Marijuana Effects, Risks & Addiction

Marijuana can be classified as a depressant, hallucinogen, or stimulant. The drug has addictive properties, and in severe cases, addiction can form. Using the drug frequently and for many years can lead to the development of a marijuana use disorder. Read more here.
Evidence Based
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What is Marijuana?

Marijuana, commonly referred to as weed or pot, is a green mixture of dried flowers and leaves from the Cannabis plant. It is a psychoactive drug that triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, producing a “high” and heightened sensory perception. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main chemical in cannabis that produces the psychoactive effects you feel.

Additionally, marijuana can be classified as a depressant, hallucinogen, or stimulant. Other popular street names for the drug include:

  • Herb
  • Grass
  • Ganja
  • Mary Jane
  • Bud

Using marijuana typically results in a relaxed state-of-mind. Depending on the person, the drug can either increase or decrease feelings of anxiety, depression, and paranoia. There are a few different forms of marijuana that people can use to obtain a high, including:

  • Smoking (e.g., joints, blunts, and bongs)
  • Edibles
  • Ingestible oils
  • Tinctures
  • Vaporization
  • Topical

Marijuana is legal for recreational use in 11 U.S. states and D.C. for adults over 21. It is also legal for medical use in 33 U.S. states (with a prescription medical card).

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Physical and Mental Effects of Marijuana

Almost immediately after consuming the drug, you’ll experience a “high” that typically lasts several hours. Although, some forms of marijuana (e.g., edibles) produce effects that can last up to 12 hours. Short-term effects can include:

  • Red and/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
  • Changes in mood
  • Difficulty with attention and problem-solving
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Impaired memory
  • Increased heart rate
  • Reduced reaction time
  • Burning mouth and throat (when smoking marijuana)
  • Eating more often than normal
  • Tiredness

Rare side effects that can occur when THC is taken in very high doses include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Psychosis
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Is Marijuana Addictive?

Many people smoke or use marijuana in social settings. Due to its legality in many U.S. states, it is also more socially acceptable to consume in moderation. Since the drug is becoming widely available, some users do not feel the need to quit even if they have a problem (similar to alcohol).

Marijuana has addictive properties, and in severe cases, addiction can form. Using the drug frequently and for many years can lead to the development of a marijuana use disorder. For example, chronic marijuana users who cannot get through an entire day without consuming the drug are at risk for addiction.

In 2015, about four million people in the United States met the diagnostic criteria for a marijuana use disorder. People who begin using before age 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop an addiction than adults.

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What Is Marijuana Use Disorder?

Marijuana use disorder, also called cannabis use disorder (CUD), is defined as continually using the drug despite clinically significant impairment. In other words, marijuana addiction is connected to dependence, which means withdrawal symptoms will develop after stopping use.

Those with CUD continue using the drug, even though it negatively interferes with everyday life and relationships. Marijuana addiction is commonly connected to other substance use disorders, such as alcohol, and mental health disorders. It can also lead to behavioral problems and cognitive impairment.

Marijuana addiction goes largely untreated, since using the drug is more acceptable nowadays. It is also twice as common among men than women.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Marijuana Use Disorder

After quitting use, someone with a marijuana use disorder may experience the following symptoms during the withdrawal phase:

  • Irritability, agitation, and mood swings
  • Disrupted sleeping and eating patterns
  • Frequent cravings
  • Decreased appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Physical and mental discomfort
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Insomnia and fatigue
  • Reduced interest in previously enjoyable activities

Possible Risks Factors of Abuse

Marijuana does have some health benefits, such as aiding in pain relief and reducing nausea. It is also commonly prescribed to cancer patients and those with chronic illnesses. However, many people tend to abuse the substance and do not need it for medical reasons. 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
  • May increase depression and anxiety, which can lead to a mental health disorder
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Addiction Treatment Options

If you or a loved one is struggling with CUD, treatment is available. In most cases, visiting a comprehensive treatment center is not necessary. This is because marijuana is not as addictive as other drugs (e.g., heroin, meth, alcohol, and cocaine). Of those who use cannabis daily, 10 to 20 percent develop dependence.

Cannabis withdrawal symptoms can occur in one-half of patients in treatment for cannabis use disorders. These symptoms include dysphoria (anxiety, irritability, depression, restlessness), disturbed sleep, gastrointestinal symptoms, and decreased appetite. It is often paired with Rhythmic movement disorder. Most symptoms begin during the first week of abstinence and resolve after a few weeks.

Treatment for CUD may include:

  • Marijuana Anonymous (MA) — similar to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), MA is a support group that helps people quit with guidance from others going through similar situations.
  • Inpatient Rehabilitation — for those with more severe marijuana addictions, inpatient rehab may be the best option. This type of treatment is comprehensive and involves medically supervised detoxification. Treatment can last up to 90 days.
  • Behavioral Therapy — this type of treatment helps prevent cravings and relapse. More specifically, Cognitive behavioral therapy (combined with other therapeutic methods) is beneficial in overcoming marijuana addiction.
  • SMART Recovery — another support group that helps individuals abstain from substance use after they recover from their addiction.

For some individuals, marijuana is challenging to quit without professional treatment. Find treatment today.


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Resources

Berke, Jeremy. “Legal Marijuana Just Went on Sale in Illinois. Here Are All the States Where Cannabis Is Legal.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 1 Jan. 2020, www.businessinsider.com/legal-marijuana-states-2018-1.

“Marijuana Use Disorder Is Common and Often Untreated.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4 Mar. 2016, www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/marijuana-use-disorder-common-often-untreated.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Is Marijuana Addictive?” NIDA, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-addictive.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Is Marijuana?” NIDA, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/what-marijuana.

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Updated on: June 24, 2020
Author
Alyssa Hill
About
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Medically Reviewed: March 11, 2020
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Annamarie Coy

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