Marijuana Abuse Causes & Effects

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Understanding Marijuana Abuse

Learn about marijuana and substance abuse

Marijuana is one of the most popular substances to be recreationally abused within the United States. Often referred to as weed or herb, marijuana consists of stems, leaves, and dried flowers that are picked from the cannabis sativa plant. Marijuana contains the psychoactive component delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which is also known as “THC”. When an individual consumes marijuana, typically done by smoking it, adding it to food and eating it, or mixing it into tea and drinking it, the sudden short-term effects include relaxation, increased appetite, mild analgesia, and a distorted perception of time and space.

While many states have decriminalized and even legalized marijuana for medical purposes, legislative changes such as these do not mean that the use or abuse of this substance does not pose danger to a user. Continual abuse of marijuana is linked to a number of dangerous outcomes, including possible irreparable damage to the brain.

When an individual uses marijuana to a point where she experiences serious distress or impairment, and when she becomes unable to control the frequency and the amount in which marijuana is being abused, she likely has developed cannabis use disorder. Luckily, there is treatment for marijuana abuse available that is proven effective in helping individuals defeat their marijuana use disorder and begin living healthy, substance-free lives.


Marijuana abuse statistics

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 19.8 million individuals within the United States have abused marijuana within the past 30 days. NIDA also reports that roughly 2.4 million citizens use marijuana for the first time every year. 78% of those citizens are between the ages of 12 and 20. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), there are on average 456,000 visits to the emergency room for those who have abused marijuana.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for marijuana abuse

A variety of environmental and genetic factors can make an individual vulnerable to abusing marijuana or develop cannabis use disorder. Consider the following:

Genetic: Research shows that individuals who have siblings or parents who have abused substances such as marijuana are at a heightened risk for struggling with similar challenges. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that genetic factors can account for 80% of total variance in the risk of the development of cannabis use disorder.

Environmental: Numerous environmental aspects, such as struggling in school, using tobacco, having access to marijuana, living in an abusive or unstable home, and connecting with individuals who use marijuana can all lead to an individual developing cannabis use disorder. The use of marijuana amongst family members can also play a pivotal role in an individual’s decision to start using this substance.

Risk Factors:

  • Prior substance abuse
  • Personal history of conduct disorder and/or antisocial personality disorder
  • Having access to and being able to afford marijuana
  • Being abused, neglected, or otherwise exposed to trauma
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Family history of mental illness, substance abuse, and/or addiction
  • Early involvement with substance abuse
  • Age (first use of marijuana often occurs between ages of 12 and 20)

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of marijuana abuse

The abuse of marijuana and cannabis use disorder can be shown through a number of symptoms and signs, which include the following:

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Possession of rolling papers, water pipes, and other drug related paraphernalia
  • Prioritizing marijuana abuse over friends, family, and activities
  • Acting secretively or deceptively regarding one’s activities and/or whereabouts
  • Engaging in risky, reckless, or otherwise dangerous behaviors
  • Multiple unexplained absences from school or work
  • Use of incense to hide the smell of marijuana
  • Declining performance at work or school

Physical symptoms:

  • Impaired balance, motor skills, and coordination
  • Dry mouth
  • Delayed reaction time
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Lethargy
  • Increased cravings for food

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory problems
  • Impaired ability to concentrate or focus
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Impaired ability to perceive the passage of time

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Fear and/or paranoia
  • Unstable mood
  • Irritability
  • Agitation


Effects of marijuana abuse

The continual abuse of marijuana and untreated cannabis use disorder can cause severe physical, socioeconomic, and emotional damages to a person’s wellbeing. Below are some of the most common effects of marijuana abuse:

  • Diminished cognitive functioning
  • Abuse of other substances
  • Injury from impaired coordination and recklessness
  • Heart damage
  • Compromised immune system
  • Breathing problems, including bronchitis
  • Job loss
  • Family discord
  • Strained interpersonal relationships
  • Social isolation
  • Diminished sexual functioning
  • Financial damage
  • Arrest and incarceration

Co-Occurring Disorders

Marijuana abuse and co-occurring disorders

Many of those who abuse marijuana or who battle with cannabis use disorder might also struggle with the below listed co-occurring mental health disorders:

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Bipolar I disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of marijuana withdrawal & overdose

When an individual who has abused marijuana heavily attempts to lessen or stop her abuse of this substance, she might develop a number of upsetting withdrawal symptoms that can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Strong cravings for marijuana
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Appetite suppression
  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Impaired ability to concentrate

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