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Marijuana Addiction Risks

Because marijuana is now legal for medical use in many states and recreational use in some states, many people do not view marijuana as a risk or a drug of abuse. However, studies show marijuana can lead to drug abuse and addiction, as well as significant short-term and long-term side effects.

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Marijuana Use vs Marijuana Abuse

Marijuana is a naturally occurring substance with several active ingredients that may prompt use, abuse, and addiction.

The addictive ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and it is believed to be responsible for the effects of marijuana that many people find so pleasant. And marijuana now contains higher concentrations of THC than ever before, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

With most illicit drugs, any use is considered drug abuse since they are not legal. However, marijuana is both a legal and illegal drug.

In addition, not all marijuana use is considered safe, even when used for medical purposes. That is, some people misuse marijuana for its effects. When this happens, it is known as marijuana abuse. If a person is using marijuana to treat physical or mental health conditions and not exceeding their legal possession limits, they may not be abusing the drug.

However, if they exceed limits, using marijuana more frequently than needed to treat chronic pain or other health issues or using marijuana recreationally, this is considered abuse.

Signs of Marijuana Abuse

Marijuana is sought for its mind-altering effects. People who use it report that it gives a pleasant rush of feelings, known as a marijuana high.

Signs of marijuana misuse you may notice in your loved one could include: 

  • Behavioral changes: acting paranoid, anxious, or nervous
  • Red or bloodshot eyes
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Impaired coordination
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight gain
  • A lack of motivation
  • Being forgetful
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Can You Become Addicted To Marijuana?

Yes, you can become addicted to marijuana.

Marijuana addiction, also known as marijuana use disorder or cannabis use disorder, means a person cannot stop marijuana use even if it is causing health effects and negative impacts on their personal lives.

People may mistakenly believe that you cannot become addicted to marijuana. This belief may stem from the fact that recent research shows one of the main ingredients in the cannabis plant, called cannabidiol or CBD, is not addictive and may have medical benefits.

Though CBD is a cannabinoid like THC, it is not a psychoactive ingredient, meaning it’s not habit-forming or addictive. So, products that contain CBD are also non-habit-forming.

However, marijuana and other cannabis-containing products, such as edibles, can be addictive if they contain THC.

Methods of Marijuana Abuse

Because marijuana is derived from the cannabis plant, people may abuse it in various ways.

Common methods of marijuana abuse include: 

  • Smoking it in homemade cigarettes (called joints)
  • Smoking it in water pipes (also called bongs)
  • Smoking marijuana blunts (hollowed-out cigars refilled with marijuana)
  • Consuming edibles: brownies, gummies, cookies
  • Brewing marijuana leaves into a tea
  • Smoking or eating marijuana extracts: hash oil, wax, budder, shatter, tinctures

Unlike many other illicit drugs, people don’t inject marijuana because doing so doesn’t provide any perceived benefits (like a faster onset of effects).

Snorting marijuana is also uncommon, though there are now some cannabis nasal sprays on the market.

Some people also engage in plugging marijuana (inserting the drug rectally). In fact, harm reduction activists consider this less harmful than smoking.

Types of Marijuana and Cannabis

There are two main types of marijuana: cannabis indica and cannabis sativa. These two subspecies of the cannabis plant are widely used for recreational and medical purposes.

Strains of marijuana that are associated with sativa are typically sought for their ability to produce a strong marijuana high.

Indica strains are typically sought for their deep relaxation effects.

Within these two strains are many more strains in lower classifications, sought by marijuana users for different factors, such as side effects, taste, and duration of high.

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What Happens When You Abuse Marijuana?

When you use marijuana, the compounds in the drug work on something in the body called the endocannabinoid system.

This system has cannabinoid receptors, which regulate the psychoactive effects of cannabinoids when you use a drug that contains these compounds — like marijuana.

Many of the effects people experience from marijuana abuse are caused by the addictive and psychoactive ingredient THC.

In other words, the greater the amount of THC found in marijuana, the more intense the effects.

Marijuana drug abuse leads to short-term and long-term physical, mental, and behavioral health effects.

Short-Term Effects

How quickly a person experiences the effects of marijuana will depend on the method of use. Smoking marijuana results in effects within a few minutes since THC passes from the lungs to the bloodstream.

Eating marijuana edibles means the THC will have to be digested first, and the effects may take 30 minutes up to an hour.

Marijuana interferes with a person’s normal brain function, which is why a marijuana substance use disorder may cause a person to feel they can’t survive without the drug.

General short-term side effects of marijuana use include: 

  • Mood changes
  • Altered sense of time and sensory perception
  • Changes to body movement (slowed reactions)
  • Hallucinations and delusions (with high doses)
  • Trouble concentrating, thinking, and problem-solving
  • Psychosis

Effects of Marijuana on Memory

Multiple studies have confirmed that marijuana abuse causes memory impairment (though it should be noted most of these studies were conducted on animals).

Marijuana affects memory by impacting the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for forming memories.

Memory effects may be more of a risk to people who use marijuana for a long time. People lose the ability to form new memories as they age, and marijuana abuse can speed up this process.

Chronic Cough

Smoking marijuana can cause several lung-related problems, especially in people who have smoked it for several years.

Chronic bronchitis, a heavy cough, and other respiratory issues are common in people who smoke marijuana long-term.

Long-Term Effects

In addition to its effects on the lungs and memory, marijuana abuse and addiction can lead to several other effects.

People surveyed about their long-term marijuana use reported effects on their personal life, from school to work to behaviors.

Marijuana can cause psychosis in some rare instances, and it may lead to an increased risk of testicular cancer in young males, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Can You Overdose on Marijuana?

To date, no marijuana overdose deaths have been reported in adults.

Marijuana overdose deaths have all occurred in children accidentally exposed to the drug, and some reports show doctors are not certain that THC exposure alone led to the death.

Marijuana toxicity, or having high levels of marijuana in your body leading to adverse effects, is possible. High marijuana levels in your body may cause psychosis, including paranoia, hallucinations, and other mental health symptoms.

Does Marijuana Cause Withdrawal Symptoms?

Researchers have recently found that most people who use cannabis believe they never experience withdrawal syndrome. Yet, studies conducted on marijuana drug use reveal withdrawal symptoms in marijuana users.

Because marijuana does not cause physical dependence, withdrawal from marijuana is not potentially life-threatening.

The risk of marijuana withdrawal symptoms is that experiencing these symptoms prompts continued use and spurs addiction — people will want to avoid withdrawal.

Common marijuana withdrawal symptoms may include: 

  • Aggression
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Anorexia
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting

Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?

Studies conducted on the possibility of marijuana as a gateway drug show that it can precede the use of other substances, including alcohol and nicotine.

Marijuana use is also shown to ‘prime’ the brain for continued drug use when adolescents use it in their teens.

However, since many people who use marijuana also use other substances, research cannot always conclude whether it was marijuana or another substance that became the gateway drug.

In general, drug use early in life can set a precedent for continued drug use and addiction.

Common Names for Marijuana

In everyday use, marijuana is called several street names, which may hide its use or serve as code words.

Common slang terms for marijuana/cannabis include:

  • 420
  • Bud
  • Chronic
  • Dank
  • Dope
  • Flower
  • Ganja
  • Grass
  • Hash
  • Herb
  • Hemp
  • Mary Jane
  • Nug (nugget)
  • Pot
  • Reefer
  • Skunk
  • Weed

Isn’t Marijuana Legal?

Medical marijuana is illegal at the federal level but approved for treating certain health conditions in several states.

Recreational use of marijuana is illegal at the federal level but legal in some states.

However, the state laws for marijuana, medical marijuana, and cannabis-related products, like CBD, are highly regulated and different in every state.

Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about marijuana and CBD regulation.

States Where Medical Marijuana Is Legal

To date, 37 states and two territories have laws regulating medical marijuana use and sale.

States where medical marijuana is legal:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

States Where Recreational Marijuana Is Legal

As of November 21, 2022, 21 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, also known as non-medical adult use of marijuana.

States and territories where marijuana is legal for recreational (non-medical) use:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Guam
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Virginia

States Where CBD Products Are Legal

CBD products are legal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. However, many states place conditions on the use or sale of CBD.

For example, in some states, all CBD products are fully legal if they contain no THC, while others allow CBD products with up to 0.3% THC and a medical license.

How Many People Abuse Marijuana in the U.S.?

According to a national survey conducted by SAMHSA, 49.6 million people in the U.S. reported past-year use of marijuana in 2020 (adolescents ages 12 and older).

High school and middle school students report high rates of marijuana use, with 8.3% of 8th graders, 19.5% of 10th graders, and 30.7% of 12th graders reporting past-year use.

Of the people who abuse marijuana, about 14.2 million people have a cannabis use disorder, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Treatments for Marijuana Addiction

People who abuse marijuana and want help can find many effective treatment methods for stopping the use of the substance.

The type of treatment plan a person may need will depend on the severity of their substance use disorder, the presence of any other drug abuse or co-occurring disorders, and other factors.

Some of the most effective treatments for marijuana addiction include:

  • Inpatient rehab programs: These intensive addiction treatment programs involve behavioral therapy, support groups, relapse prevention, medical care, and more.
  • Outpatient programs: Partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient treatment, and other outpatient services offer varying levels of care for people with addictions.
  • Detox programs: Ridding the body of all substances of abuse before treatment is crucial to addiction recovery.
  • Dual diagnosis care: Treating co-occurring mental illness or marijuana-induced psychosis or schizophrenia can be crucial to lasting recovery.
  • Therapy: The most effective therapies for marijuana abuse include cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management therapy, and motivational enhancement therapy.
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Get Help for Yourself or a Loved One With Marijuana Use Issues

Marijuana use or abuse is not considered an issue by many people, particularly with the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use in many states.

While the drug may not lead to physical dependence or overdose risk, the effects of marijuana on the brain and body cannot be ignored.

If you or a close family member would like to get help for marijuana use, there are options to help you cut down on use or quit using the substance.

Try finding a rehab program using the SAMHSA treatment locator website to locate treatment centers near you, or look for behavioral therapy programs in your area.

If you use marijuana to treat chronic pain or other health issues, ask your healthcare professional about alternative treatments.

Frequently Asked Questions About Marijuana Abuse

Is marijuana dangerous?

Marijuana isn’t dangerous in the sense that it can’t cause overdose or fatalities.

Instead, the risk of developing chronic lung issues, risk of heart attack, and risk of certain cancers make the drug dangerous to abuse long-term.

What’s the difference between marijuana and cannabis?

‘Cannabis’ is a term that refers to all products derived from the cannabis sativa plant.

‘Marijuana’ refers to products derived from the cannabis plant that contain significant amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

What is considered heavy marijuana use?

Heavy use of marijuana may refer to daily use or using heavy amounts of marijuana at one time. Chronic use may refer to daily use or long-term use of marijuana.

Both heavy and chronic use of marijuana are considered marijuana abuse and may lead to drug addiction.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of AddictionHelp.com and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (2019 November). “Cannabis and Cannabinoids: What You Need to Know.” Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/cannabis-marijuana-and-cannabinoids-what-you-need-to-know#:~:text=The%20word%20%E2%80%9Ccannabis%E2%80%9D%20refers%20to,amounts%20of%20tetrahydrocannabinol%20(THC).

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