Marijuana Effects, Risks & Addiction
In This Article
Marijuana is an infamous substance that has been controversial over the years. Its widespread availability has made its recreational and medical use increasingly accepted worldwide, but this doesn't mean it can’t potentially be dangerous.
With shifting attitudes about marijuana and changing laws surrounding it, fully understanding the effects is more important than ever. Whether you're considering experimenting with it or know someone who is, it's essential to be aware of the risks and potential for addiction.
This blog post explores marijuana’s potential risks, abuse issues, and treatment options for those struggling with marijuana addiction.
Is Marijuana Addictive?
Yes, marijuana can be addictive. While some may argue that it's not as addictive as other drugs like cocaine or heroin, prolonged and heavy use of marijuana can lead to addiction.
In 2021, approximately 5.8 percent (around 16.3 million) of people aged 12 or older had a cannabis use disorder. Additionally, among people aged 12 or older in the same year, 18.7 percent (or around 52.5 million people) reported cannabis use.7
Various factors can contribute to the development of marijuana addiction, including:
- Genetic predisposition
- Environmental influences
- Availability and accessibility of the drug
What is the Definition of A Marijuana Addict?
There is no definitive categorization for a marijuana addict. However, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders provides common signs and symptoms of addiction:
- Difficulty controlling the amount or frequency of marijuana use
- Withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop using marijuana
- Continued use despite negative consequences (e.g., legal trouble, relationship issues)
- Neglecting responsibilities and obligations to use marijuana
- Using larger amounts over prolonged periods to achieve the desired effects
- Spending a significant amount of time trying to obtain, use, and recover from marijuana
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What Is Marijuana Use Disorder?
Marijuana use disorder, or cannabis use disorder (CUD), refers to continuous drug use despite experiencing clinically significant impairment. This dependence manifests as withdrawal symptoms when a user ceases consumption. People with CUD persistently use the drug even when it harms their daily lives, relationships, and overall well-being.
Continued unchecked marijuana use may result in behavioral problems and cognitive impairment. The treatment of marijuana addiction often goes neglected, primarily due to the increasing social acceptance of its use. Interestingly, marijuana addiction is twice as prevalent among men compared to women.8
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What are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Marijuana Use Disorder?
Marijuana withdrawal symptoms may include dysphoria through anxiety, irritability, depression, and restlessness. It also involves disturbed sleep, gastrointestinal symptoms, and a lower appetite.
After quitting use, someone with a marijuana use disorder may experience the following symptoms:
- Irritability, agitation, and mood swings
- Disrupted sleeping and eating patterns
- Frequent cravings
- Decreased appetite
- Physical and mental discomfort
- Anxiety or depression
- Insomnia and fatigue
- Reduced interest in previously enjoyable activities
Cannabis withdrawal symptoms can still occur in one-half of those undergoing treatment for cannabis use disorders.10 Most symptoms manifest during the initial week of abstinence and tend to subside after a few weeks.
Marijuana Addiction Treatment Options
Marijuana addiction treatment is similar to other substance abuse treatments. It may involve a combination of medical detox, therapy, and medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
Medical detox is the process of eliminating drugs from your body. Depending on the severity of withdrawal symptoms, it can occur in an outpatient or inpatient setting.
Medical professionals may provide medications during detox to help manage symptoms and ensure your safety during withdrawal. This process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the severity of the addiction.
Individual and group therapy sessions are often part of addiction treatment programs. These sessions help address underlying issues that may have contributed to drug abuse.
Behavioral therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can also help you develop coping strategies and healthier behaviors to maintain abstinence from marijuana use. It may also involve identifying and avoiding potential triggers for relapse.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
MAT combines medication and behavioral therapy to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. It's often helpful in treating opioid addiction but has also shown promise in addressing marijuana use disorders.
Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications specifically for treating marijuana addiction. However, certain medications may help alleviate symptoms associated with withdrawal and other mental health conditions.
For instance, antidepressants may help with symptoms of depression and anxiety from marijuana withdrawal.
Outpatient treatment involves regular visits to a clinic or healthcare facility. This type of treatment is usually ideal for those with mild addiction. Outpatient treatment typically includes individual and group therapy sessions and support groups.
Marijuana Anonymous (MA) is a 12-step program for those struggling with marijuana addiction. Meeting attendance is free and open to anyone recovering from addiction.
SMART Recovery is another support group that helps you abstain from substance use after recovering from your addiction.
Inpatient rehabilitation involves residing at a rehabilitation center for an extended period, typically lasting anywhere from 28 days to 3 months. It offers 24/7 support and care, allowing you to focus on your recovery fully.
Inpatient treatment is often best for people with severe addictions. It's also ideal for those who have relapsed after previous treatment attempts.
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What is Marijuana?
Marijuana is a green-colored mixture of dried flowers and leaves from the cannabis plant, specifically Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica. It’s a psychoactive drug that stimulates dopamine release in the brain, producing a “high” and heightened sensory perception.
Depending on the person, marijuana can produce feelings of relaxation and relieve stress. In some cases, it can increase or decrease sensations of anxiety, depression, and paranoia. Furthermore, marijuana is classified as a depressant, hallucinogen, or stimulant.
The main chemical responsible for these psychoactive effects in cannabis is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). While this chemical may result in pleasant sensations, it can also lead to a “bad high,” which causes the opposite of its intended effects.
What Is a Bad High From Marijuana?
A “bad high” from marijuana can occur, whether it’s your first time using it or if you’ve taken it several times already. It typically results in a milder panic attack that may include symptoms such as:
- Difficulty breathing
- Impaired concentration
Bad highs typically subside on their own and are relatively harmless. However, people may react negatively to these symptoms and endanger themselves. It’s best to contact the emergency hotline if you’re having a full-blown panic attack.
How Do People Consume Marijuana?
You can consume marijuana in plenty of ways to experience a high. Some include:
- Smoking: Marijuana smoking is the most common method, where users roll dried marijuana flowers into a joint. People also smoke it using a pipe or bong.
- Edibles: Edibles are another form of consumption where users infuse marijuana into food or drinks. This method takes longer to feel the effects, but they can be stronger and last longer.
- Tinctures: Some people may also use tinctures, which are concentrated liquids made from marijuana extract, to consume marijuana orally.
- Topical applications: Topical application involves applying cannabis-infused creams or oils directly onto the skin for localized pain relief.
- Ingestible oils: Cannabis oils are another popular method of consumption, where users can ingest the oil orally, directly, or by mixing it into food or drinks.
- Dabbing and vaping: In recent years, cannabis concentrates have become increasingly popular, with methods such as dabbing and vaping. These concentrated forms of cannabis are much more potent and can produce intense highs.
What are the Physical and Mental Effects of Marijuana?
Almost immediately after consuming the drug, you’ll experience a “high” that typically lasts several hours. However, some forms of marijuana, such as edibles, produce effects that can last up to 12 hours.
Short-term effects can include:
- Red or dry eyes, which is due to the blood vessels in your eyes expanding
- Altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors)
- Altered sense of time
- Mood changes
- Cognitive problems (difficulties in attention, problem-solving, and concentration)
- Impaired memory
- Tachycardia (increased heart rate)
- Reduced reaction time
- Burning mouth and throat (while smoking)
- Increased appetite
THC’s Rare Side Effects
The rare side effects that can occur when you take THC in very high doses include:
Chronic and heavy marijuana use can lead to various physical or psychological problems over time.
Marijuana Usage and Social Perception
Many people use or smoke marijuana in social settings. Due to its legality in many U.S. states, consuming in moderation is socially acceptable.
Since the drug is now widely available, some users don’t feel the need to quit. This is true even if they might have an issue with overconsumption, drawing parallels to societal views on drinking alcohol.
Why Is There A Push to Legalize Marijuana?
Marijuana has been controversial for decades, with many countries having strict laws and penalties for its possession and use. However, in recent years, there has been a growing movement towards legalizing marijuana for both medicinal and recreational purposes.
Various factors drive the push for legalization, including:
- Changing attitudes toward cannabis
- Potential economic benefits
- The belief that criminalizing marijuana has been unsuccessful in reducing its usage
There are still many concerns about the possible negative effects of legalizing marijuana. How it will be regulated and controlled is also a prominent issue.
Benefits of Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana has been legalized in many countries and states for its potential therapeutic use. Some of the conditions that medical marijuana may help with include:11
- Addressing anxiety-related conditions
- Alleviating some cancer symptoms
- Aiding in the prevention of substance and alcohol addiction recurrence
- Decreasing hypertension
- Managing disorders of the digestive system like Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
- Reducing inflammation
- Manages epileptic episodes
Legal Status in the U.S.
Recreational marijuana is permitted for use in 23 U.S. states, Guam, and D.C. for people over 21.5 Additionally, it’s legal for medical purposes in 38 U.S. states, provided the user has a prescription medical card.6
Marijuana’s famous street names include:
- Mary Jane
While several states have lenient laws on marijuana use and selling, it remains illegal at the federal level, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
What are the Possible Risks Factors of Marijuana Abuse?
Marijuana has some health benefits, such as aiding in pain relief and reducing nausea. Physicians also commonly prescribe to cancer patients and those with chronic illnesses.
However, many people tend to abuse the substance by using it recreationally. Doing so can lead to adverse health consequences over time, such as:
- Weakened immune system
- Increased appetite, which can lead to weight gain
- Accelerated heartbeat
- Phlegmy coughs
- Increased risk for lung cancer
- Irritated lungs and difficulty breathing
- Higher risk of developing bronchitis
- Potential increase in depression and anxiety, which can lead to mental disorders
Marijuana is a drug with potential medical benefits and harmful effects. While it may be helpful for some, abusing the substance can lead to adverse health consequences.
If you or a loved one is struggling with marijuana addiction, seek help from a professional treatment program immediately. Addiction is a treatable disorder, and getting help is the first step towards living a healthier and happier life.
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- Berke et al. “Delaware just became the latest state to legalize recreational marijuana. See a list of every state where cannabis is legal.” Business Insider, 2023.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Marijuana Use Disorder Is Common and Often Untreated.” National Institutes of Health, 2016.
- “Is Marijuana Addictive?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020.
- “What Is Marijuana?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020.
- Hansen et al. “Where Is Marijuana Legal? A Guide to Marijuana Legalization.” U.S. News, 2023.
- “State Medical Cannabis Laws.” National Conference of State Legislatures, 2023.
- “Cannabis (Marijuana) Research Report: What is the scope of cannabis (marijuana) use in the United States?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020.
- Cuttler et al. “Sex Differences in Cannabis Use and Effects: A Cross-Sectional Survey of Cannabis Users.” Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, National Library of Medicine, 2016.
- “Cannabis (Marijuana) Research Report: Is marijuana addictive?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020.
- “Pharmacological Treatment of Cannabis Dependence.” Current Pharmaceutical Design, National Library of Medicine, 2012.
- Isles, C. “7 Potential Health Benefits of Cannabis.” Johnson & Wales University, 2021.