Marijuana consists of the dried and ground or shredded leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds of the cannabis plant. As with other substances, marijuana use has been associated with both positive and adverse effects.
Many cannabis signs and symptoms are acute, meaning that they endure for only a short period. Other effects are chronic and may not manifest for some time. Traditionally, marijuana is ingested by smoking. Marijuana can also be ingested in the following ways:
- By vaping
- Cooked into food
- In an oil, aka cannabutter
- Brewed as a tea
Many individuals use marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes, either legally or illicitly. However, no intoxicating substance comes without risks, and there may be some adverse consequences of marijuana use that, for some, may exceed the benefits.
Physical Impact of Marijuana on the Body
Some of the most common physical health consequences related to marijuana use include the following:
- An increased likelihood of developing a cough with phlegm and bronchitis due to smoking
- Lung irritation from irritants including some carcinogens
- A compromised immune system due to the effects of THC
- Increased heart rate by up to 50 beats per minute
- Red eyes from increased blood flow
- Worsening of co-occurring lung conditions, such as asthma
- Interference with fetal development during pregnancy
- Interference with brain development during adolescence
When individuals use it for medical reasons, marijuana may be helpful for the following:
- Reducing pain and inflammation associated with specific medical conditions
- Helping with glaucoma
- Reducing nausea in persons undergoing chemotherapy
Marijuana Effects on the Brain and Body
Some of the most common effects linked to marijuana use include the following:
- Dopamine induced feelings of pleasure
- Increased thirst and appetite
- Increased or reduced depression symptoms
- Increased or reduced anxiety symptoms
- Impaired judgment and decision-making
- Memory impairments
- Symptoms of withdrawal after long-term use
- Delayed reaction times
- Paranoia and hallucinations
- Dependence and addiction, in some instances
How Marijuana Can Affect Young People
Children and teenagers tend to be much more vulnerable to marijuana’s potential adverse effects. For example, when a woman uses marijuana during pregnancy, the infant may develop memory and concentration impairments as they grow. Also, breastfeeding mothers who use marijuana may be exposing their child to potentially adverse effects. For these reasons, women are urged to avoid using marijuana while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Marijuana can also impact the brain development of older children and teenagers. This effect can result in memory impairments, difficulty concentrating, and issues with problem-solving abilities.
Long-Term Marijuana Effects
The long-term effects of marijuana use depend on several factors, including:
- Method of use (e.g., smoking or vaping)
- Frequency of use
- The age of the person using it
- The potency of THC in the marijuana consumed
- Existence of co-occurring mental health disorders
Some potential long-term effects include the following:
- Focus and memory impairment
- Chronic lung irritation
- Exacerbation of other lung conditions
- Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome
Chronic marijuana consumption can quickly lead to problematic use, also known as a marijuana use disorder. In extreme instances, this can take on the form of addiction. Recent data suggest that 30 percent of those who use marijuana may suffer from some degree of marijuana use disorder. Young persons who begin using marijuana before age 18 are up to seven times more likely to be affected by a marijuana use disorder than those who do not start using until adulthood.
Long-term marijuana abusers often report experiencing the following:
- Irritability and agitation
- Mood swings
- Sleep disturbances
- Reduced appetite
- Drug cravings
These symptoms onset within 2-3 days, peak within the first week after discontinuing use, and may endure for up to two weeks. According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) research, marijuana dependence occurs when the brain has become accustomed to excessive amounts of the drug by decreasing production of and sensitivity to its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters.
Marijuana use disorder has developed into an addiction when the individual can’t quit using the drug despite its interference with many aspects of his or her life. Estimates of the number of people addicted to marijuana remain controversial. However studies related to substance abuse often use the concept of dependence interchangeably with that of addiction—despite this, it is possible to depend on a substance without becoming fully addicted.
That said, studies have suggested that 9% individuals of those who use marijuana will become dependent on it. This number increases to about 17% among those who start using in their teen years. In 2015, around four million individuals in the United States met the diagnostic criteria for a marijuana use disorder. Of those, approximately 138,000 deliberately sought treatment for marijuana use.
Although some experts believe that marijuana dependence is improbable, studies have shown that it does occur. That said, it does have a much lower incidence than addictions to many other commonly abused drugs.
Marijuana use disorders are often closely associated with dependence. Dependence leads to the onset of withdrawal symptoms when a person quits drug use. The earlier an individual begins experimenting with marijuana, the higher the likelihood they may develop a dependence.
Symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include the following:
- Chills and fever
- Anxiety or depression
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Profuse sweating
- Abdominal pain
- Sleep disturbances
- Daytime tiredness
A marijuana overdose is not believed to have an lethal potential. However, excessive use can lead to severe symptoms. Some individuals with a mental illness or those ingesting other substances may also have a higher risk of experiencing harsh effects.
Symptoms may include the following:
- Very elevated heart rate
- Severe headache
- Pale skin
- Paranoia and panic attacks
- Delusions and hallucinations
- Dizziness and fainting
Symptoms such as those mentioned above should not be ignored. Do not let the fact these symptoms were provoked by cannabis use discourage you from seeking help for yourself or someone you know. Of note, a New Orleans coroner made the news in 2019, stating that he determined that a 39-year-old woman, who died in February of that year, was the victim of the first-ever fatal marijuana overdose reported in the United States.
The official cause of death was THC. Coroner Dr. Christy Montegut reported that THC was the only intoxicating substance in the deceased woman’s system. Montegut explained that the autopsy “showed no physical disease or afflictions that were the cause of death” and that “there was nothing else.”
Treatment for Marijuana Abuse and Dependence
Although marijuana addiction may be relatively uncommon, there is no question that many people find themselves in its grips and find it challenging to discontinue use. For some, professional treatment may be the most effective option.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer specialized treatment for marijuana abuse, dependence, and addiction. Our comprehensive programs include behavioral therapy, counseling, group support, mindfulness therapy, and other methodologies to treat the whole person, not just the addiction itself.