Marijuana Abuse Effects, Signs, & Symptoms

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Marijuana abuse can often times be hidden in plain sight, making it difficult to identify. Understanding and recognizing the signs, symptoms, risks and more is the first step in the recovery journey.

Understanding Marijuana Abuse

Learn about marijuana abuse

Marijuana (pot, grass, reefer, weed, herb, Mary Jane, or MJ) is a mix of dried shredded leaves and flowers of the hemp plant. While the leaves of most hemp plants do not have psychoactive properties, certain varieties do, and the two kinds can be distinguished by testing for the differences in the potency of the two categories. The majority of users smoke marijuana in hand-rolled cigarettes, though some use water pipes. Others prefer cigars made from a mix of tobacco and marijuana. The drug may also be used in foods or to brew tea. These methods of ingestion do not produce as strong effects as when it is smoked however.

There are two different cannabinoids in marijuana that are the predominant substances producing psychoactive effects – THC and CBD. In recreational pot usage, the levels of THC are high, which indicates the drug is potent. The potency of marijuana based on amount of THC ranges from 3% to 20%, which results in a wide range of types and strength of effects. Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the U.S. today and is used by adolescents and adults alike.


Marijuana abuse statistics

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 17.4% of people in the U.S. have used marijuana in their lifetime. Between the years of 2007 and 2011, the rates of people over the age of 11 in the U.S. who had used marijuana in the past month increased from  14.4 million (almost 6% of the population)to 18.1 million users (7% of the population). It’s been estimated that of those who use cannabis, about 9% become addicted, however those who start using marijuana before the age of 12 have an addiction potential of 17%. Frequency also affects rates of addiction – among those who use the drug daily, the prevalence of addiction ranges between 25% and 50%.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for marijuana abuse

It is believed that there is no single cause leading to marijuana addiction. However, several factors have been shown to contribute to the development of the disorder of marijuana usage. These include:

Genetic: There is a genetic component to the development of marijuana abuse and addiction, however, this predisposition alone is not always enough to lead to addiction.

Brain chemistry: Studies show that THC attaches to certain sites in the brain called cannabinoid receptors (CBRS). THC is recognized as a chemical compound similar to the naturally-occurring chemical produced in the brain, which affects short-term memory, pleasure sensations, attention, motor coordination, thought processes, and the ability to accurately perceive time.

Environmental: With continued use, the effects of the marijuana decrease and the individual needs to use more to experience the desired effect. Research indicates that as the amount of THC and CBD in marijuana increases in the individual’s body, so does the likelihood of addiction. The earlier in life the person begins using marijuana, the greater the likelihood they will develop an addiction later in life.

Psychological: Marijuana can cause intense paranoia and delusions in some people and increased use can exacerbate psychotic behaviors.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of marijuana abuse

There are a number of signs and symptoms that indicate marijuana use, which include:

Mood symptoms:

  • Euphoria
  • Mood swings
  • Giddiness
  • Sudden depression

Physical symptoms:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Withdrawal symptoms when attempts are made to decrease or stop using the substance
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased rate of breathing
  • Red eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased appetite (“the munchies”)
  • Decreased reaction time
  • Excessive sleepiness and fatigue
  • Problems with motor coordination

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Impaired judgment and decision making ability
  • Distorted sensory perception
  • Superstitious or “random” thinking
  • Warped sense of time
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Amotivational syndrome – lacking the motivation to take part in activities

Psychological symptoms:

  • Personality changes
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal ideation


Effects of marijuana abuse

There are both short and long term effects of marijuana use which include:

  • Decreased life satisfaction
  • Impaired physical and mental health
  • Problems with interpersonal relationships
  • Decreased school and work productivity
  • Job loss
  • Financial problems
  • Legal difficulties
  • Learning problems
  • Increased risk of heart attack
  • Altered heart rhythms
  • High risk of death from heart problems in the elderly or those who already have cardiac vulnerabilities
  • Impaired judgment, problems with motor coordination, and slowed reaction times lead to increased risk of driving accidents
  • Long term respiratory infections and diseases
  • Lost work days due to respiratory illness
  • Temporary psychotic reaction

Withdrawal Effects

Withdrawal effects of marijuana abuse

There are a number of withdrawal symptoms that may occur when an individual decreases or stops smoking pot. This can make it difficult to become – or remain – sober. Common withdrawal effects include:

  • Irritability
  • Sleeplessness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Craving for the drug
  • Physical tension
  • Mood swings

Co-Occurring Disorders

Marijuana abuse and co-occurring disorders

There are a number of disorders that occur simultaneously with marijuana abuse and addiction. These co-occurring disorders include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Substance abuse
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Dysthymia
  • Panic disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Social anxiety/social phobia
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Paranoid personality disorder
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Dissociative disorders
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