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Marijuana Use and Abuse: Side Effects, Withdrawal Symptoms, and Treatment

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana refers to the leaves, flowers, and extracts of the plant Cannabis sativa and several closely related species—commonly known as hemp.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States and is known by a large variety of names, including cannabis, pot, weed, grass, hash, and many others. It is cultivated widely across the globe and is the only major recreational drug grown within the U.S.

Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Abuse

Marijuana intoxication produces short-term effects including:

  • Euphoria.
  • Relaxation.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Altered sense of time.
  • Impaired memory.
  • Slowed reflexes and impaired motor skills.
  • Bloodshot eyes.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Cognitive impairments.
  • Paranoia.

What does marijuana look and smell like?

You might wonder if your teen is abusing marijuana, but you may not be sure what it looks or smells like. Marijuana buds can come in a variety of colors. It mostly looks like a shredded plant—similar to tobacco—but is most often green in color.

Marijuana produces a distinct odor that has been likened to cooked sage and alfalfa.

Factors That Determine Marijuana’s Potency and Effects

Marijuana contains more than 60 related psychoactive chemicals—called cannabinoids. The most abundant of these is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The amount of THC ingested when a person uses marijuana determines the intensity of the high, while the potency of different strains of marijuana is a result of the levels of THC they contain—varying from 3% to 20%, on average. Industrial varieties of hemp—used to make textiles and rope—contain little-to-no THC and do not produce a demonstrable high at all.

Dried marijuana is most often smoked, but it can also be eaten and used to infuse various foods. THC-rich marijuana extracts are also increasing in popularity, including hash oil and a hard, brittle preparation called “shatter.” Such extracts are particularly dangerous because extremely large amounts of THC can be ingested by users very quickly.

The precise effects an individual will experience depend on:

  • How much marijuana is consumed.
  • How potent it is.
  • How it is ingested.

Smoking marijuana produces intoxication quickly—within minutes—and its short-term effects are fairly predictable from one time to the next.

Eating marijuana-infused food causes the THC to be absorbed more slowly, with intoxication beginning 30 minutes to 2 hours after ingestion, and the effects can be difficult for the user to predict.

Long-Term Effects of Marijuana Abuse

In addition to positive and negative intoxicating effects, marijuana abuse can also have negative side effects on an individual’s mental and physical health. This is especially true in the case of a person who uses marijuana for a long period of time.

Detrimental long-term effects of marijuana use may include:

  • Respiratory problems: Marijuana smoke has many of the same irritating and lung-damaging properties as tobacco smoke. Long-term users may develop chronic coughs and are at higher risk of sustaining lung infections.
  • Cardiovascular risk: Marijuana ingestion increases a person’s heart rate for several hours, increasing their likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke. This may aggravate pre-existing heart conditions in long-term users and those who are older—placing them at greater risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event.
  • Mental health effects: Long-term marijuana use can decrease an individual’s performance in memory-related tasks and cause a decrease in motivation and interest in everyday activities. Marijuana is also known to intensify symptoms in users with schizophrenia.
  • Child development: Marijuana use during pregnancy can affect the development of the fetus’s brain and has been linked to behavioral problems in babies.
  • Psychological dependence: Like with most other drugs of abuse, individuals who use marijuana for long periods of time can develop a dependence on it. Signs of dependence in a user include the need to use marijuana to cope with everyday tasks and the experience of cravings and anxiety when marijuana is not available.

Teen Marijuana Abuse

The Monitoring the Future survey has tracked drug use in secondary school students since 1975 and is a good source of information on teen marijuana abuse. Some key statistics from the survey include:

  • The prevalence of marijuana use in the previous year among high school seniors has held fairly steady for the last few years and decreased slightly from 36.4% in 2013 to 35.1% in 2014.
  • About 81% of 12th graders claim that marijuana is easily available if they want to acquire it.
  • The perceived risk of marijuana use has fallen since 2000 among all age groups monitored, and less than 40% of 12th graders considered regular marijuana use to be a “great risk.”

Also alarming is the rise of synthetic marijuana, often referred to as “Spice” or “K2.” These substances can often be purchased legally and with ease. However, their effects can be severe and even fatal. Read more at our blog, The Dangerous (and Deadly) Effects of Spice.

Marijuana Addiction Treatment Types

Treatment for marijuana abuse and dependence has many similarities to treatments for addictions to other drugs. Although there are no medications available specifically for treating marijuana dependence, professional detoxification facilities can provide a safe, supportive place for abusers to get the drug out of their systems.

Medical staff can help to ensure that individuals do not hurt themselves, and sedative medications are available in case of severe anxiety or panic attacks.

Following detox, inpatient or residential and outpatient drug rehabilitation programs are available, depending on the specific needs of the recovering person. Both types of treatment offer counseling and education to help people with addictions adapt to drug-free lifestyles. Aftercare programs and peer recovery organizations provide support to help avoid future relapses.

Find Marijuana Treatment Programs

If you or a loved one is addicted to marijuana, help is available and recovery is possible. Professional drug treatment can start anyone battling a substance use problem on the path to a healthier and happier life. Rehab programs are located throughout the U.S., and many offer specialized treatment that can cater to individual needs. You can use SAMHSA’s Find Treatment tool to search for marijuana rehab facilities. Many state government websites will also provide local drug and alcohol resources to those in need. To find your state government’s website, do a web search for your state name and ‘.gov.’

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading treatment provider and has trusted rehab programs across the country. For advice, admissions, or to learn more about marijuana treatment with AAC, please contact one of our caring admissions navigators free at .

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