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The scope of marijuana use

Marijuana is the most widely used illegal controlled substance in the world. Although the drug has been illegal in the United States since the 1930s, an estimated 40.6 percent of the U.S. population over twelve years of age (forty out of every one hundred people) has tried it at least once. As recently as 2003, 25.2 million people - basically one in ten Americans - reported using the drug at least once that year, as reported by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Marijuana, or the plant Cannabis sativa, has been used as a medicine, as a part of religious ceremonies, and even as a fiber for making clothing, rope, and paper for many thousands of years. It has also been used RECREATIONALLY in many cultures, both ancient and modern. Still, its effects on the brain and body are not yet completely understood. Scientists differ on how to classify the drug: Is it a hallucinogen like LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), a narcotic like opium, or does it belong in a class by itself? To further confuse matters, some scientists call marijuana a stimulant, or a substance that makes the brain and body more active, and some call it a depressant, or a substance that slows down brain and body processes. Whatever its properties, ORGANIC - or plant-derived - marijuana is illegal to possess or sell as a recreational substance.

The controversy over marijuana's role as a medicine for certain illnesses highlights the drug's strange history in American society. A small minority of Americans wants the drug to be made legal and sold under controlled circumstances, similar to the sale of alcohol. The U.S. government has made no move to legalize marijuana possession and, in fact, has tightened laws against it since the 1980s. People who buy, sell, or use marijuana for recreational purposes face many penalties if caught, including a permanent criminal record.

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