Table of Contents
Marijuana Addiction, Abuse, and Symptoms


The Basics

Marijuana use is divided into two categories, recreational and medicinal. Many states have legalized recreational and/or medical marijuana, but it remains a Schedule I drug, which means you can still be arrested, convicted, and jailed in a federal court. Recreational users seek the “high” they get from the THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) in marijuana. THC is a mind-altering ingredient found in cannabis that gives the user a feeling of euphoria and/or relaxation.

In medical marijuana, THC may increase appetite and reduce nausea, which is especially helpful for chemotherapy patients. THC may also help ease pain, inflammation, and problems with muscle control. A second ingredient found in marijuana, CBD, doesn’t make a person high, so it’s more popular in medical marijuana. CBD may help reduce pain and inflammation and has been used to control epileptic seizures, especially in children.

Long-term use of marijuana may cause adverse effects on brain development, especially when used during adolescence. Marijuana may also impact your memory and ability to learn, which may be permanent. Some studies have also linked marijuana use to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke and an increased risk of psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.

Primary Marijuana Dangers

  • Addictiveness: A comprehensive 2007 study by Nutt et al. evaluated the addictive potential of 20 substances based on physical dependence, psychological dependence, and pleasure. On the dependence scale (1 to 3), cannabis scored a mean average of 1.51, placing it at number 11 in the list overall, with heroin (3.00) and cocaine (3.00) ranking highest but alcohol (1.93) and tobacco (2.21) also ranking higher than marijuana. Substances that ranked lower included LSD (1.23), ecstasy (1.13), and anabolic steroids (0.88). According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 1 in 10 marijuana users will become addicted, but the number rises to 1 in 6 for individuals who begin using marijuana before age 18.
  • Risk of overdose: A fatal overdose of marijuana is unlikely, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) states that no deaths from marijuana overdose have been reported. However, that doesn’t mean it’s harmless. Food or drinks infused with marijuana, called edibles, present a higher risk than smoking marijuana because it takes longer to feel the effects, and people might accidentally take more than they should, potentially leading to poisoning.
  • Unintended side effects: Marijuana use can lead to short-term problems with memory, learning, and attention. It can also impact brain development in younger users and affect birth weight and cause developmental problems in babies when used by pregnant or nursing mothers. Marijuana use has also been linked to anxiety and depression. Smoking any substance can lead to lung and cardiovascular system damage.
  • Legal risks: Several states have legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana, and some have decriminalized marijuana, but it remains a Schedule I (1) controlled substance on the federal level. Even if marijuana is legal according to state law, you can still be arrested and prosecuted under federal law. A first offense of marijuana possession is a misdemeanor, commonly punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine up to $1,000.

Marijuana Background Information

Derived From Dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant
Ways Used Smoking, ingesting, dabbing, vaping
Scientific Name Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica
Slang/Street Names for Marijuana Weed, pot, dope, grass, ganja, reefer, Mary Jane, herb, hash, bud
How Long in Bodily System Varies based on the frequency of use, THC levels in the marijuana, how it’s absorbed into the body, hydration, and metabolism. When smoked, the effects generally last for one to three hours, but when eaten, the effects can last numerous hours.

THC is detectable between three days and a month or longer in a urine-based drug test, up to 48 hours in saliva, and up to 36 hours in blood.

Punitive Legal Measures: Using/Possession Despite medical and/or recreational legalization and decriminalization in numerous states, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance, so use and possession are illegal by federal law. For possession of any amount of marijuana, the first offense is a misdemeanor, with the potential of up to one year of jail time and up to $1,000 in fines. Subsequent offenses result in increased prison time and fines. Third and subsequent offenses may be classified as a felony.
Punitive Legal Measures: Selling/Distributing An individual convicted of cultivating or selling marijuana is charged with a felony and could face up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines for 50 plants or less (cultivation) or 50 kilograms or less (selling). Prison time and fines increase based on the amount in your possession with a maximum penalty of 10 years to life in prison and up to $1,000,000 in fines for 1,000 or more plants or kilograms. If marijuana is sold near a school or other protected area, the penalties double. There is also a penalty of three years in jail for selling marijuana paraphernalia.
DEA Drug Rating Schedule I

Signs of Abuse

Behavioral Symptoms of Marijuana Usage and Abuse

How marijuana affects the brain

People using marijuana typically experience a pleasant sense of euphoria and relaxation; however, the THC in marijuana affects areas of the brain that influence memory, concentration, thinking, sensory and time perception, movement, and coordination. As a result, marijuana users might experience impaired thinking, which impacts focus and the ability to learn and perform complicated tasks. Because THC also disrupts brain functions that regulate balance, coordination, and reaction time, it’s unsafe for a person under the influence to drive a vehicle, and it’s difficult to play sports.

According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, marijuana use has long-lasting effects on the brains of adolescents and young adults because the brain is still developing. The study showed that adolescents had issues with cognitive development, including recall memory, perceptual reasoning, and inhibition. Lower IQ scores were also a concern, and some studies have suggested the actual structure of the brain may be adversely impacted.

Behavioral signs of marijuana usage and abuse

Signs of marijuana abuse may include unusual or concering behaviors, such as excessive eating outside regular mealtimes or compulsive snacking, diminished performance at school or work, and failing to meet responsibilities at home. Abusers may withdraw from their family and friends and spend more time with other people who abuse marijuana. They may also obsess about always having an ample supply of marijuana, causing them to stash the drug everywhere and frequently focus on obtaining more even when they can’t afford it. If a loved one asks about their drug use, abusers may become defensive.

Individuals abusing marijuana may also exhibit a compulsive urge to continue using even if it’s having adverse impacts on their life, such as having trouble at home, school, or work or having health or legal trouble. Their compulsion may also extend to using marijuana even when it’s dangerous to do so, such as when driving or operating machinery.

Marijuana abuse may lead to marijuana use disorder. Behavioral signs of marijuana use disorder include using more marijuana for more extended periods and dedicating too much time and resources to marijuana use. Other behaviors may consist of ignoring risks caused by continued use, such as worsening of an existing physical or psychological problem or relationship difficulties.

Physical Symptoms of Marijuana Abuse

How marijuana affects the body

When you’re high on marijuana, your body may become very relaxed. You may also crave food in what’s referred to as having the munchies, which may be more of a psychological reaction than a physical one. You may experience issues with your motor skills, including walking and talking, much like you would if you were intoxicated by alcohol. Your heart rate may increase while your blood pressure decreases, which may lead to dizziness and/or nausea. Marijuana also causes blood vessels to expand, causing your eyes to appear bloodshot.

Early physical effects of marijuana

Smoking marijuana causes physical effects almost immediately, which can include feelings of euphoria and relaxation. Your heart rate usually spikes within minutes but can continue for several hours. When you eat or drink products that contain marijuana, you experience the same physical effects, but it takes longer. Depending on the strength of the THC in marijuana-laced food or drinks, it may take 30 minutes to an hour before you begin noticing effects that take only minutes when you smoke it.

This table illustrates the possible short-term physical effects associated with smoking marijuana.
Short-Term Physical Symptoms
Initial (direct effects of drug, within minutes) Increased heart rate
Feelings of euphoria and relaxation
Lingering (one to three hours of taking the drug, including initial symptoms) Heightened senses
Distorted sense of time
Impaired motor skills
Lowered inhibitions
Increased appetite
Bloodshot eyes
Paranoia (potential)
Hallucinations (potential)
Post-Use (several hours to days after use) Difficulty focusing or remembering
Lung irritation

*This table includes data from WebMD and National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Severe and long-term physical effects of marijuana

The long-term physical effects of marijuana vary based on the frequency of use and potency. Studies suggest that prolonged marijuana use may harm your brain, including adverse changes in the function and structure of the brain, especially in the areas that control decision making, reward, and motivation. Physical effects on your brain may be permanent, even if you quit using the drug.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also warns that chronic use of marijuana may cause you to develop cannabis dependence syndrome, which could affect your daily life functions. Smoking marijuana may also cause injury to the trachea and bronchial tubes, causing a long-term effect on your airway and lungs and leading to acute or chronic bronchitis. Other studies have shown an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Some studies even suggest that marijuana may increase anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia and other mental illnesses in some individuals. In rare cases, studies have also shown that chronic marijuana use may lead to cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. This condition includes recurring bouts of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration that often require medical attention, but symptoms may disappear once you stop using marijuana.

In terms of potential marijuana overdose, Jeremy Barnett, Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor, warns, “While there is no potential for overdose using marijuana, it is often seen as harmless when compared to other ‘harder’ drugs, which is a belief that may be causing more harm to us than we realize. Since the negative consequences are usually not as dire as many other substances, such as alcohol, cocaine, and heroin, it can be difficult to detach oneself from marijuana, as the motivation for long-term sobriety may not be as strong. In addition, many tend to self-medicate their anxiety and insomnia using marijuana, leading to a stronger dependence and possibly acting as a gateway drug to other, more immediately destructive drugs of abuse.”

This table illustrates the possible long-term physical effects associated with marijuana.
Long-Term Physical Symptoms
Casual Breathing problems
Increased appetite
Brain abnormalities
Chronic (Including all the above effects for casual use) Brain harm, including impacted brain development and decreased brain activity
Increased risk of heart attack or stroke
Underweight or premature newborns
Depression (potential)
Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome
Bronchitis and other acute chest and lung illnesses
Withdrawal Headache
Sleep difficulties
Abdominal pain
Decreased appetite

*This table includes data from WebMD, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and LiveScience.

Further Resources

Both the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offer in-depth information on both the symptoms and treatment of marijuana addiction.

Marijuana Usage

Global marijuana usage has increased over the last two decades

Marijuana continues to be the most widely used drug worldwide, with the overall estimated number of users showing an increase of roughly 30% between 1998 and 2017. According to the 2019 World Drug Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, an estimated 188 million people used marijuana in 2017. While the United States showed the highest increase, other countries also reported increased use.

In Africa, annual marijuana use in 2017 was estimated to be 6.4% of the population aged 15 to 64, with a total of 44.9 million users. West and Central Africa had the highest prevalence of marijuana, including an estimated 10.8% of the population of Nigeria. Marijuana use was higher in the male population of Nigeria with 18.8% men aged 29 to 34 using the drug but only 2.6% of the female population in the same age range.

While the estimate for marijuana use in Asia was much lower than in other regions, due to the larger population, it accounted for nearly a third of the estimated users worldwide. With only 2% of the population using marijuana, Asia still boasted 54 million users in the region, including 3% of India’s population aged 18 and older. Like Nigeria, marijuana use in India was much higher in men at 5%, compared to 0.6% of women between the ages of 10 and 75.

Marijuana use in Western and Central European countries fluctuated over the previous decade, with 6% to 7% of the population between the ages of 15 and 64 using marijuana in the past year. The prevalence of use remained high among young adults in this region, with 5.4% of those aged 15 to 34 using marijuana.

The increase of global marijuana use was most noticeable in North and South America, with 42 million people aged 15 to 64 in 2007, increasing to 57 million in 2017, a rise of about 60%. Of these users, more than 40% over the age of 18 claimed to be daily or near-daily users, an amount that has more than doubled over this decade. Higher levels of marijuana use were also reported in Canada, with 9% of the population using in 2011, jumping to 14.7% by 2015.

Marijuana Use Throughout the World
Highest Second Third
Regions with the Highest Number of Marijuana Users North & South America Asia Africa
Countries with the Largest Increase in Marijuana Usage Rates United States (50% since 2017) Canada (40% between 2013-2017) Not Available
Highest Annual Prevalence of Marijuana Use in Western & Central Europe France (11.1% in 2016) Italy (10.2% in 2017) Spain (9.5% in 2015)

*This table includes data from the 2019 World Drug Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Booklet 1 and Booklet 5.

Marijuana Usage Demographics in the U.S.

Marijuana misuse increasing in the U.S., especially among young adults

Marijuana has become closely linked to youth culture, and the age of beginning use is usually lower than for other drugs on a global level. This is also true in the United States, where misuse continues to rise among young adults. The American Health Association stated that daily marijuana use among young adults was at the highest rate in 30 years in late 2017.

According to a 2016 SAMHSA survey, an estimated 24 million – or 8.9% – of Americans age 12 and older were current marijuana users. Of these users, 6.5% or about 1.6 million were adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. About 1 in 5 young adults between 18 and 25 were reported as current users, which equals 7.2 million – or 20.8% – of the population in this age group. Among the 7.4 million Americans aged 12 and over who had an illicit drug use disorder, the most common was related to marijuana, with four million people suffering from marijuana use disorder.

Demographics of Marijuana Usage
Past Year (2018) Lifetime
8th grade (14-15 yo) 10.5% 13.9%
10th grade (15-16 yo) 27.5% 32.6%
12th grade (17-18 yo) 35.9% 43.6%

How to Find Help

While many individuals can use marijuana for a while and then just quit, others develop an addiction to cannabis. Recent data indicates that 30% of marijuana users have some degree of marijuana use disorder, and those who started using the drug before age 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a problem than adults. As your dependence on marijuana grows, marijuana use disorder becomes an addiction. Like any addiction, you may need help to kick the habit. To learn more about how you can get started on your path to overcoming marijuana abuse, read our Marijuana Rehabilitation Guide.

Staging an Intervention

If you have a loved one who’s struggling with addiction, staging an intervention is often the first necessary step towards sobriety, but it’s important to be strategic and loving in your approach. Even the most well-meaning of interventions can have a negative effect if they aren’t handled correctly.

5 Tips for Staging an Intervention
1. Don’t Do It Alone. A professional interventionist is always the most qualified to guide a successful intervention. Also, rely on non-addict family and friends – especially those who have a close relationship with you or the addict.
2. Research Ahead of Time. It’s best to do plenty of research ahead of time to gather insight on the addiction and how it affects the addict. Also, be prepared with local resources for getting help.
3. Write Out Your Statement. During the actual intervention, emotions will likely be running high, so it’s best to have a statement of how the person’s addiction has impacted you and your relationship with him or her. These statements should be honest, yet written from a place of love – no personal attacks.
4. Offer Help. It’s important for everyone attending the intervention to offer tangible help and support as the person works through detox and rehabilitation.
5. Set Boundaries. If the person refuses to seek help and take the next steps outlined, it’s important that they understand that everyone present will end codependence and enabling behaviors.

Disclaimer: The information contained on is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any medical or diagnostic purpose. The information on should not be used for the treatment of any condition or symptom. None of the material or information provided on is not intended to serve as a substitute for consultation, diagnosis, and/or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.