Causes & Effects of Marijuana Abuse

Understanding Marijuana Abuse

Learn about marijuana addiction and abuse

Marijuana, which consists of dried leaves, stems, and flowers from the cannabis sativa plant, is one of the most commonly abused substances in the United States, and in many other nations. Often referred to by a variety of slang terms, including pot, weed, and herb, marijuana is typically abused by being smoked, eaten, or brewed into a tea. When a person ingests marijuana, he or she may experience several effects, including a distorted ability to perceive space and time, impaired coordination, enhanced relaxation, and increased appetite. These effects are produced by delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Though marijuana can elicit pleasurable sensations, the drug is not harmless. Researchers have associated long-term marijuana abuse with several negative outcomes, including alterations in the function and structure of parts of the brain. If a person’s marijuana abuse transforms from a choice into a compulsion, the type and intensity of negative outcomes that the individual may experience can increase significantly.

Once a person has become dependent upon marijuana, he or she will begin to lose the ability to control his or her actions and behaviors, which can lead to a variety of damage in many aspects of the individual’s life. As is the case with many other forms of addiction, cannabis use disorder can be extremely difficult to overcome without professional intervention. However, when a person who has become dependent upon marijuana receives effective comprehensive care at a reputable treatment program, he or she can overcome this self-defeating compulsion and can become empowered to achieve successful long-term recovery.


Marijuana abuse statistics

Data collected by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicates that more than 19.5 million people in the United States will abuse marijuana in a typical 30-day period. NIDA data also indicates that nearly 2.5 million people in the U.S. will use marijuana for the first time in a typical year. Nearly 8 of every 10 first-time marijuana users are under the age of 21. Indicating the dangerousness of marijuana abuse, information collected by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) in 2011 reveals that more than 455,000 emergency room visits that year were made by people who had abused marijuana.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for marijuana abuse

The following are among the several genetic and environmental factors that can influence a person’s risk for abusing and becoming dependent upon marijuana:

Genetic: Researchers have discovered that people with parents or siblings who have developed a substance use disorder are at increased risk for also having a problem with marijuana and/or other substances. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that genetic factors may account for as much as 80 percent of risk variance for developing cannabis use disorder.

Environmental: Early use of tobacco and/or marijuana, academic failure, growing up in an abusive or otherwise unstable home life, and associating with individuals who abuse marijuana are all environmental factors that can increase the likelihood that a person will abuse or become dependent upon marijuana.

Risk Factors:

  • Age (first use of marijuana most typically occurs before age 21)
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Early exposure to substance abuse
  • Conduct disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Easy access to marijuana
  • Trauma
  • Poverty

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of marijuana abuse

The following are among the signs and symptoms that may indicate that a person has been abusing or has become dependent upon marijuana:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Pattern of unexplained absences from work
  • Substandard occupational performance
  • Possession of paraphernalia such as rolling papers, vaporizers, and water pipes
  • Pervasive odor of marijuana on body or clothes
  • Engaging in risky, reckless, or otherwise dangerous behaviors
  • Secrecy regarding one’s activities and/or whereabouts
  • Using marijuana when it is clearly dangerous to do so
  • Continuing to abuse marijuana after experiencing negative repercussions as a result of prior use
  • Prioritizing marijuana abuse over friends, family, and significant activities

Physical symptoms:

  • Dry mouth
  • Stimulated appetite
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Problems with balance and coordination
  • Diminished motor functioning
  • Delayed reactions
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Excessive sleepiness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory impairments
  • Diminished cognition
  • Poor judgment
  • Inability to concentrate or focus
  • Inability to make healthy decisions

Psychosocial symptoms: 

  • Paranoia
  • Withdrawal
  • Extreme swings in mood
  • Irritability
  • Agitation


Effects of marijuana abuse

Untreated marijuana abuse and addiction can lead to several negative effects and outcomes, including the following:

  • Respiratory distress
  • Heart damage
  • Bronchitis
  • Compromised immune system
  • Injury
  • Impaired sexual functioning
  • Other forms of substance abuse
  • Impaired cognition
  • Diminished occupational performance
  • Job loss
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Financial distress
  • Family discord
  • Damaged or ruined interpersonal relationships
  • Arrest and incarceration
  • Withdrawal and isolation

Dual Diagnosis

Risk of dual diagnosis among people who abuse marijuana

People who develop cannabis use disorder may be at increased risk for several additional disorders. In clinical terms, having multiple disorders is known as dual diagnosis. Because the signs, symptoms, and effects of cannabis use disorder can be impacted by other disorders, dual diagnosis care can be an essential part of ending your marijuana abuse.

Marijuana abuse and addiction are associated with the following disorders:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Anxiety disorders

Many people who struggle with multiple disorders don’t realize they can benefit from dual diagnosis programming. This is one of the many reasons why it can be so important to get professional help from a provider who can assess the full scope of your mental and behavioral challenges. When you get proper care for dual diagnosis, you take an important step toward successful long-term recovery.

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of marijuana withdrawal and overdose

Attempting to end one’s marijuana use after having abused this drug for a long period of time may trigger the onset of various distressing withdrawal symptoms, including the following:

  • Powerful cravings for marijuana
  • Inability to concentrate or focus
  • Dizziness
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Depressed mood

Additional Facts on Marijuana

How is marijuana made?

Marijuana, weed, or pot, is made from the dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the major psychoactive constituent of the 400 plus chemicals found in marijuana. The average marijuana joint contains one to eight percentTHC, but some can have as much as 30 percent. The potency of the final product depends on the genetic makeup of the plant, the growing conditions, timing of harvest, drying and storage environment.

  • Low-grade marijuana is made from all the leaves of both sexes of the plant. These leaves contain very little THC, and users often experience a headache more than a high.
  • Medium-grade marjuana is made from the dried flowering tops of female plants that are fertilized by male plants.
  • High-grade marijuana is made from the flowering tops of femal plants raised in isolation from male plants.These are often called sinsemilla, which means “without seeds”. Samples of sinsemilla contain as much as 20 percent THC.

THC is also found in other products such as Dronabinol (synthetic THC), hash, and hashish oil. Hashish is composed of almost pure resin that appears as a dark-colored gummy ball. Hashish oil is a thick, waxy substance that can contain up to 70 percent THC. A more recent synthetic drug, named “Spice” or “K2” mimics the effects of THC.

How do people get high on marijuana?

Most users roll loose marijuana leaves into a cigarette called a “joint”. Marijuana can also be smoked in a water pipe, called a “bong”, mixed into food, or brewed as tea. It is also smoked in “blunts”, which are cigars emptied of tobacco and refilled with a mixture of marijuana and tobacco. Marijuana is not usually injected into the veins.

What should I not mix with marijuana?

Although marijuana has no scientifically proven life-threatening interactions with other drugs, drug combinations may lead to unpredictable and unwanted side effects. The overall effect of marijuana cocktails depends on the dosage of the various drugs and your personal metabolism and tolerance.

Due to the negative effects of the commonly abused drugs (alcohol, heroin) that users tend to use, mixing marijuana with these drugs can result in unhealthy consequences.

What are the short and long-term effects of marijuana?

Short-term effects of marijuana include

  • Euphoria
  • Sensory Distortion
  • Increased appetite
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Time seems to slow down
  • Impaired judgment and thinking
  • Incoordination
  • Anxiety
  • Sexual Dysfunction

What are the long-term effects of marijuana?

Studies yield inconsistent results on the long-term effects of marijuana. Regardless, there is sufficient evidence to prove that long-term marijuana use can facilitate the development of several health conditions, both mental and physical. These long term effects include

  • Psychological dependence
  • Tolerance
  • Increased heart rate and decreasing blood pressure can increase risk of heart attacks
  • Sexual dysfunction and risk of infertility in men
  • Dyslipidemia (High cholesterol levels)
  • Risk for obesity
  • Insulin resistance
  • Pregnancy Problems
  • Increased risk of respiratory disorders, including cancer
  • Impaired immune system, leading to frequent illnesses and infections

How long does marijuana stay in my system?

THC can be detected in the urine several weeks of months after initial ingestion. Marijuana stays a long time in the body because it is fat-soluble, which means it is easily stored in your body’s fat cells. After one week, 25-30 percent of THC might still remain in the body, and complete elimination of a large dose of THC might take two to three weeks. For chronic users, THC can stay in the body for up to 90 days. The exact time frame of detection depends on the quantity of THC, frequency of use, personal metabolism, and the method of testing.

How long do the effects of marijuana last?

When smoked, an individual can feel the effects of marijuana within 10 minutes and coninue to experience the effects for up to three hours, depending on the frequency of use, potency of the THC, and presence of other drugs. The immediate sensations usually peak within the first 30 minutes.

Marijuana’s effects take longer to kick in when it is ingested orally, ranging anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour before the user feels a high. Effects can last up to 4 hours.

How much marijuana can I take before I risk overdosing?

Unlike many other drugs, it is extremely difficult to overdose on marijuana. Large doses result from oral ingestion, such as eating food spiked with weed, and may lead to unwanted effects. Although they are highly unpleasant (panic attacks, hallucinations, delirium), the effects are rarely fatal, although they may lead to fatal accidents.

Can marijuana kill you?

Marijuana alone is unlikely to kill you. In fact, a smoker would have to consume nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within 15 minutes to induce a lethal response.

A marijuana binge may not kill you like an alcohol binge would, but its consequences are subtle and insidious. For example, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and obesity are prime risk factors for developing chronic and debilitating—if not lethal—diseases, such as heart attacks.

Additionally, marijuana can lead to addiction. Though no one would argue that weed is more addictive than alcohol or heroin, marijuana is addictive–and addiction is destructive.

How do I know if I’m addicted to marijuana?

Addiction occurs when a person cannot stop marijuana use despite the negative consequences of marijuana use. Below are common signs of addiction:

  • Needing more of the marijuana to achieve the same effect (tolerance)
  • Using more marijuana than intended
  • Unable to cut down or stop marijuana use
  • Spending more money than you have on it
  • Continuing to get high despite the problems it causes
  • Depending on marijuana to relax or enjoy yourself
  • Neglects daily responsibilities
  • Others have expressed concern about your marijuana use
  • Feelings of guilt when using marijuana
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