Overview on Marijuana Abuse and Treatment

marijuana effects Marijuana is made from the plant Cannabis sativa, also known as the hemp plant or cannabis plant. The leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds of the plant can be smoked, brewed as tea, or mixed into food referred to as “edibles.”1

Marijuana contains a chemical known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. This is the mind-altering drug that causes the “high” felt after consuming marijuana.1 The amount of THC present varies between different strains of marijuana and between the types of marijuana products available.

Marijuana is the most commonly used drug in the U.S.—after alcohol—with more than 43.5 million Americans 12 or older used it in the past year, according to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.2,3

Rates of marijuana use among adolescents and young adults have been rising until recent years when use rates stabilized and have mostly held steady since.3 In 2019, there was a significant increase in daily use of marijuana by 8th and 10th in the younger grades.4

In addition, perceived risk of marijuana use has declined as rates of use. as well as medical emergencies related to the use of the drug, have increased.3,5 Approximately 1 in 10 people who use marijuana will become addicted. When they start before age 18, the rate of addiction rises to 1 in 6.5

Although several states have legalized the medicinal and/or recreational use of marijuana, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) still considers marijuana a Schedule 1 substance, and it’s illegal at the federal level.

Methods of Consumption

Smoking of marijuana is a popular method of consumption; users smoke the shredded leaves and flowers, or smoke extracts made from the plant, such as oil or wax.1

Users can inhale marijuana smoke in the following forms:1,6

  • Joints (hand-rolled cigarettes)
  • Pipes or bongs (water pipes)
  • Blunts (emptied cigarettes refilled with marijuana)
  • Dabs, shatter, honeycomb, oil or wax (smoking of THC-dense resin using a vaporizer)

Food products that contain marijuana are referred to as marijuana edibles and are a common method of consumption. Marijuana edibles come in many forms, including cookies, brownies, and soft (gummies) and hard candy.1

Effects of Marijuana

Marijuana can cause many different effects on the brain and body of the user, in addition to the “high”—a pleasant euphoria and sense of relaxation—that many users seek.7 There are no reports of anybody dying while on marijuana alone, but it’s is possible to ingest enough to make the user feel very sick and uncomfortable.7

The effects of marijuana use are not usually dangerous, although in rare cases users can have an extreme psychotic reaction (including delusions and hallucinations) that will lead them to seek emergency medical treatment.7

The strength of the effects felt after consuming marijuana depends on the amount of THC present in the product used. The THC potency of marijuana has increased noticeably over the last few decades, rising from 3.8% in the early 1990s to 12.2% in 2014.8 Marijuana extracts have a much higher THC content than any other product, which can range from 50% to 80%.8 It is not yet known what the consequences are, however, there are reports of high levels of THC causing or exacerbating psychosis and the risk for violent behaviors linked to cannabis-associated psychosis.

Effects of marijuana are felt immediately if smoking the product.7 Marijuana edibles delay the effects of the drug by about 30 minutes to an hour.7 Less THC is delivered into the bloodstream by consuming marijuana edibles, as compared to smoking.7 This delay can lead to dangerous results, as the person consuming the edible product may consume more than recommended and become ill.7 Effects also last longer; smoking produces effects for 1-3 hours, while the effects of marijuana edibles may be felt for several hours.7

Effects on the Mind

THC enters the bloodstream and is carried to the brain almost instantly. Common short-term effects of marijuana on the mind and brain include:7

  • Impaired judgment and thinking.
  • Impaired memory.
  • Feelings of euphoria.
  • Altered senses or experience of time.
  • Feeling tired or relaxed.

Adverse effects experienced after the use of marijuana are not usually severe enough to require medical attention.7 Symptoms usually subside on their own, a few minutes or hours after use.7 In severe cases, benzodiazepines may be administered by a healthcare professional to alleviate panic or paranoia.10

Long-term effects of marijuana has been linked to mental illness in some people. This includes temporary hallucinations and/or paranoia or worsening symptoms in patients with schizophrenia.11

Effects on the Body

Within a few minutes after smoking marijuana, a person’s pulse speeds up, breathing passages relax and become enlarged, and the blood vessels in the eyes expand resulting in red, bloodshot-looking eyes.12

There’s some evidence that regular marijuana use can cause or complicate long-term health issues.13,14 These can include respiratory problems and infection, exacerbating symptoms of chronic bronchitis, permanently impaired memory, and exposure to cancer-causing carcinogens.13,14

Regular use of marijuana has also been associated with cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, a condition of uncontrollable cyclic vomiting over a 24-48-hour period.15

Marijuana Addiction

Problematic use of marijuana can result from marijuana use. This is known as marijuana use disorder, which can take the form of addiction.16

It’s estimated that about 30% of marijuana users have some degree of marijuana use disorder, and people who begin using before the age of 18 are 4–7 times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults.16

Marijuana use disorder and marijuana addiction can be successfully treated, similar to any other drug abuse disorder.

References

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Research Report: Marijuana: What is Marijuana?
  2. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2019). Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville, MD.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Research Report: Marijuana: What is the scope of marijuana use in the United States?
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). DrugFacts: Monitoring the Future Survey: High School and Youth Trends.
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019.) Know the Risks of Marijuana.
  6. Al-Zouabi, I., Stogner, J. M., Miller, B. L., & Lane, E. S. (2018). Butane hash oil and dabbing: insights into use, amateur production techniques, and potential harm mitigation. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 9, 91–101.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Research Report: Marijuana: What are marijuana’s effects?
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Research Report: Marijuana: Is marijuana addictive?
  9. Monte, A. A., Shelton, S. K., Mills, E., Saben, J., Hopkinson, A., Sonn, B., … Abbott, D. (2019). Acute Illness Associated With Cannabis Use, by Route of Exposure: An Observational Study. Annals of Internal Medicine, 170(8), 531–537.
  10. Patel, J., & Marwaha, R. (2019). StatPearls: Cannabis Use Disorder.
  11. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). DrugFacts: Marijuana.
  12. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Research Report: Marijuana: What are marijuana’s effects on other aspects of physical health?
  13. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Research Report: Marijuana: What are marijuana’s long-term effects on the brain?
  14. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Research Report: Marijuana: What are marijuana’s effects on lung health?
  15. Galli, J. A., Sawaya, R. A., & Friedenberg, F. K. (2011). Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 4(4), 241–
  16. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Research Report: Marijuana: Is marijuana addictive?
About The Contributor
Ryan Kelley, NREMT
Medical Editor, American Addiction Centers
Ryan Kelley is a nationally registered Emergency Medical Technician and the former managing editor of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS). During his time at JEMS, Ryan developed Mobile Integrated Healthcare in Action, a series... Read More
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