Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the United States. A dry, shredded green/brown mix of flowers and leaves of the hemp plant, cannabis sativa, is usually smoked as a cigarette (joint), or in a pipe. It also is smoked in blunts, which are cigars that have been emptied of tobacco and refilled with marijuana, often in combination with another drug. It might also be mixed in food or brewed as a tea. As a more concentrated, resinous form it is called hashish and, as a sticky black liquid, hash oil. Marijuana smoke has a pungent and distinctive, usually sweet-and-sour odor. There are countless street terms for marijuana including pot, herb, weed, grass, widow, ganja, and hash, as well as terms derived from trademarked varieties of cannabis, such as Bubble Gum, Northern Lights, Fruity Juice, Afghani #1, and a number of Skunk varieties.

If someone is high on marijuana, he or she might:

  • Seem dizzy and have trouble walking

  • Seem silly and giggly for no reason

  • Have very red, bloodshot eyes

  • Have a hard time remembering things that just happened

When the early effects fade, over a few hours, the user can become very sleepy

Addictive Potential

Long-term marijuana abuse can lead to addiction for some people; that is, they abuse the drug compulsively even though it interferes with family, school, work, and recreational activities. Drug craving and withdrawal symptoms can make it hard for long-term marijuana smokers to stop abusing the drug. People who have tried to quit report irritability, sleeplessness, and anxiety. They also display increased aggression on psychological tests. Withdrawal symptoms generally peak approximately one week after the last use of the drug.

The short-term effects of marijuana include:

  • Problems with memory and learning

  • Distorted perception (sights, sounds, time, touch)

  • Difficulty with thinking and problem solving

  • Loss of motor coordination

  • Increased heart rate

These effects are even greater when other drugs are mixed with the marijuana, and users do not always know what drugs are given to them.

Findings so far show that regular use of marijuana or THC may play a role in some kinds of cancer and in problems with the heart, respiratory and immune systems.

  • Cancer: It’s hard to know for sure whether regular marijuana use causes cancer. But it is known that marijuana contains some of the same, and sometimes even more, of the cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke. Studies show that someone who smokes five joints per day may be taking in as many cancer-causing chemicals as someone who smokes a full pack of cigarettes every day.

  • Effects on the Heart: One study has indicated that a user’s risk of heart attack more than quadruples in the first hour after smoking marijuana. The researchers suggest that such an effect might occur from marijuana’s effects on blood pressure and heart rate and reduced oxygen-carrying capacity of blood.

  • Lungs and Airways: Even infrequent abuse can cause burning and stinging of the mouth and throat, often accompanied by a heavy cough. Someone who smokes marijuana regularly may have many of the same respiratory problems that tobacco smokers do, such as daily cough and phlegm production, more frequent acute chest illness, a heightened risk of lung infections, and a greater tendency to obstructed airways. Smoking marijuana possibly increases the likelihood of developing cancer of the head or neck. A study comparing 173 cancer patients and 176 healthy individuals produced evidence that marijuana smoking doubled or tripled the risk of these cancers.

    Marijuana abuse also has the potential to promote cancer of the lungs and other parts of the respiratory tract because it contains irritants and carcinogens. In fact, marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke. It also induces high levels of an enzyme that converts certain hydrocarbons into their carcinogenic form-levels that may accelerate the changes that ultimately produce malignant cells. Marijuana users usually inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than tobacco smokers do, which increases the lungs’ exposure to carcinogenic smoke. These facts suggest that, puff for puff, smoking marijuana may be more harmful to the lungs than smoking tobacco.

  • Immune System: Animal studies have found that THC can damage the cells and tissues in the body that help protect against disease. When the immune cells are weakened you are more likely to get sick.

Effects on Learning and Social Behavior

Research clearly demonstrates that marijuana has the potential to cause problems in daily life or make a person’s existing problems worse. Depression, anxiety, and personality disturbances have been associated with chronic marijuana use. Because marijuana compromises the ability to learn and remember information, the more a person uses marijuana the more he or she is likely to fall behind in accumulating intellectual, job, or social skills. Moreover, research has shown that marijuana’s adverse impact on memory and learning can last for days or weeks after the acute effects of the drug wear off.

Students who smoke marijuana get lower grades and are less likely to graduate from high school, compared with their nonsmoking peers. A study of 129 college students found that, among those who smoked the drug at least 27 of the 30 days prior to being surveyed, critical skills related to attention, memory, and learning were significantly impaired, even after the students had not taken the drug for at least 24 hours. These “heavy” marijuana abusers had more trouble sustaining and shifting their attention and in registering, organizing, and using information than did the study participants who had abused marijuana no more than 3 of the previous 30 days. As a result, someone who smokes marijuana every day may be functioning at a reduced intellectual level all of the time.

Workers who smoke marijuana are more likely than their coworkers to have problems on the job. Several studies associate workers’ marijuana smoking with increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ compensation claims, and job turnover. A study among postal workers found that employees who tested positive for marijuana on a pre-employment urine drug test had 55 percent more industrial accidents, 85 percent more injuries, and a 75-percent increase in absenteeism compared with those who tested negative for marijuana use. In another study, heavy marijuana abusers reported that the drug impaired several important measures of life achievement including cognitive abilities, career status, social life, and physical and mental health.

Effects on Pregnancy

Research has shown that some babies born to women who abused marijuana during their pregnancies display altered responses to visual stimuli, increased tremulousness, and a high-pitched cry, which may indicate neurological problems in development. During the preschool years, marijuana-exposed children have been observed to perform tasks involving sustained attention and memory more poorly than non-exposed children do. In the school years, these children are more likely to exhibit deficits in problem-solving skills, memory, and the ability to remain attentive.

Treating Marijuana Problems

Treatment has proven effective in treating marijuana abuse and dependence. Sobriety Works clinical staff are trained in treatment strategies specifically in this area.

If you think you, or someone you care about, may have a problem with marijuana, we encourage you to contact us. All correspondence is caring, confidential, and respectful. Remember, there is hope for a substance free future.