Marijuana Abuse Information

Understanding Marijuana Addiction

Learn About Marijuana Addiction & Abuse

Marijuana is one of the most frequently abused recreational drugs in the United States. Also commonly referred to by a variety of slang terms, including weed, herb, or tree, marijuana consists of dried flowers, leaves, and stems from the cannabis sativa plant. The psychoactive component of marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which is usually shortened to the three-letter abbreviation THC. When a person ingests marijuana, which is usually done by smoking the drug, adding it to food and eating it, or brewing it into a tea and drinking it, the immediate short-term effects include increased relaxation, mild analgesia, stimulated appetite, and distortions in the individual’s ability to perceive time and space.

Though many states have recently decriminalized or legalized marijuana in certain circumstances, these legislative changes do not mean that this drug is harmless. Chronic abuse of marijuana has been associated with a variety of negative outcomes, including potentially irreversible changes in the structure and function of specific areas of the brain.

When a person’s use of marijuana leads to significant impairment or distress, and when the individual meets certain criteria related to the inability to control the amount and frequency of his or her marijuana abuse, he or she may have developed cannabis use disorder. The good news is that comprehensive care has proven to be an effective means of helping individuals overcome cannabis use disorder and make the lifestyle changes that will support the successful pursuit of a drug-free future.


Marijuana Abuse Statistics

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 19.8 million individuals in the United States have abused marijuana in the previous 30 days. NIDA also notes that about 2.4 million Americans use marijuana for the first time every year, with about 78 percent of first-time users being between the ages of 12 and 20. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reports that, in 2011 alone, 456,000 visits to emergency rooms involved individuals who had been abusing marijuana.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Marijuana Abuse

A number of genetic and environmental factors may influence the likelihood that a person will abuse marijuana or develop cannabis use disorder.

Genetic: Research into the heritability of substance use disorders indicates that individuals whose parents or siblings have developed chemical dependency are at a significantly increased risk for having similar problems. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), genetic factors may account for as much as 80 percent of total variance in the risk for developing cannabis use disorder.

Environmental: Several environmental factors, including using tobacco, failing in school, having an abusive or otherwise unstable home life, having access to marijuana, and associating with peers who abuse marijuana, may increase the likelihood of abusing marijuana or developing cannabis use disorder. Use of marijuana by family members can also have a strong influence on a person’s decision to begin abusing this drug.

Risk Factors:

  • Youth (first use of marijuana most often occurs between ages 12 and 20)
  • Early involvement with substance abuse
  • Family history of mental illness, substance abuse, and/or addiction
  • Prior substance abuse
  • Personal history of conduct disorder and/or antisocial personality disorder
  • Having access to and being able to afford marijuana
  • Being abused, neglected, or otherwise exposed to trauma
  • Low socioeconomic status

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Abuse

Marijuana abuse and cannabis use disorder may be revealed via a variety of signs and symptoms, including the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Possession of rolling papers, water pipes, and other drug paraphernalia
  • Acting secretively or deceptively regarding one’s activities and/or whereabouts
  • Having an odor of marijuana on one’s body or clothes
  • Use of incense to hide smell of marijuana
  • Declining performance at work or in school
  • Multiple unexplained absences from school or work
  • Engaging in risky, reckless, or otherwise dangerous behaviors
  • Prioritizing marijuana abuse over friends, family, and significant activities
  • Social withdrawal

Physical symptoms:

  • Impaired balance, coordination, and motor skills
  • Delayed reaction time
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Increased cravings for food
  • Lethargy
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Dry mouth

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Impaired ability to concentrate or focus
  • Impaired ability to perceive the passage of time
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Memory problems

Psychosocial symptoms: 

  • Unstable mood
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Fear and/or paranoia


Effects of Marijuana Abuse

Long-term marijuana abuse and untreated cannabis use disorder can take a toll on a person’s physical, emotional, and socioeconomic wellbeing. The following are among the more common potential effects of marijuana abuse:

  • Breathing problems, including bronchitis
  • Compromised immune system
  • Heart damage
  • Injury from impaired coordination and recklessness
  • Abuse of other substances
  • Diminished cognitive functioning
  • Academic failure
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Family discord
  • Strained interpersonal relationships
  • Social isolation
  • Diminished sexual functioning
  • Arrest and incarceration
  • Financial damage

Co-Occurring Disorders

Marijuana Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

Many individuals who abuse marijuana or who have developed cannabis use disorder may also struggle with the following co-occurring mental health disorders:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar I disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Other substance use disorders

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Marijuana Withdrawal and Overdose

When a person who has been a chronic heavy abuser of marijuana attempts to drastically reduce or cease his or her use of this drug, he or she may experience several unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, such as the following:

  • Strong cravings for marijuana
  • Insomnia
  • Appetite suppression
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired ability to concentrate
  • Sexual dysfunction

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