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Get the Facts


Personal recreational marijuana use and possession became legal in Alaska on February 24, 2015, as determined by voters through the passage of Ballot Measure 2.

Regulations for this law, including specifics about personal use and the retail sale of marijuana, are still in development.

The purpose of this website is to provide current information on the health effects of marijuana. This information is designed to educate Alaska residents and visitors about safe, legal and responsible marijuana use.

Most information on this website comes from a comprehensive review of current medical literature conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The State of Alaska acknowledges the State of Colorado and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for sharing their content for this website.

What is Marijuana?

Alaska law defines marijuana as leaves, stems, or flowers (the “buds”) of the marijuana plant; marijuana concentrates, such as oils, hashes, and waxes; and a wide variety of marijuana-infused products, such as edibles, tinctures, and topicals.[12] The marijuana (i.e., Cannabis) plant contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical that makes you feel high.[8] Marijuana is most often used by smoking or by consuming food containing THC. Marijuana smoke has a distinctive pungent odor, often referred to as both sweet and sour or “skunky.”[8]

People use many different words for marijuana. Some of the common slang terms include weed, bud, cheeba, chronic, dank, dope, grass, ganga, kine, kush, pot, schwag, and skunk.[2]

Hash oil (also known as butane hash oil, dabs, wax, earwax, honey, honey oil, or shatter) is a product created by extracting THC from the marijuana plant. These extracts can contain varying THC concentrations that can exceed 80 percent. They are consumed by smoking, vaporizing, or adding them to food. Different forms of marijuana cause effects that can be brief or last for hours. Use caution when driving, biking or performing other safety-sensitive activities after use of any form of marijuana, including vaporized products.[1]

Medical marijuana and recreational marijuana are both legal in Alaska. Medical marijuana is only available for patients with certain medical conditions. Recreational marijuana is only legal for personal use by adults 21 years of age or older. Visit the “Know the Laws” section for more information on marijuana laws in Alaska.

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How is Marijuana Used?

Marijuana can be smoked in cigarettes (joints), pipes or water pipes (bongs), or vaporized (“vaped”). Marijuana also can be consumed in food or drink products called edibles that contain THC extract. It can also be used through tinctures, creams, or oils.

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Is Marijuana Safe? FAQs

  • Is smoking marijuana safe?
    Heavy marijuana smoking (daily or near daily) is strongly associated with chronic bronchitis, including chronic cough, sputum production, and wheezing.[1] Marijuana smoke, both firsthand and secondhand, contains many of the same cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco smoke.[1] It is not yet clear whether marijuana smoke is as dangerous to people’s health as tobacco smoke.
  • Is vaping or vaporizing safer than smoking marijuana?
    Vaping devices heat marijuana to a temperature that releases the active compounds by creating an aerosol or “vapor” without burning the plant material. Some vape pens (i.e., e-cigarettes) heat up concentrated cannabis oil or wax, which can deliver much higher doses of THC than smoking dry plant material. More research is needed to understand the health risks associated with vaping.[1]
  • Is smoking marijuana through a water pipe or bong safer than smoking without a filter?
    When using a water pipe or bong, the smoke goes through water before a person inhales. Recent research suggests that the water filters out THC, the chemical in marijuana that makes a person feel high. The limited research shows that the water is better at filtering out THC than potentially harmful tars.[3] This may mean a smoker using a bong may inhale more harmful tars to get the same dose of THC as someone smoking a joint. More research is needed to understand the health risks associated with smoking marijuana through a water pipe.[1]
  • Is it safe to eat or drink marijuana-infused products?
    Though smoking marijuana has the added risk of harmful smoke exposure, eating or drinking marijuana still exposes the user to THC, the chemical that makes the user feel high.

    The effects of marijuana peak just minutes after inhaling marijuana smoke or aerosol. However, the effects can peak up to four hours after eating or drinking edibles that contain THC. This delayed effect can make it hard for the user to know how much they should take. For new users, smoking, eating or drinking even one, 5 milligram serving of marijuana is likely to cause impairment. This affects the user’s ability to drive, bike, or perform other safety-sensitive activities.[1] THC can affect people differently, so the user needs to be aware of the amount consumed and its impairing effects.

    Also, the effects from eating or drinking marijuana can last up to 10 hours. This means that someone can be impaired for a long time after eating or drinking marijuana.[1] Wait at least eight hours after eating or drinking less than 18 milligrams of THC before driving, biking or performing other safety-sensitive activities. If you have consumed more than 18mg of THC, wait longer than eight hours.[1]

    Find more information about Edibles on our Marijuana Edibles Safety  Get the Facts page>
  • What happens if you consume alcohol and marijuana at the same time?
    Using alcohol and marijuana at the same time may result in greater impairment than either one alone.[1] Do not drive, bike, or perform any other safety-sensitive activities after using any form of marijuana (with or without alcohol).
  • Is using hash oil (dabbing) safe?
    Hash oil can have up to 80% THC concentration. Consuming this highly concentrated form of THC increases the risk of an unpredictable high and negative physical and emotional reactions. Since dabbing only became more common recently, the associated health risks have not been well studied.
  • Are synthetic marijuana substances the same as marijuana?
    No. Synthetic marijuana substances, sold under names like “spice” or “K2,” are not the same as marijuana. Synthetic marijuana may cause elevated heart rates and blood pressure, drowsiness, agitation, hallucinations, seizures, tremors (shaking), vomiting, paranoia, loss of physical control, and comas.
  • Has the potency of marijuana changed over the years?
    Yes. Today, some marijuana products are significantly more potent than the marijuana of the past. Be aware of the concentration you are using to avoid accidentally consuming too much.
  • What is known about long-term health effects of marijuana?
    Respiratory Effects: Marijuana smoke irritates the lungs. Heavy marijuana smokers (daily or near daily) have many of the same health problems that tobacco smokers have. These include a daily cough, bronchitis, mucus and wheezing.
    Lung Cancer: There is conflicting research about smoking marijuana and lung cancer. Some of the cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco smoke are also in marijuana smoke. Heavy marijuana smoking is strongly associated with tissue damage in the airways of your lungs. More research is needed to determine if this tissue damage increases the likelihood of developing lung cancer.
    Mental Health: In adults, it is unclear if regular marijuana use (at least weekly) is a risk factor for mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis. THC, especially in high doses, may cause temporary psychotic symptoms (not knowing what is real, hallucinations and paranoia).
  • Is marijuana addictive?
    Marijuana use can, in some cases, lead to addiction. This means that a person can’t easily control or stop marijuana use even though it interferes with their daily life. Youth who begin using marijuana regularly are more likely to become addicted than those who wait until adulthood to use.

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Effects of Marijuana


Adults

What are the common effects of using marijuana?

The effects of marijuana use can be different for everyone. Common effects of marijuana may include:[8]

  • A happy, relaxed or high feeling
  • Slower reactions
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble thinking, learning and remembering
  • Confusion, anxiety, panic or paranoia
  • Fast heart rate – 20 to 100 percent increase that can last as long as three hours[9]
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Less interest in normal activities
  • Hunger
  • Dry mouth
  • Red eyes
  • Psychosis (rarely) — seeing or hearing things that aren't real

These effects typically last two to four hours after marijuana is smoked or inhaled. When marijuana is eaten, the effects take longer to start and may last four to 10 hours.[1] Marijuana can vary in its potency, or strength, depending on the plant and extraction process.

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What is known about long-term health effects of marijuana?

  • Respiratory Effects
    Marijuana smoke irritates the lungs. Heavy marijuana smokers (daily or near daily) have many of the same health problems that tobacco smokers have. These include a daily cough, bronchitis, mucus and wheezing.[1]
  • Lung Cancer
    There is conflicting research about smoking marijuana and lung cancer.[1] Some of the cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco smoke are also in marijuana smoke. Heavy marijuana smoking is strongly associated with tissue damage in the airways of your lungs.[1] More research is needed to determine if this tissue damage increases the likelihood of developing lung cancer.
  • Mental Health
    In adults, regular marijuana use (at least weekly) may be associated with depression. It may be associated with other mental health problems such as anxiety and psychosis. THC, especially in high doses, may cause temporary psychotic symptoms (not knowing what is real, hallucinations and paranoia).[1]
  • Is marijuana addictive?
    Marijuana use can, in some cases, lead to addiction. This means that a person can’t control or stop marijuana use even though it interferes with daily life. Youth who begin using marijuana regularly are more likely to become addicted than those who wait until adulthood to use.[1]

    If you are concerned that you are, or someone you know is, using too much marijuana, help is available. Talk to a health care provider and visit the Using Too Much section for information on knowing your limit and how to find treatment centers.
Additional Health-Related Alaska Resources
Additional Alaska Resources about Marijuana Licenses, Restrictions on Use, and Community Ordinances
Additional National Resources

Learn About Marijuana: Science-based information for the public (University of Washington)

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Pregnant/Breastfeeding

Please see our Marijuana Use During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding fact sheet

 

  • Can I use marijuana while I am pregnant?
    Using marijuana while pregnant or breastfeeding may harm your baby.[1] THC, the chemical in marijuana that makes a person high, can pass from mother to unborn child through the placenta. Marijuana that passes to your baby during pregnancy may make it hard for your child to pay attention and learn, especially as your child grows older. This would make it harder for your child to do well in school.[1]
    Smoking marijuana has the added risk to the mother and baby of harmful smoke exposure. However, using marijuana in edible or vaporized form still exposes the baby to THC. There is no known amount of marijuana that can be safely used during pregnancy.[1]

    If you are pregnant and need help to stop using marijuana, talk to your health care provider or use the resources on this website.
  • Can I use marijuana while I am breastfeeding?
    Marijuana use while breastfeeding is not recommended. When a breastfeeding mother uses marijuana, THC passes through the breast milk to the baby, potentially affecting the baby.[1] THC is stored in body fat and remains in the body for a long time. It is not known exactly how long THC remains in the breast milk after marijuana use.[1] This means that "pumping and dumping" your breast milk may not work the same way it does with alcohol. Alcohol is not stored in fat so it leaves your body faster.

    Because of the potential risks to the baby, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that marijuana should not be used while breastfeeding.[7]

    If you would like to breastfeed or are breastfeeding and need help to stop using marijuana, talk to your health care provider or use the resources on this website.

Additional Resources

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Secondhand Smoke

Although it is not yet known whether the health threats from secondhand marijuana smoke are as great as the dangers from secondhand tobacco smoke, secondhand smoke from marijuana has many of the same chemicals as smoke from tobacco. This includes some chemicals linked to lung cancer.[1]

Secondhand exposure to marijuana smoke is unlikely to make you high. This means it is unlikely a person will fail a workplace urine test or a driving impairment blood test after breathing someone else's marijuana smoke.[1]

Protect your children and family from the effects of secondhand smoke. Do not allow anyone to smoke in your home.

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Youth

Please see our Marijuana and Adolescents fact sheet. (pdf)

The State of Alaska is committed to preventing the use of marijuana among youth under 21 years of age. Visit the Parents & Adults section for information on how to talk to young people about marijuana and how to prevent them from accessing marijuana.

Talk to teenagers about marijuana to help them better understand the risks. According to the 2013 Alaska Youth Risk Behavior study, one in five high school students used marijuana during the past 30 days.[10]

Brain development is not complete until age 25. For the best chance to reach their full potential, youth should not use marijuana. Youth who begin using marijuana regularly are more likely to become addicted than those who wait until adulthood to use.[1]

Because teens’ brains are still developing, they are at increased risk for adverse health consequences from marijuana use. Youth who use marijuana may have:[1]

  • learning problems
  • memory issues
  • lower math and reading scores

Additionally, some mental health issues are more common for youth who use marijuana regularly.[1] These may include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Psychotic symptoms (not knowing what is real, hallucinations and paranoia)
  • Future use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs

The good news is that the mental health issues listed above can get better when young people stop using marijuana.

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Pets

Store marijuana products safely to keep pets from accidentally eating marijuana. According to news reports, veterinary hospitals in Colorado (another state that legalized marijuana and now has retail sale of marijuana) are reporting an increase in the number of animal visits from pets that have eaten marijuana.[4]

Visit the Safe Storage & Accessibility section for tips on how to store marijuana to prevent youth and pet access.

Call a veterinarian if you suspect your pet has ingested marijuana products.

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Marijuana Edibles

Edibles: Be Careful When You Eat and Drink Marijuana

Marijuana edibles are foods and drinks that are made with marijuana or marijuana oils. These can be made at home, like pot brownies, but producers can make and sell marijuana edibles in many forms:

•  gummy candies
•  chocolate
•  sodas and juices
•  cookies and other treats

Go to our Marijuana Edibles Safety page for more information>

Medical & Retail Marijuana


Marijuana Licensing FAQs

Medical Marijuana

The Alaska Medical Marijuana Registry is a confidential, statewide program. It allows patients with qualifying, debilitating medical conditions to receive a registry identification card. The card allows legal access to medical marijuana. Cards are available to Alaska residents and valid only in Alaska. The registry is managed by the Bureau of Vital Statistics within the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Even though marijuana is legal and sometimes prescribed, there are still some health risks. Many products that can be used as medicine have harmful side effects. Those effects may be more pronounced depending on how often the marijuana is used. There is evidence that regular use of marijuana increases the risk of heart and lung problems, mental health problems, and injury.[1] Less is known about health issues that might be caused by infrequent marijuana use.

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Retail Marijuana

The law allows the following:

  • Adults 21 years old and older can possess as much as one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their home for personal use; up to three of the plants can be mature and flowering.[12]
  • Residents 21 years old or older can give up to an ounce of marijuana and up to six plants to another adult 21 years of age or older.[12]
  • It is illegal to give marijuana to minors under the age of 21.

Visit the Know the Laws section for more information.

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