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Marijuana

Risk factors, effects on the body and mind, and how to start recovery and treatment

You might use marijuana occasionally and not feel adverse effects. However, if you’re a regular consumer of cannabis, and especially if you’ve used marijuana for a long time, you may experience harmful physical, social, and mental effects; become dependent; and exhibit withdrawal symptoms after you stop using.

Marijuana — referred to in slang terms as chronic, pot, or weed — is among the most commonly used drugs in the United States and around the world. If you smoke or vape marijuana or take drinkable or edible marijuana products to alter your mental state — to get “high” or “baked” — you’re consuming a byproduct of the plant Cannabis sativa. When activated, the parts of the plant that contain a significant amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can induce feelings of exhilaration, relaxation, and happiness. THC can also stimulate hunger. 

Potential effects and signs of misuse

Depictions on TV and in movies of the short-term effects of being high on marijuana are close to what the research shows: Your memory is less sharp, your ability to absorb facts is diminished, and your coordination is off. If you’re an adult who uses marijuana occasionally, your mental and motor skills mostly bounce back within a few days of stopping. But if you’re an adolescent user of cannabis, you may actually be altering your brain’s development.

If you develop into a regular pot user, you may find that not being at your attentive, functional best leads to deeper consequences: You might take longer to finish school or obtain a credential, function less well at work, and struggle to accomplish daily tasks and achieve life goals. Some studies also link people’s heavy use of marijuana to involvement in the criminal-legal system, although experts say more study is needed on whether pot is a direct cause.

Marijuana use could affect your mental well-being: One study showed if you’re in the age range of 18 and 34, marijuana consumption puts you at higher risk of thinking about, planning for, or attempting suicide. This is especially true among women.

Chronic pot consumption increases your risk of dependency. Signs of dependence include irritability and trouble sleeping when you’re not on the drug. A sizable percentage of frequent marijuana users develop what medical experts call cannabis use disorder, which is characterized by high tolerance, cravings, and withdrawal symptoms during cessation.

Even though properties of cannabis are associated with the alleviation of nausea, use of marijuana over a prolonged period — that is, daily consumption over years or decades — could lead to a rare condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. This condition may involve stomach pain and cyclical, intensive vomiting. It can cause severe dehydration and even land you in the emergency room.

Cannabis withdrawal

If you’re an adult who uses cannabis three times a week or more, and then you stop using, you could experience what experts call cannabis withdrawal syndrome, a condition that shares symptoms with depression and anxiety disorders.

Common symptoms of withdrawal from marijuana include anxiety or nervousness, decreased appetite or weight loss, irritability or hostility, restlessness or sleep difficulty, and depressed mood. Less common side effects from stopping chronic use of pot include shakiness or tremors, sweating, fevers, chills, and headaches.

Withdrawal symptoms tend to start one to two days after stopping heavy use and can persist for seven to 14 days.

Marijuana and the brain. Neuroimaging studies have shown that chronic marijuana use can alter parts of the brain involved in reward processing, which is associated with addictive behavior. (Reward processing involves someone’s choosing an action to take based on what causes pleasure.) These and other findings about marijuana’s long-term effects on the brain are under extensive study. Learn more.

Treatment for marijuana misuse

Recovery from marijuana dependency or cannabis use disorder is possible. A licensed medical professional may recommend therapies to lessen your withdrawal symptoms and potential for relapse and counseling that can further your recovery. Being around family members and friends who do not consume marijuana may also benefit your recovery.

  • Medication: If you want to reduce or stop use of marijuana, seek out a licensed medical provider, who may explore pharmacological options being studied in the treatment of cannabis withdrawal symptoms (such as oral THC, a THC-CBD combination, and nabilone) and in relapse prevention (such as naltrexone, gabapentin, and N-acetylcysteine). Other medications that show promise include those that aid in sleep. There are no medications to treat cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome other than stopping use of pot, although some people relieve their symptoms by taking hot baths and showers.
  • Therapy: A licensed medical professional may also suggest combining use of medication to manage symptoms with individual counseling and group therapy or meetings, which may be available in your community or virtually. A promising behavioral therapeutic approach in reducing the quantity and amount of pot people used combined cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, and motivational enhancement therapy.
  • Recovery: Another approach that assisted adolescents in particular in their recovery from cannabis use disorder is multidimensional family therapy, which one study showed moderated youths’ use of pot. Another study involving a small group of women found that mindfulness meditation together with motivational enhancement therapy helped them consume less pot. Most experts agree that physical exercise, even a small amount each day, benefits health and aids in recovery.

Sources:

Cannabis (Marijuana) and Cannabinoids: What You Need To Know,” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, November 2019

FDA and Cannabis: Research and Drug Approval Process,” Food and Drug Administration October 10, 2020

Map of Marijuana Legality by State, DISA, November 2021

2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Annual National Report, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, October 25, 2021

Association of Cannabis Use During Adolescence With Neurodevelopment, JAMA Network, June 16, 2021

Marijuana Research Report: How Does Marijuana Use Affect School, Work, and Social Life? National Institute on Drug Abuse,” July 2020

Learn About Marijuana Risks, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, October 25, 2021

Associations of Suicidality Trends With Cannabis Use as a Function of Sex and Depression Status, JAMA Network, June 22, 2021

Cannabis Use, Abuse, and Withdrawal: Cannabinergic Mechanisms, Clinical, and Preclinical Findings, Journal of Neurochemistry, June 2021

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis, Cannabinoid Clinical, January 2019

DSM-5 Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome: Demographic and Clinical Correlates In U.S. Adults, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, February 2019

Prevalence of Cannabis Withdrawal Symptoms Among People With Regular or Dependent Use of Cannabinoids: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, JAMA Network Open, April 9, 2020

DSM-5 Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome: Demographic and Clinical Correlates In U.S. Adults, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, February 2019

Cannabis Addiction and the Brain: a Review, The Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, March 19, 2018

Cannabis Addiction and the Brain: a Review, The Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, March 19, 2018

Cannabis Addiction and the Brain: a Review, The Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, March 19, 2018

Cannabis Addiction and the Brain: a Review, The Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, March 19, 2018

Cannabis Addiction and the Brain: a Review, The Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, March 19, 2018

Marijuana Research Report: Available Treatments for Marijuana Use Disorders,” National Institute on Drug Abuse, July 2020

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome: A Review of the Literature, (article in French), Archives de Pédiatrie, June 2016

Treatment of Cannabis Use Disorder: Current Science and Future Outlook, Pharmacotherapy, May 2016