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Marijuana Abuse

Marijuana is a naturally occurring substance with several active ingredients that may prompt use, abuse, and addiction. Because marijuana is now legal for medical use in many states and recreational use in some states, many people do not perceive marijuana as a risk or a drug of abuse. But studies show marijuana can lead to drug abuse, drug addiction, and both short-term and long-term side effects.

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What Is Considered Marijuana Abuse?

Using marijuana doesn’t necessarily mean a person is abusing it.

With illicit drugs, any use is considered drug abuse since they are not legal. However, marijuana is legal to use (even recreationally) in many U.S. states, so what constitutes “marijuana abuse” is a bit different these days.

Many people use marijuana legally to treat physical or mental health conditions, usually through the guidance of a therapist or physician. However, if they exceed limits and use marijuana more frequently than needed, it can be considered marijuana abuse.

Like other prescription medications (i.e., opioids, benzodiazepines, etc.), simply using the drug doesn’t constitute abuse. The problem lies in whether the person begins using their medication outside of what it’s meant to treat, such as using it to get high.

Even in states where marijuana is legal for recreational use, its consumption can still be considered abuse under certain conditions:

  1. Excessive use that leads to impairment, neglecting responsibilities, and interfering with daily life (i.e., work, school, family obligations, etc.)
  2. Using marijuana despite negative health effects, like respiratory problems or impairment
  3. Developing a tolerance, which can include dependence or withdrawal symptoms appearing when not using marijuana
  4. Underage use is always considered marijuana abuse, regardless of what is legal in the state

How Common Is Marijuana Use?

According to the most recent national survey conducted by SAMHSA, 48.2 million Americans reported past-year use of marijuana in 2022.

This number included young people ages 12 and older. However, adults between the ages of 18-25 make up the largest group of marijuana users compared to other age ranges.

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.

Marijuana Abuse VS Addiction

You can become addicted to marijuana, though it’s much less common than with some other substances.

Marijuana addiction, also known as marijuana use disorder or cannabis use disorder, means a person cannot stop using marijuana even if it is causing destructive consequences in their personal lives.

Marijuana now contains higher concentrations of THC than ever before, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which can also put people at a greater risk of developing an addiction.

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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. However, when someone begins abusing marijuana, there may be signs you can look out for.

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

  • Behavioral changes like acting paranoid, anxious, or irritable
  • Increased secrecy about their activities or who they are with
  • Unexplained forgetfulness
  • Red or bloodshot eyes
  • Persistent cough
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Impaired coordination
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight gain
  • A lack of motivation
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Withdrawal from activities they once enjoyed
  • Legal issues related to marijuana possession or use

How Is Marijuana Abused?

Because marijuana is derived from the cannabis plant, it can take many forms and can consumed in several different ways. Thus, people may abuse it in various ways.

Common methods of marijuana abuse include:

  • Smoking: Smoking marijuana is one of the most common methods of use. It provides a rapid onset of effects because the active compounds are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs.

Many people prefer smoking for its convenience and the ritualistic aspect it may have.

Ways marijuana is smoked include:

    • Homemade cigarettes (joints)
    • Water pipes (also called bongs)
    • Blunts (hollowed-out cigars refilled with marijuana)
  • Vaping: Similar to smoking, vaping marijuana is becoming very popular due to how quickly the effects of cannabis take place. Vaporizing marijuana involves heating the leaves or concentrated extracts to a temperature that releases the active compounds in the form of vapor instead of smoke.
  • Consuming edibles: Consuming marijuana in the form of edibles, such as cookies, brownies, or gummies, is popular for those who prefer not to smoke. Edibles take longer to take effect compared to smoking or vaping because the cannabinoids must be metabolized in the digestive system, but the effects tend to last longer and can be more potent.
  • Tinctures and Sublingual Sprays: These liquid extracts of marijuana are administered under the tongue for fast absorption into the bloodstream. They provide a discreet and convenient way to use marijuana without the need for smoking or inhaling vapor. This method is more common in medicinal marijuana use than abuse.
  • Dabbing: Dabbing involves inhaling vaporized marijuana concentrates, such as wax or shatter, using a specialized dab rig. Dabbing is popular among experienced users seeking a more potent and immediate high.

Some people also engage in plugging marijuana or inserting the drug rectally (i.e., suppositories). In fact, harm reduction activists perceive this to be a less harmful method than smoking.

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.

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. Alternatively, 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.

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

Common slang terms for marijuana or cannabis include:

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

One of the main ingredients in the cannabis plant is called cannabidiol (CBD). Though CBD is a cannabinoid like THC, it is not a psychoactive ingredient, meaning it’s not intoxicating and does not produce the “high” typically associated with marijuana use.

Instead, CBD is known for its potential therapeutic benefits, including pain relief, reduction of inflammation, anxiety management, and seizure control.

Due to its non-psychoactive nature, CBD has gained popularity as a natural remedy for various health conditions without the risk of impairment or addiction associated with THC.

What Is Spice/K2?

Spice is one of the most well-known brand names for synthetic marijuana. It’s often sold in colorful packaging and marketed as incense or herbal smoking blends, but it’s intended for human consumption to produce psychoactive effects.

It’s important to note that synthetic marijuana is not the same as natural marijuana and can be much more potent and unpredictable in its effects. Additionally, synthetic cannabinoids can pose significant health risks, including severe adverse reactions and even overdose.

Other names for synthetic marijuana include:

  • Fake weed
  • K2
  • Herbal incense

Spice/K2 and similar synthetic cannabinoids are legal in some areas because the specific chemicals they contain aren’t covered by existing drug laws.

Manufacturers of Spice/K2 and similar synthetic cannabinoids often update their products’ chemical compositions to stay one step ahead of drug laws and continue selling their products legally.

However, this practice can also lead to unpredictable effects and potential health risks for users, as the safety of these new compounds is often unknown.

What Is Delta 8 and Delta 9?

Delta-8 and delta-9 refer to two different forms of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which are cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.

  • Delta-9 THC: This is the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana, responsible for the “high” or intoxicating effects that people experience when they consume cannabis. Delta-9 THC is typically found in higher concentrations in marijuana plants.
  • Delta-8 THC: This is another form of THC that is structurally similar to delta-9 THC but with slight differences in its chemical structure. Delta-8 THC also has psychoactive effects, but they are generally reported to be less intense than those of delta-9 THC.

The legality of delta-8 and delta-9 THC varies depending on where you are and the specific rules in place. In many areas, delta-9 THC is illegal for recreational use but might be allowed for medical purposes in certain states or countries where medical marijuana is permitted.

Delta-8 THC is a bit trickier—it’s not clearly illegal in many places, but its status is often unclear, and the rules around its sale, production, and use can differ.

To stay on the right side of the law, it’s important for consumers to know and follow local regulations regarding THC and cannabis products, whether it’s delta-8 or delta-9 THC.

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Effects of Marijuana Abuse

When you use marijuana, the compounds in the drug work on the body’s cannabinoid receptors (which regulate the psychoactive effects of cannabinoids).

Many of the effects people experience from marijuana abuse are caused by the addictive and psychoactive ingredient THC. The greater the amount of THC found in marijuana, the more intense the effects will be.

Over time, marijuana drug abuse can cause several 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.

For example, smoking marijuana results in effects within a couple of minutes since THC passes from the lungs to the bloodstream.

Meanwhile, eating marijuana edibles means the THC will have to be digested first, and the effects may take from 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 using the drug.

Short-term side effects of marijuana use can 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

Long-Term Effects

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

Individuals who have used marijuana over the long term have reported experiencing consequences in different aspects of their personal lives, including their performance in school or at work, as well as changes in their 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.

Some of the more common long-term effects of marijuana use may include:

  • Problems with memory and cognitive function
  • Decreased motivation and productivity
  • Respiratory issues such as chronic bronchitis
  • Increased risk of mental health disorders like anxiety and depression
  • Development of cannabis use disorder or addiction

Marijuana Overdose

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 problems.

Does Marijuana Cause Withdrawal Symptoms?

Yes, studies conducted on marijuana drug use reveal withdrawal symptoms can occur in marijuana users.

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

Experiencing marijuana withdrawal symptoms can increase the likelihood of continued use and the development of addiction because individuals may decide they’d rather keep using marijuana to avoid these symptoms.

Common marijuana withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Aggression
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Anorexia
  • Cravings for the drug
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting

Treatments for Marijuana Addiction

People who abuse marijuana and want to get help can find many effective treatment options for stopping it.\

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 a crucial part of addiction recovery.
  • Dual diagnosis care: Treating co-occurring mental illness or marijuana-induced psychosis or schizophrenia can be crucial to lasting recovery.
  • Psychiatry & Psychology: The most effective types of therapy 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 both medical and recreational use in many states.

However, if marijuana use has begun to cause issues for yourself or a loved one, there are many options available to help you.

Support groups, such as Marijuana Anonymous, provide a safe and understanding environment for people to get support and encouragement from others who have faced similar challenges with marijuana.

Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a free online program locator or through their free helpline at 1-800-662-4357.

Whether you’re looking for outpatient counseling, residential treatment, or other forms of support, the SAMHSA treatment locator can help you find resources that meet your needs.

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Marijuana Abuse FAQs

Is marijuana dangerous?

Marijuana isn’t dangerous in the sense that it can’t cause overdose or fatalities. However, the risk of developing chronic lung issues, risk of heart attack, and risk of certain cancers can make the drug dangerous to abuse long-term.

What’s the difference between marijuana and cannabis?

“Marijuana” and “cannabis” are often used interchangeably to refer to the same plant and its products. However, some people prefer to use “cannabis” as a more scientific or neutral term, while “marijuana” is often associated with its recreational or medical use.

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.

Is marijuana a gateway drug?

Research suggests that marijuana use might lead some individuals to try other drugs like alcohol and nicotine. Additionally, using marijuana during adolescence may make the brain more receptive to the effects of other drugs.

However, because many people who use marijuana also use other substances, it’s challenging to determine whether marijuana itself acts as a gateway drug or if other factors are at play.

Overall, starting drug use at a young age can increase the likelihood of ongoing drug use and addiction later in life.

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 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. Atakan, Z. (2012, December). Cannabis, a Complex Plant: Different Compounds and Different Effects on Individuals. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2024, February 15). About Cannabis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  4. Grinspoon, P. (2020, May 26). If Cannabis Becomes a Problem: How To Manage Withdrawal. Harvard Health.
  5. Grinspoon, P. (2024, April 4). Cannabidiol (CBD): What We Know and What We Don’t. Harvard Health.
  6. Shiari, A. (2024, April 5). Marijuana & Lung Cancer Risk. Mayo Clinic Health System.
  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019, November). Cannabis (marijuana) and Cannabinoids: What You Need to Know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
  8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2024, May 28). Cannabis (Marijuana) Drugfacts. National Institutes of Health.

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