Marijuana is reported as the most widely used illicit drug in the US, according to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In the past survey year (2016), 37.6 million people, or 13.9% of US adults reported using marijuana. In the same survey, past year marijuana use among adolescents aged 12 to 16 years dropped from 12.9% to 11.7% in males, but remained steady at 12.3% females. Overall, marijuana use was highest amongst the age group 18 to 25 years of age at 33%.
Marijuana Side Effects
Side effects of marijuana use will be variable from person to person, depending upon strength and amount of marijuana used and if the user is occasionally or chronically exposed to THC. Side effects can be magnified in older people.
The short-term effects of marijuana or cannabinoid use include:
- increased heart rate
- low blood pressure, orthostatic hypotension
- muscle relaxation
- slowed digestion
- distorted perception (sights, sounds, time, touch)
- difficulty in thinking, memory, and problem solving
- loss of coordination and motor skills
- agitation, anxiety, confusion, panic, paranoia
- increased appetite
- dry mouth, dry eyes
Reaction time may be impaired while driving. NIDA research shows that drivers have slower reaction times, impaired judgment, and problems responding to signals and sounds if driving while under the influence of THC.
Panic attacks, paranoia and psychosis may occur acutely and be more common in psychiatric patients, a reported by Heller. For chronic users, the impact on memory and learning can last for days or weeks after its acute effects wear off, as noted by the NIDA. Marijuana, if purchased on the street, may be cut (or substituted) with substances that can lead to unknown, dangerous side effects.
THC in marijuana is strongly absorbed by fatty tissues in various organs. Generally, traces of THC can be detected by standard urine testing methods several days or more after a smoking session. In heavy chronic users, traces can sometimes be detected for weeks after they have stopped using marijuana.
Long-term abuse of marijuana may lead to dependence in some people. McKenna, et al have reported on the addicting potential of marijuana, noting that “it is an erroneous belief widely held by the general public, and among many physicians, that marijuana is not addicting.” However, not all people will become addicted to marijuana and the effects can be psychological in some patients. Withdrawal symptoms can occur upon abrupt cessation of the drug, including:
- elevation of vital signs
Marijuana also may affect mental health. Studies show that use may increase the risk of developing psychosis (a severe mental disorder in which there is a loss of contact with reality) including false ideas about what is happening (delusions) and seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations), particularly if you carry a genetic vulnerability to the disease. Also, rates of marijuana use are often higher in people with symptoms of depression or anxiety, as reported by the NIDA. There have been no reports of THC overdose leading to death.