In popular culture today, marijuana is perceived as a relatively safe drug—no worse than alcohol and perhaps healthier than tobacco. Due to favorable public opinion, efforts to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes have been successful worldwide. As a result, marijuana use is on the rise. Global recreational use increased by 27% between 1998 and 2009; today, it is the most frequently used psychoactive substance after alcohol and tobacco.1
However, numerous scientific studies suggest that marijuana is not as harmless as many people believe. Marijuana use can adversely affect both physical and mental health, impair performance at school or at work, and lead to addiction.
What Is Marijuana? How Do People Use It?
The scientific name for the marijuana plant is Cannabis sativa. Most likely, it was first cultivated in Central Asia, and from there its cultivation spread around the world. It has a long history of use both for its medicinal and its mood-altering properties.1 The dried leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds are used and all parts of the plant contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chief psychoactive compound in marijuana that provides the “high” sensation.2
It is possible to use marijuana in a wide variety of forms. It can be smoked and inhaled from homemade cigarettes (joints) or cigar wrappers (buds) or in water pipes (bongs). Vaporizing devices are commonly used to inhale aerosols containing the drug (vaping). Marijuana can be mixed into a variety of baked goods or candies (edibles) or brewed as a tea and drunk. Marijuana in all its forms can carry risks. Marijuana smoke can lead to a variety of lung problems. While vaping avoids smoke, it results in higher concentrations of THC and leads to more intense highs. Marijuana, when ingested, results in a slower effect; however, this can lead to an individual consuming high amounts of edibles in order to get high, which can in increase the risk of an overdose.2
The Dangers of Marijuana Use
Research has found that the use of marijuana can have a negative effect on multiple body systems. These effects include:
- Cardiac problems. Marijuana increases blood clotting, which in turn can increase the risk of heart attacks and arrhythmias.1
- Neurological issues. Smoking marijuana overstimulates the THC receptors in the brain; this can result in a change in sensations/perception of one’s environment, a change in the perception of time, impaired/slowed thought processes, and impaired muscle movement. It can also lead to psychiatric complications include loss of touch with reality (psychosis) and strong but mistaken beliefs (delusions).2
- Respiratory problems. Smoke in any form has a negative impact on the health of the respiratory system and this includes marijuana smoke. Research has shown that marijuana smoke contains many of the same toxins as tobacco smoke, including some that cause cancer. Research has linked marijuana smoking to increased risk of respiratory infections such as bronchitis and increased coughing and phlegm production.3
- Negative impacts on pregnancy. Research has linked the use of marijuana use during pregnancy with negative outcomes for the exposed newborn, including physical problems like low birth weight and cognitive problems such as learning and attention deficits later in life.4
- Marijuana can lead to addiction. It is estimated that around 10% of users will become addicted to this drug; however, if an individual began smoking during adolescence, that number rises to 16%.5
Treating Marijuana Addiction
There are several signs that a person is addicted to marijuana use; these include repeated but unsuccessful attempts to stop using, decreased interest in outside activities with family or friends, and continuing to smoke marijuana even when it is having a negative impact on a person’s life.4
- Appetite changes.
- Tension and anxiety.
This can make it difficult to for the individual to give up their marijuana habit. However, there are a variety of therapies which can make a difference. These can include cognitive-behavioral therapy (which helps to identify and change thoughts and behaviors), contingency management (which provides rewards when a desired behavior occurs), and motivational enhancement therapy (which can help strengthen a person’s inner resources to help fight the addiction). There is currently no approved medical therapies to help people quit; however, research has found that the treatments listed above can help decrease marijuana use.6
- Singh, A., Saluja, S., Kumar, A., Agrawal, S., Thind, M., Nanda, S., Shirani, J. (2018). Cardiovascular Complications from Marijuana and Related Substances: A Review. Cardiol Ther, 7(1), 45-59..
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). DrugFacts: Marijuana.
- American Lung Association. (2019). Marijuana and Lung Health.
- Centers for Disease Control. (2018). What You Need to Know About Marijuana Use and Pregnancy.
- Centers for Disease Control. (2018). Marijuana: How Can it Affect Your Health.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Available Treatments for Marijuana Use Disorders.