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What are the effects of cannabis and how long does it stay in the body?

In many parts of the world, cannabis is classified as a Class B drug. This classification denotes that whilst cannabis can be a harmful substance, it’s effects are not quite as harmful as drugs with a Class A classification (such as cocaine and ecstasy).

How long do the effects of Marijuana last?

In regular users, the effects of marijuana can range from 2 -3 hours and for beginners, the ‘high’ that most people experience, can last anything up to 15 hours and often depends on the quality of marijuana being used and the amount of THC it contains. 

Most people might feel fuzzy for longer than stated but typically, the duration depends on how experienced the user is in smoking cannabis and how regularly they use it.

You mentioned THC, what does that mean?

THC stands for Tetrahydrocannabinol and is the active main ingredient in cannabis. It is also the chemical that produces that ‘stoned’ feeling most people get once they have ingested it. THC stimulates the cells in the brain and produces dopamine, creating the euphoria that many people experience as soon as they light up.

In some cases, THC has been known to cause delusions, hallucinations and a change in thinking patterns and for some, anxiety, elation and Tachycardia (a condition where the heart beats more than 100 times per minute). THC can also impair psychomotor skills and can affect people’s ability to drive a vehicle or conduct similar tasks. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, marijuana is the second most-consumed chemical found in drivers with the first being alcohol.

How many people smoke Cannabis worldwide?

According to the United Nations World Drug Report, roughly 238 million people smoke marijuana worldwide. These figures show that marijuana is the most widely used drug in the world. Other reports show that approximately 135 countries across the world are involved in various forms of cannabis cultivation. Interestingly, these countries cover over 92 per cent of the population globally. 

Is Cannabis addictive?

According to reports, cannabis addiction is rare but it does happen. Although while most cannabis smokers do not get addicted, they can still experience symptoms of addiction especially in chronic users. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), up to 30% of those that use marijuana suffer some form of marijuana use disorderThe report also illustrates that those who smoke marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a form of marijuana use disorder than adults.

Like most addictions, marijuana use disorder becomes an addiction when ‘using’ begins to interfere with a person’s life and yet they continue to use anyway. In the USA, roughly 4.0 million people met the diagnostic criteria for marijuana use disorder in 2015, and up to as many as 138,000 actively pursued treatment.

Is Cannabis legal?

In America, the use of marijuana is legal in 11 states for adults over 21 years of age, while cannabis that is used for medicinal purposes is legal in 33 states. From January 2020, people living in Illinois can now legally purchase marijuana for recreational purposes.  

However, in countries like the UK, cannabis is still illegal to purchase, sell and grow and although medical forms of marijuana are available on prescription, they are still heavily regulated and monitored. In Canada, recreational use of cannabis is legal and it’s the same with Uruguay and North Korea. Interestingly, in countries where cannabis has been legalized, it has opened up a wide range of job opportunities for people to become involved in the cannabis industry as a profession.

How long does cannabis stay in the body?

The answer varies but typically, how long cannabis stays in the system depends largely on how it’s ingested. Generally speaking, if cannabis is smoked (or vaped) then it usually works it’s way out of the system a lot quicker than if it has been consumed through eating. There are many variables to how long cannabis stays in the body including:

  • The amount of body fat a person has
  • How much a person smokes cannabis (and how often they smoke)
  • The sensitivity of the drug test 

Detection Time Frames

Marijuana drug testing is used to detect THC in the body and is performed by testing the urine, hair and saliva. Blood tests can also be performed to check for THC although blood tests can only detect THC for up to 3-4 hours.

Urine Test: A urine test can show marijuana in the body for up to 3-30 days after use.
Saliva Test: Saliva tests usually detect marijuana for up to 24 hours after use (sometimes longer depending on the circumstances).
Hair Test: In hair testing, THC can be detected for up to 90 days after a person has used it. This test is designed to examine the oil in skin that is transferred to the hair, the problem with hair testing is that it can create ‘false positives’ as it’s very possible for a person to test positive by simply being around others that have smoked marijuana without having smoked it themselves.

Frequent cannabis use

How often a person smokes cannabis can also determine how long the chemical stays in the body. For example, those experimenting with marijuana for the first time are likely to have it in their systems for up to 3 days after use.

For those who smoke regularly (3 or 4 times a week), the cannabis detection window is about 5-7 days and for those who smoke cannabis every day, drug tests can detect cannabis in the system for up to 30 days. Interestingly, weed also tends to stick around in the body a lot longer than alcohol.

Other factors that can play a huge part in how long cannabis stays in the body include:

  • Gender 
  • Metabolism
  • Hydration
  • How cannabis is ingested or taken
  • Body mass index (BMI)

Typically, women’s metabolic rates tend to work a lot slower than men’s, meaning that THC can take longer to work its way out of the system. 

Other variables such as how cannabis is consumed also play a key role as essentially ingesting cannabis orally can take longer to flush out since anything that is consumed orally takes longer to break down in the system. The same goes for dehydration as those who are not suitably hydrated are likely to have higher levels of concentrated THC in the body.

Seeking help 

While cannabis addiction is not widely considered, psychological and physical dependence on the substance is often a real problem for many people. Symptoms of withdrawal can be quite unpleasant for those who either cannot get hold of the drug for whatever reason or decide to cut down on usage. Some of the withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Mood swings
  • Irrationality
  • Changes in appetite
  • Intense cravings
  • Sleep disorders
  • Digestion problems

Those who find it difficult to function (or indeed cope) without cannabis are at significant risk of substance abuse disorder. Fortunately, there is help and support widely available for those wanting to break free from the chains of substance abuse disorder. The key is to reach out and seek the support needed for recovery.

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Adam Nesenoff

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

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