The Long-Term Side Effects of Marijuana Dependency

Author and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Jose Toledo

The long term side effects of a marijuana dependency

Marijuana – also known as cannabis, weed and pot – is one of the most commonly used drugs in the United States, second only to caffeine and alcohol. Because marijuana legalization is becoming a worldwide trend, the general perception of marijuana users and the likelihood of a marijuana dependency changes more and more every day.

And, while its usage is considered by many to be relatively harmless, especially in comparison to hard drugs, the truth is a little more complicated than that.

What is a marijuana dependency and is it harmful?

When it comes to marijuana use, developing a dependence is rare for marijuana but not impossible. Like any other addiction, the marijuana use preys on the brain through activation of its reward centers, which release naturally-produced chemicals like dopamine and endorphins.

While the majority of Americans who smoke or ingest marijuana use it recreationally – similar to those who drink on occasion, but are certainly not alcoholics – there have been documented cases of addiction and dependence. In the same way the someone can become addicted to things like shopping or eating, people can also develop dependencies on marijuana, which, despite evidence to the contrary, is widely seen as being non habit-forming.

Marijuana contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is a chemical that triggers a dopamine release in the brain of the user – also known as the “high.” THC mimics a substance that is naturally produced in the human body called endocannabinoids, which help relax muscles, reduce inflammation, protect damaged tissue, and regulate appetite, among other things.

Alongside the sensations of euphoria comes an activation of the brain’s reward pathways, which encourage users to remember the experience and repeat it.

So, essentially, the more THC you use, the more you’ll want it, which can result in marijuana dependency. Coupled with the fact that THC levels in marijuana have increased drastically in the last 30 years, the risk of marijuana abuse and dependency is relatively high.

The short-term side effects of a marijuana dependency

The short-term side effects of marijuana abuse can be challenging but are generally not life-threatening. They include:

  • elevated heart rate
  • overeating
  • mood swings
  • diminished motor function
  • impaired body movement
  • impaired cognition
  • paranoia
  • anxiety
  • hallucinations (when taken in high doses)
  • psychosis (only a risk with extremely high-potency marijuana)

The long-term side effects of a marijuana dependency

The more minor negative side effects of overuse and addiction include neglecting responsibilities, short-term memory loss, lung infections, panic attacks, inability to concentrate, weight gain, and lack of motivation.

However, there are some other, bigger side effects:

Poor mental development in teens

Research indicates that younger people are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of marijuana, including dependence and addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people who begin smoking marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop an addiction than those who pick it up later in life.

In a study conducted by Duke University, it was shown that among 1,037 people, those who regularly used marijuana as teens experienced an average decrease of eight IQ points. These lost mental functions never fully returned – even in those who quit smoking as adults.

The risk of developing an addiction to marijuana after the age of 25 is extremely small.

Physical health issues

Smoking marijuana is still a type of smoking, and though it doesn’t contain many unhealthy substances that cigarettes do (like tar and nicotine), marijuana smoke comes with its own set of risks.

Small amounts of toxic chemicals such as ammonia and hydrogen cyanide are known to cause long-term problems in the lungs and heart.

Reduced mental capacity, poor information retention, and memory loss

Perhaps the most widely known adverse effect of prolonged marijuana usage is the long-term cognitive impairment that many suffer as a result. Evidence suggests that people who regularly smoke marijuana struggle much more with mental tasks due in large part to the drug’s effect on the hippocampus, which regulates short-term memory. When someone starts abusing marijuana as a teenager, the chances of memory loss increase drastically.

Mental health concerns

Marijuana abuse has been linked to a broad spectrum of mental health issues ranging in severity from mild to extreme. Because so many people use marijuana as a way to “de-stress,” chronic users are likely to find themselves unable to de-stress without it. Anxiety and depression are also common.

More drastically, however, heavy marijuana usage has been noted, in some cases, to be a contributing factor of psychosis and persistent paranoia.

Seeking Help

Just like anything else you put in your body – alcohol, junk food, and nicotine, to name a few – marijuana may not present an immediate health risk; however, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy!

Though many smokers will insist that it’s caused them no harm, that doesn’t mean that it can’t.

If you or someone you know is struggling to stop using marijuana, our facilities at Tikvah Lake Recovery may be just what you need.

Our treatment program involves a combination of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, holistic wellbeing practices, detox management, and a highly personalized treatment plan to ensure each person going through recovery gains the skills needed to manage their addictive behaviors for the rest of their lives.

For more information about marijuana dependency, contact our admissions team today.

About Adam Nesenoff

Adam Nesenoff has been working in recovery for over ten years.

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