Starting January 1, 2020, the recreational use of marijuana will become legal for adults over 21 in the state of Illinois. With that, Illinois will become the eleventh state in the US that legalized marijuana. In Europe, many countries have already decriminalized the drug.
But although the laws are slowly shifting, the debate on the effects of this drug continues. One side thinks that it’s safer than alcohol, while the other side believes it can have long-lasting negative consequences. Sometimes, people need treatment in a rehab facility to quit the drug.
Marijuana is one of the most frequently used drugs in the US. In the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, it was reported that 22.2 million Americans older than 12 used it in the 30 days before the survey.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 10 Americans who use it will develop an addiction. If the person starts using while still a teenager, that number jumps to 1 in 6 Americans.
Marijuana use is most present in teenagers and young adults. In 2016, it was found by a study that:1
The majority of people who regularly use weed will develop a dependence on the drug. Their bodies will physically adapt to the presence of the drug, and the brain will begin to depend on the drug to function correctly.
As a person develops a dependence on weed, their tolerance to the drug will consequently increase. Meaning, that person will need higher amounts of weed or more potent weed to experience the same effects.
Tolerance is a symptom of dependence, and it’s also one of the criteria for marijuana addiction. It’s possible for a person to be dependent on weed but not addicted. Addiction happens when a person who’s using the drug starts experiencing problems related to the drug. They will also have difficulties in quitting.
For example, a person who is addicted to weed might start showing the following behaviors and symptoms:
Relationship issues with friends, family, coworkers, or classmates
Declined performance at work or school
Withdrawing from social events
Spending a lot of time with other users
Thinking about quitting but without success
Spending a lot of time thinking about smoking pot
Increasing the dose over time
Strongly desiring to smoke weed
Smoking weed so often and getting too high by it that they can't get important things done
Not quitting even though the drug has caused significant social or relationship problems
Withdrawing from activities they once enjoyed doing
Developing a tolerance to the drug
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug
Marijuana is popular for having a wide range of street names, including:
Sometimes people combine weed with other substances to increase its high. In such cases, a range of slang terms can be used:
It can be complicated to classify as it’s quite a unique drug. It can act as a depressant, stimulant, and hallucinogen.
It’s widely considered to be a depressant as it can slow down messages that travel from the body to the brain and vice versa. It can calm nerves, lower inhibitions, and relax muscles.
Weed is sometimes referred to as a stimulant because it can cause elevated moods, racing heartbeat, anxiety, and paranoia.
Large doses of it can also lead to hallucinogenic side effects. A person might experience hallucinations, delusions, and a loss of sense of personal identity. However, these effects are usually only temporary.
The bottom line is that how a person will respond to use depends on several different factors. The way the body responds can depend on the person’s age, genetics, and history of use. Other factors can include the amount of THC in the drug, method of usage, and dosage.
Weed remains a Schedule I drug even though many US states have legalized it for recreational or for medical use. This means it has a high potential for abuse and addiction and no medical use recognized by the federal government.
Attempts to remove it from the Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act have been happening continuously since 1972.
There’s no extensive research to confirm that the occasional use can have long-term side effects. However, researchers are worried that heavy long-term use can lead to serious health problems. Regular use has been linked to memory loss, lung changes, and other mental health issues.
Marijuana use is commonly present among people who suffer from depression. People suffering from depression are twice as likely to be using weed than those who aren’t depressed.2
One annual government survey on drug use in 2017 reported that 19% of people suffering from depression reported having used weed in the last month. The percent of use in people who weren’t depressed but had used weed in the past month was 9%.
Some studies suggest that weed may have antidepressant properties. But many people say that it can also have significant adverse effects. Moreover, 7% of people with depression reported using weed daily, compared to 3% of those without depression.
According to experts, marijuana use is more likely to worsen depression than offer relief. Instead of relieving people from depression, the drug can produce depression in healthy people. For example, marijuana is believed to intensify some symptoms of depression, including:
Lack of motivation
Lack of interest in things
Researchers are also concerned about the impact of marijuana on the adolescent brain. The majority of them warn that teenagers should give their brains a chance to develop fully before engaging in drug use.
The human brain is still in development when the person reaches the age of 20. The region that develops last is the prefrontal cortex. It’s the area responsible for decision-making, planning, problem-solving, and controlling impulses. Marijuana use at a young age can negatively affect the development of this region.
Brain imaging studies discovered that people who began using it frequently before the age of 16 had less-developed white matter. White matter is the tissue through which messages from one area of the brain to another are transmitted.3
Another reason for concern is the fact that millions of Americans are driving while under the influence of marijuana. According to a 2018 study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 million drivers aged 16+ reported having driven while high. Men were more likely to drink after using marijuana (6%), compared to 3% of women. Driving a vehicle while stoned can have serious consequences due to the driver’s impaired response time, which can lead to crashes.
The number of emergency department visits possibly related to weed has also increased. Compared to 2009, the number of ER visits increased by 21% in 2011. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, in 2011, there were around 456,000 weed-related ER visits in the US.
Generally, the dried flower of the cannabis is smoked in hand-rolled paper cigarettes, cigar wraps, pipes, or bongs.
People who smoke marijuana are famous for their creativity when it comes to finding out different ways to smoke the drug. Rolling papers are frequently used, however, it is possible to make bongs and pipes out of soda bottles and cans, corn cobs, and pieces of fruit.
Vaping is one of the newest methods of using weed. It allows the person to experience the full effects of the drug but without the risk of harmful toxins. Vaporizers heat the plant material to 250-400 F. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD evaporate and can be inhaled.
It’s not uncommon for people to add marijuana to edibles, especially in states that have legalized the recreational use of the drug. Vendors in states where it’s legal can sell:
Marijuana oil is also added to teas, sodas, and even beer.
Sometimes people the drug is used as a balm, lotion, or patches that can be rubbed on the skin. Marijuana oil may be applied to the skin to relieve muscle pain and soreness. Using it topically doesn’t produce any effects, so, any improvement is most likely a placebo effect.
It’s important to note that each form of marijuana has a similar effect on the body. However, the duration and intensity of the effects might differ.
Smoking marijuana is similar to smoking cigarettes. It contains the same toxins, irritants, and carcinogens as tobacco. Heavy smoking can lead to a higher risk of cough, bronchitis, and phlegm production.
Marijuana takes longer to produce an effect when it’s consumed as an edible. For that reason, some people may consume larger amounts of edibles to feel the same effects. This may result in adverse effects such as anxiety, paranoia, and in some rare cases, a psychotic reaction.
The cannabis plant has around 66 chemicals that are called cannabinoids. The most well-known cannabinoid is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. THC is the primary psychoactive component that is responsible for some of the effects of marijuana, including the feel-good “high.”
Another important ingredient is cannabidiol or CBD. Cannabidiols make up roughly 40% of the plant resin extract. CBD is thought to have anti-anxiety effects, and possibly counteract the psychoactive effects of THC.
The most common short-term effects include:
Short-term memory loss
Altered sense of space and time
Loss of control of motor skills
Marijuana is most widely known for its anti-anxiety and relaxation effects. However, medical professionals are concerned about its possible adverse long-term effects.
There is no proof that smoking weed can damage lung health in the same degree as cigarettes, but the American Lung Association believes it does pose risks to the lungs. The reason for concern is the fact that the smoke is heavy with the same chemicals that are present in tobacco smoke. Some of the chemicals include ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, and formaldehyde.
Apart from chemicals in the smoke, the manner of smoking weed also poses a risk. Compared to tobacco smokers, weed smokers inhale the smoke more intensely and hold their breath longer. This leads to greater exposure to tar per breath. Research has found that people who smoke weed show signs of damage and precancerous changes in their lungs. The risk is higher in people who also smoke cigarettes.4
Smoking marijuana can injure the cell linings of the large airways, resulting in:
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana can lead to an increased heart rate by as many as 50 beats per minute, which can last for nearly three hours. The most vulnerable group are marijuana smokers who suffer from heart disease. Research from the Journal of the American Heart Association reports that frequent use of marijuana can result in a higher risk of heart attack, but also heart rhythm disorders and stroke.
The long-term effects of cannabis on the reproductive system have been tested in animal studies. It’s been found that males exposed to marijuana produce less testosterone. In human studies, researchers have discovered that THC negatively affects the production of testosterone. Marijuana use can also lead to reduced sperm’s ability to swim properly, contributing to male infertility.5
In female rats, marijuana has proven to have some negative effects. Rats exposed to marijuana produce fewer sex hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. This can result in sexual dysfunction and abnormal ovulation cycles.6 However, more research is needed to arrive at conclusive results.
Marijuana can have other long-term effects beyond the lungs and the heart. These include:
There are no reported deaths from marijuana. However, people who take the drug in larger amounts have reported feeling very uncomfortable overdose effects, including anxiety and paranoia.
The risk of experiencing strong and uncomfortable overdose effects is higher when the person consumes edibles. Edibles take longer to process, and the person might not feel the effects immediately. So, in many cases, they would continue eating more to get high, which can lead to an overdose. Emergency room employees say that they have seen a rising number of cases that involve edibles.
There are also reports of people experiencing anxiety and paranoia when using marijuana products with high THC levels.
People who are severely addicted to weed may not be able to stop using the drug on their own. They may need professional medical help at a rehab facility.
During rehab, the person will safely detox from the drug in a comfortable and secure environment. Inpatient and outpatient treatment programs also include individual counseling and group therapy to teach how to function in life without the drug.
People who have used the drug regularly and trying to quit will experience a range of withdrawal symptoms.
The most common withdrawal symptoms include:
Intense cravings for marijuana
The withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe. The severity depends on how long the person used the drug, how often they used it, and the method of use.
Some people try to quit marijuana on their own. However, those who have a severe addiction to the drug will have better chances of getting clean if they have guidance and medical assistance.
Detox is the first step in a treatment program. It’s a short-term program that helps the body remove the drug before joining an inpatient or outpatient program. During detox, a medical team of professionals supervises the patient 24/7, treating individual symptoms and providing support.
Inpatient care is recommended for people who are suffering from a severe addiction. It’s the best type of treatment if the person needs a safe and comfortable place to get sober. Most inpatient programs last from 21 days to several months.
During inpatient care, patients live on-site and participate in:
Every day at an inpatient program is carefully structured and planned so that the patient has no time to think or get drugs. A patient’s schedule might look something like this:
Life skills training workshop
Individual counseling session
Support group work
Relapse prevention skills group
Reading or crafting
The focus of an inpatient treatment program is to help a person quit and manage the underlying mental issues that led to drug use.
An outpatient program is more suitable for people who are suffering from a milder addiction and have a safe place to stay. During outpatient care, the patient lives off-site but attends on-site meetings for several hours each day.
The patient will participate in 12-step meetings and individual therapy sessions. They might also attend holistic classes such as meditation and yoga. At the end of the day, the patient returns to their own home or a sober living home.
Many people find help by joining a support group. Others transition to these groups after completing a rehab program as part of their aftercare. People can benefit from connecting with other individuals who have faced the same scenarios and experienced the same negative effects of drug use. The most popular support group is Marijuana Anonymous, which is a 12-step recovery.
Marijuana has been legalized and widely used for its medicinal purposes, but its negative effects on the heavy and regular user have been proven in a range of studies. Studies show that unchecked, long-term use can lead to cognitive dysfunction, damaged lung health, and increased risk of other health problems later in life.
Addiction is another possible side effect of regular use. The person addicted to weed will experience many problems related to the drug and will have difficulties quitting.
If an addiction develops, the safest way to sobriety is a medically supervised detox and an effective inpatient/outpatient care. Ongoing recovery efforts, including aftercare, are also critical for a successful and long-term recovery.
This information should not replace a visit to a doctor or treatment center. If you are concerned that you or your loved one might be suffering from marijuana addiction, ask for professional help today.