Marijuana, which is also often referred to as weed and pot, is one of the most commonly abused drugs in the world. Consisting of flowers, stems, and leaves of the cannabis plant, marijuana is often abused by being smoked, eaten, or brewed into a tea.
Learn about marijuana abuse
The more pleasurable effects of marijuana abuse include relaxation, improved mood, and increased appetite. Negative effects of abusing this drug include impaired coordination, problems with perception of time and space, and memory deficiencies. Marijuana abuse has also been associated with anxiety, paranoia, and panic, especially among people who are using the drug for the first time.
The primary psychoactive element in marijuana is THC, which is short for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. THC interacts with receptors in several parts of the brain, including the hippocampus, which is involved in creating memories, and the amygdala, which is involved in emotional learning and memory consolidation. Chronic marijuana abuse can cause changes in brain functioning and structure. Several studies suggest that long-term abuse of marijuana may cause irreversible structural changes, including decreased volume in the hippocampus and amygdala. However, when treatment is sought, an addiction to marijuana can be overcome.
Marijuana Abuse Statistics
Experts estimate that more than 100 million Americans have abused marijuana at least once in their lives, and that 25 million Americans have used the drug at least once in the previous 12 months. Research indicates that every year more than two million people in the United States try marijuana for the first time.
From 2001 to 2010, about seven million Americans were arrested for violating laws related to the use, possession, or sale of marijuana. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), in 2011 marijuana use was a contributing factor in more than 450,000 visits to emergency rooms or urgent care facilities.
On a global level, the United Nations estimates that more than 155 million people (or more than 3.5 percent of the Earth’s population) use marijuana every year.
Causes and Risk Factors for Marijuana Abuse
Researchers have identified several genetic and environmental factors that may influence a person’s risk of abusing or becoming dependent upon marijuana.
Genetic: Individuals whose parents or siblings had a substance use disorder were found to be much more likely to develop an addiction themselves than were people whose family history did not contain addiction. As technological advances have allowed scientists to develop greater genetic insights, as many as 266 genes have been identified as potentially influencing whether or not a person is prone to substance abuse and addiction.
Environmental: The family connection to marijuana abuse can be environmental as well as genetic. Individuals who grow up in households where marijuana abuse is commonplace are much more likely to engage in this practice than are people whose parents forbade recreational substance abuse. Other environmental influences that can raise a person’s likelihood of abusing marijuana include living in poverty, chronic exposure to stress, experiencing trauma, and associating with friends or colleagues who abuse drugs.
- Age (most people who abuse marijuana first do so before age 30)
- Family history of substance abuse and addiction
- Personal or family history of mental illness
- Prior abuse of other substances
- Personal history of abuse, assault, or other trauma
- Poor stress-management capabilities
- Early exposure to substance abuse
Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Abuse
Individuals who exhibit one or more of the following symptoms may be engaging in marijuana abuse:
- Lack of attention to appearance and personal hygiene
- Secrecy or deception about one’s actions or whereabouts
- Unexplained absences from work
- Decline in performance at work
- Changes in peer group
- Possession of drug paraphernalia
- Engaging in eating binges
- Engaging in risky, reckless, or otherwise dangerous behaviors
- Dry mouth
- Bloodshot and/or glassy eyes
- Delayed reaction time
- Impaired motor skills
- Poor coordination
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain
- Memory problems
- Difficulty tracking the passage of time
- Lack of ability to focus or concentrate
- Impaired sensory perception
- Delayed reactions
- Poor decision-making skills
- Agitation and irritability
- Fear, panic, and/or paranoia
- Declined interest in activities and issues that were once of great importance
- Social withdrawal and isolation
Effects of Marijuana Abuse
Marijuana abuse puts users at risk for both short- and long-term damage, including the following negative effects and experiences:
- Lung damage
- Respiratory infections
- Structural brain damage
- Heart attack
- Abuse of alcohol and other drugs
- Impaired capacity for learning
- Job loss and chronic unemployment
- Sexual dysfunction
- Legal problems
- Financial trouble
- Strained, damaged, or ruined interpersonal relationships
Marijuana Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders
Many individuals who abuse marijuana are also struggling with co-occurring mental health disorders, such as the following:
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Depressive disorders
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
Effects of Marijuana Withdrawal & Overdose
When a person’s body has become dependent upon marijuana, sudden cessation of use can prompt the onset of several unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including the following:
- Powerful cravings for marijuana
- Depressed mood
- Agitation and irritability
- Concentration problems
- Loss of appetite