Substance Use

What Are the Side Effects of Marijuana Abuse?

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Marijuana, often viewed through a lens of controversy and evolving legal status, has a spectrum of effects on its users that extends beyond the sought-after euphoria. The side effects of marijuana abuse can seriously impact an individual’s health in multifaceted ways. If used negatively, young adults, adolescents, and adults can all be affected by substance abuse. (1)

While marijuana has been utilized for centuries both recreationally and medicinally—with current American legalization landscapes shifting towards decriminalization and medical approval across various regions—the dialogue surrounding it remains complex due to its diverse applications alongside the potential for abuse. (2)

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What is Marijuana?

Marijuana, known by a range of names—cannabis, weed, pot—to name just a few, is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. (3) It’s distinguished by its psychoactive properties primarily attributed to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is just one among over a hundred other cannabinoids found in the plant. (4) (5)

These compounds interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, influencing mood, perception, and various physiological processes in adults and adolescents.

Physiologically, cannabis products interact with the body in manners both subtle and pronounced. Initially, it might present seemingly benign symptoms such as dry mouth or red eyes; however, these can be precursors to more significant issues. (6

Regular inhalation can lead to respiratory problems akin to those found in tobacco smokers: chronic coughs, bronchitis episodes, and an increased risk of lung infections are not uncommon among heavy users. (7

The cardiovascular system is also under duress when subjected to excessive marijuana use. A temporary spike in heart rate post-consumption raises concerns about heightened risks for individuals with pre-existing heart conditions—it’s like pressing the accelerator pedal without knowing how sturdy your brakes are. (8) (9)

How Do People Use Marijuana?

Marijuana consumption presents various methods, each with distinct side effects. These include:

  • Smoking
  • Vaping
  • Eating
  • Dabbing
  • Topical creams

Traditional smoking of joints, pipes, and bongs offers quick THC absorption but raises respiratory concerns due to smoke inhalation. Vaporizing is a gentler alternative by releasing vapor instead of smoke, minimizing lung irritation. 

Edibles like baked goods and gummies provide prolonged effects but risk delayed onset and unpredictable intensity due to digestive processing. Concentrates such as oils and waxes offer potent experiences but require careful dosing to avoid overwhelming effects.

Tinctures allow for discreet use with quicker absorption than edibles without the psychoactive highs associated with other forms. (10)

Topicals target localized relief without cognitive alterations, whereas dabbing delivers rapid and intense effects suited for seasoned users but demands caution because of its potency. Across these methods, understanding the varying side effects is key to making informed choices about marijuana consumption.

Effects of Marijuana Use: Short-Term Effects

Marijuana, whether consumed by smoking or ingesting edibles, elicits a myriad of mind-altering and physiological effects, profoundly influencing one’s perception and bodily functions. These effects of cannabis encompass a broad spectrum, including: (11)

  • Altered Sense of Time: Users often experience a distortion of time perception, where time may seem to pass slower or faster than usual.
  • Bloodshot Eyes: Cannabis consumption frequently leads to the dilation of blood vessels in the eyes, resulting in a characteristic redness known as bloodshot eyes.
  • Changes in Cognition and Problem-Solving: Cannabis can impact cognitive functions, affecting memory, attention, and problem-solving abilities.
  • Increased Appetite: Commonly referred to as “the munchies,” marijuana use often triggers a heightened appetite, leading to increased food consumption.
  • Altered Sensory Perception: Users may experience enhancements or distortions in sensory perception, such as seeing colors more vividly or hearing sounds differently.
  • Relaxation: Many individuals report feelings of relaxation and euphoria following marijuana use, which can contribute to stress relief and mood enhancement.

However, alongside these perceived benefits, marijuana consumption can also entail adverse side effects, particularly when consumed at high doses or in individuals predisposed to negative reactions.

These side effects may include: (11)

  • Paranoia: Some users may experience intense feelings of paranoia, characterized by irrational fears and suspicions.
  • Anxiety: Cannabis use can exacerbate anxiety symptoms or induce feelings of unease and apprehension in susceptible individuals.
  • Sleep Difficulties: While cannabis can initially induce drowsiness, prolonged use or high doses may disrupt sleep patterns and lead to insomnia.
  • Vomiting: In some cases, heavy marijuana use can trigger episodes of nausea and vomiting, a condition known as cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome.
  • Dizziness: Users may experience sensations of dizziness or lightheadedness, especially when standing up quickly or moving suddenly.
  • Hallucinations and Delusions: In rare instances, particularly with potent strains or high doses, marijuana use may provoke hallucinations or delusions, altering one’s perception of reality.
  • Agitation: Cannabis consumption can sometimes result in feelings of restlessness, irritability, or agitation, contributing to discomfort and emotional distress.

These side effects underscore the importance of responsible marijuana use and highlight the potential risks associated with its consumption, particularly in vulnerable individuals or under certain circumstances.

It is essential for users to be aware of these potential effects and to exercise caution when using cannabis to minimize the likelihood of adverse reactions.

Dangerous Side Effects of Marijuana Abuse

Marijuana abuse can lead to long-term health effects, such as mental health problems and permanent cognitive changes. (12)

  • Smoking marijuana can also damage the lungs by causing scarring and damage to blood vessels. There could also be an increase in heart disease or heart attack. (13)
  • Consumption via edibles increases the risk of marijuana poisoning, which can result in hospitalization. (14)
  • Long-term marijuana use can increase the chances of developing mental disorders like psychosis and schizophrenia, which require serious health care support. (15)
  • Consuming marijuana during pregnancy can cause a range of issues, including fetal growth restriction, effects on brain development, and an increased chance of stillbirth. (16)
  • Marijuana consumption while breastfeeding can pass THC to the baby via breast milk, increasing brain development issues.
  • Long-term marijuana use increases the risk of developing a substance use disorder, leading to various health problems and social effects. (17)

Marijuana and Pregnancy

The intersection of marijuana use and pregnancy presents a complex issue, surrounded by evolving research and significant caution from the medical community. Given the potential implications for both maternal health and fetal development, understanding the risks associated with marijuana consumption during pregnancy is critical. (18)

Firstly, it’s important to recognize that THC—the psychoactive component in marijuana—can cross the placental barrier. This means that when a pregnant woman consumes cannabis in any form (smoking, edibles, tinctures), so does her unborn child.

Research suggests that THC exposure in utero may lead to adverse outcomes, including:

  • Low birth weight
  • Preterm labor
  • Developmental delays

Neurodevelopmental effects are among the most concerning aspects of prenatal cannabis exposure. Studies indicate potential impacts on brain development, which could translate into cognitive challenges later in life, such as difficulties with attention span and memory function and even an increased risk for certain psychiatric disorders.

Medical Marijuana: Good, Bad or Both?

Medical cannabis has gained significant traction across various parts of the globe, especially in legalized states such as Colorado and Washington. This movement is largely driven by an expanding body of research in the drug facts that highlights potential benefits in treating a wide array of conditions—ranging from chronic pain and epilepsy to multiple sclerosis (MS) and chemotherapy-induced nausea.

At the heart of medical cannabis are cannabinoids like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), which interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system—a network involved in regulating physiological processes such as appetite, pain sensation, mood, and memory. While THC is known for its psychoactive effects alongside medicinal properties, CBD does not induce a high but is prized for its therapeutic potential without intoxication.

Marijuana’s Effects on the Brain

Marijuana use provides a “high” to the user because of the way THC interacts with the brain. Marijuana is often smoked or ingested in the form of edibles. The method of use can alter the time taken to feel the effects of marijuana, but both similarly affect the body and brain.

1. Smoking Marijuana

Marijuana is typically smoked in the form of a joint, blunt, bong, or other water pipe device from a cannabis plant. When someone smokes marijuana, an active ingredient, known as THC is quickly absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream.

The blood then carries the THC to the brain, where it interacts with the receptors, resulting in a “high.” (11)

2. Using Edibles

Edibles are food items containing cannabis. They often come in the form of candies or cakes. When someone ingests edibles, the way THC is absorbed is different.

Although THC is carried into the bloodstream, this can take much longer (30 minutes or more) as it is absorbed via the liver. Once THC reaches the bloodstream, the effects of marijuana are the same as those felt through smoking it. (19

Marijuana Substance Use Disorder

A cannabis substance use disorder (SUD) is a severe medical problem that requires treatment. An SUD is typically seen in a range of behavioral health problems. Someone with a substance use disorder may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop consuming marijuana.

They may also exhibit the following signs of cannabis use disorder (20)

  • Withdrawing socially
  • Using marijuana secretly to avoid cravings
  • Mood changes or onset of bipolar disorder
  • Failed attempts to cut down the amount of marijuana they consume
  • Failing to meet responsibilities such as childcare, work or school
  • Relationship problems with family or friends
  • Continuing to consume marijuana after noticing its adverse health or social effects

These are just some examples of how a substance use disorder can affect someone’s behavioral health. There are also other signs to be aware of. Substance use disorders often coincide with mental health problems, so the best treatment options usually center around behavioral therapy. 

Marijuana Overdose

Although no recorded fatalities are linked to cannabis use, consuming too much of the drug and feeling overdose side effects is still possible.

A marijuana overdose usually results in psychological effects, such as:

  • Panic
  • Extreme paranoia
  • Depression

However, excessive marijuana consumption can also lead to psychological effects, such as high blood pressure and tachycardia. (21)

Someone experiencing a cannabis overdose may display other physical symptoms, such as vomiting. However, most side effects relating to overdose or cannabis poisoning are psychological.

Depending on the individual and the severity of the effects, medical advice and attention may be needed. Overdosing on marijuana may also increase the risk of accidental injury. (22)

Marijuana Abuse Treatment Options

A marijuana addiction resulting from prolonged marijuana use will usually require specialist addiction treatment. Behavioral health-based treatments can be beneficial for marijuana users, particularly those with co-occurring disorders, such as bipolar, ADHD, and mental health problems. (23) (24)

Mental illness can develop as a result of substance use disorder. The best treatment options for cannabis users include behavioral health therapies such as CBT.

Zinnia Health Can Help With Marijuana Abuse

If you think you have a substance use disorder relating to smoking weed or cannabis consumption, it’s never too late to get help. Our team of professionals is highly experienced in helping people with marijuana use disorders get drug-free.

At Zinnia Health, we work with you to find treatment options designed specifically for you and offer medical advice and support during our programs. The health effects of marijuana abuse can interfere with your quality of life, which is why we are so committed to helping people with substance use disorders heal.

Healing from a substance use disorder is a huge challenge, but proper medical advice and behavioral health treatments make it more achievable.

We offer a range of behavioral health therapies that can be beneficial to anyone with a marijuana use disorder. This includes family therapy to help repair relationship problems.

Take the first step to recovering from substance use disorder. Contact Zinnia Health today to learn more about our treatment options.


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