common form of marijuana use and is not well regulated in  states where it has been legalized.

How is Marijuana Used?

Marijuana is sometimes rolled up and smoked like a cigarette (a joint) or mixed in food and eaten (edibles). Sometimes its brewed as a tea. People also smoke oils, concentrates, and extracts from the marijuana plant (dabbing and vaping). Marijuana concentrates have dangerously high levels of THC and have led to higher rates of dependence and overdoses.

Is Marijuana Safe Because its Natural?

There is a common misconception that if a substance is natural, it is automatically safe and healthy. In reality there are many natural substances that are not safe to ingest. Arsenic is natural, but I still wouldn’t bake it into brownies. Tobacco is a natural plant with a long history of human consumption, but the dangers of tobacco are well documented. Additionally, not all marijuana products are grown and harvested with safe and natural methods. A lack of regulation leads to many products sold legally that contain dangerous chemicals and more THC than is listed on the label.



Roughly 30% of Idaho students have admitted to using marijuana at least once in their lifetime

People who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder

6% of students using marijuana had started using before age 13


In 2017, about 16% of all high school students in the state of Idaho admitted to marijuana use in the past 30 days


Almost three-fourths (71%) of high school students do not view marijuana use as being very harmful

Teens who view marijuana as harmless are more likely to try it and are at greater risk of developing an addiction.


Marijuana use has changed in significant and dangerous ways. Marijuana plants have been genetically altered to produce higher and higher levels of THC (the substance responsible for the euphoric high). The average THC content of marijuana in the 1960’s was between 3 and 6 percent. The THC content of marijuana today is much higher, between 30 and 60 percent, with concentrated products containing as much as 98 percent THC.


THC (the active substance in marijuana) effects cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system, which can be found in various areas of the brain.

Teens who use marijuana regularly:

Have deficits in memory, learning, and impulse control

Permanently lose an average of 6 to 8 IQ points

See a significant increase in the risk of becoming psychotic and/or developing schizophrenia

Those who use marijuana more than 50 times in their life see a 600% increase in the risk of schizophrenia.


Euphoria, increased perception of novelty, distractibility, decreased processing speed, short-term memory loss, motor impairments



Teens who use marijuana experience:

Higher risk of heart disease due to high blood pressure

Significantly higher risk of testicular cancer in males

Changes to their developing reproductive system

Much greater risk of lung cancer if smoking or vaping marijuana



In 2010, around 25% of teens reported seeing a medical marijuana ad in the past three months. In 2017, 70% of teens reported seeing a marijuana ad. Youth who reported that they’d seen more ads also reported greater marijuana use and more positive beliefs about marijuana. They also said that they were more likely to use marijuana in the future and they experienced more consequences from their use.



Dabs are concentrated doses of cannabis that are made by extracting THC and other cannabinoids using a solvent like butane or carbon dioxide. This results in sticky oils also commonly referred to as wax, shatter, budder, and butane hash oil (BHO). These are ingested by heating up the wax and breathing in the emissions.

These offer more intense highs than regular marijuana, and can be vaped.

Dabbing has become a popular trend among youth who often use


Edibles are food products infused with marijuana. Though smoking marijuana is the most prevalent method of consumption, eating marijuana is quickly becoming a popular way to consume the drug.

Brownies are among the most common food products infused with marijuana, however, almost any food product may be infused with marijuana and eaten.

There is a high potential for overdose from edible marijuana as it is slower to absorb into the blood stream, so users may consume more of the drug thinking that it isn’t working. The amount of THC in edibles is difficult to measure and is not regulated.

In states where marijuana use has been legalized there has been an increase in the number of children hospitalized after accidentally ingesting large amounts of marijuana in the form of candy.


Vaping is becoming an increasingly popular method of ingesting marijuana among teens and adults. The myth that vaping is harmless has led many to assume that vaping marijuana is safer than smoking it. Regardless of method of ingestion, marijuana has serious long-term health effects.

Vaping is also popular among youth as it is discrete and concealable. Many adults are uneducated about vaping and either do not recognize vaporizers for what they are, or they are under the impression that vaporizers don’t contain harmful ingredients. Please visit our vaping page to learn more about this dangerous trend Vaping



The chances of a car accident are doubled when a driver is under the influence of marijuana (more than any other illegal drug)

Marijuana use puts teens at risk of participating in risky sexual behavior, and therefore unplanned pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases

Teens using marijuana are more likely to drop out of high school

Teens using marijuana are also more likely to develop an anxiety disorder


Talk to your child. Teens whose parents regularly talk to them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol are 40 percent less likely to use drugs. It may not seem like it, but they are listening.

Monitor your child. There is a strong, reliable link between parental monitoring (knowing who their child is with, where they are, and what they are doing) and decreased marijuana use in adolescents


Educate yourself. There is a billion-dollar industry that is trying to convince you to use their product and they are making all kids of claims. Use reputable sources to fact check and be sure you know who is behind the information you are learning.

Educate your friends. Once you have educated yourself, educate your friends.

Be an example. Many teens report using drugs because of peer pressure or boredom. Take the time to search out healthy drug free activities in your community and invite your friends along.

Decide ahead of time that you won’t partake. It is far easier to make an educated and rational decision ahead of time than it is to make one in a peer pressure situation.

Think ahead. Come up with a few ways to turn down drugs or alcohol in a peer pressure situation. Often a simple “no thanks” will be sufficient, but it never hurts to have a few nonchalant and/or humorous statements in mind before a party or other situation where you may be offered drugs. Here are a few favorites that teens have shared: “no, man, my parents would kill me,” “not my thing,” “no thanks, I’m driving,” “naaaah,” “I’m all good,” “money is my favorite drug,” “no thanks, I’m high on life.”



Use Rates


The National Institute on Drug Abuse

Impaired Driving

Governors Highway Safety Association

More Drivers Killed Under the Influence of Drugs than Alcohol

Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA)

The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact Volume 5 Update  September 2018

The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact Volume 5 October 2017

Idaho Office of Drug Policy

Marijuana Position Statement Adopted February 2017, Updated August 2018

CBD Position Statement February 2018

Impaired Driving Among Idaho Youth 2017

Opioids and Marijuana

Cannabis Use and Risk of Rx Opioid Use Disorder in the U.S. American Journal of Psychiatry

Medical Marijuana Users are more likely to use Rx Drugs Medically and

Nonmedically American Society of Addiction Medicine

Effect of cannabis use in people with chronic non-cancer pain The Lancet

Editorial: It is premature to expand access to medicinal cannabis in hopes of solving the US opioid crisis Addiction

Medical Marijuana


Recreational Marijuana


Idaho State Laws