Side Effects of Marijuana

Marijuana has numerous short-term and long-term side effects including euphoria, paranoia, delusions, anxiety & restlessness.

Last updated: June 1, 2018
Man smoking marijuana

The primary ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC looks almost identical to anandamide – another chemical in the brain. Anandamide influences numerous functions in the brain, including coordination, thought processes, behavior, balance and then some. As a result, THC is able to mimic anandamide and attach itself to nerve cells to influence these various aspects of the brain. Most of these effects are short-term, however extended use and “amount” used can create long-term effects as well as create a dependency.

In addition to various mental and physical functions, THC also increases the amount of dopamine in the brain and alters the rewards system. It’s because of this that many people can become dependent on marijuana. While dependency does not technically equate to addiction, the two tend to go hand-in-hand.

Short Term Effects of Marijuana

The short term effects of marijuana include:

  • Euphoria
  • Sense of pleasure
  • Relaxation
  • Heightened sensory perception (sounds / colors)
  • Decreased perception of time
  • Increased appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Acute psychosis
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Heightened heart rate
  • Anxiety

The amount of time it takes for the effects to take place depends on how marijuana is consumed. For example, an edible can take 30 minutes to an hour before the effects start to occur since the drug needs to pass through the digestive system, whereas smoking passes through the lungs and into the bloodstream, going directly to the brain causing the effects to occur immediately.

Note that not everyone reports the positive short term effects of marijuana. Although many people, experience euphoria and general relaxation, some experience anxiety and paranoia.

Long Term Effects of Marijuana

The long term effects of marijuana are difficult to verify as there have been conflicting evidence on the topic. While the long term effects of marijuana are debatable, it has been verified in people and animals that marijuana use while pregnant causes a substantial change in children and offspring.

Children born to parents who used marijuana in pregnancy featured changes to the hippocampus that resulted in learning disabilities and memory problems. Additionally, in studies conducted of young adults and adolescents, similar cognitive disfunction occurred.

Some long term effects of marijuana include:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Memory problems
  • Learning disabilities
  • Increased anxiety
  • Depression
  • Risk of respiratory problems & infections
  • Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome
  • Risk of testicular cancer

Lung Cancer

When marijuana is inhaled, it causes inflammation of the lungs which can result in a cough or irritated throat. While marijuana smokers do report more outpatient care for respiratory problems, it is unclear as to whether or not smoking marijuana puts someone at risk of lung cancer. Damage to the lungs can leave them susceptible to disease and illness, but no study has definitively made the connection. That said, many who smoke marijuana are diagnosed with chronic bronchitis.

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome

In very rare cases, some people suffer from cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. This condition causes extreme nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.

Testicular Cancer

There has been a clear link made between males under the age of 50 and a particularly aggressive form of testicular cancer. The study confirmed that males who use marijuana frequently are at a much higher risk of developing a nonseminomatous testicular germ cell tumor.

Cognitive Effects

Beyond marijuana use in pregnancy and adolescence however, the long-term effects are debated. Many studies conducted on marijuana use in adulthood have reached different conclusions. Many with lengthy time frames and large groups. The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults conducted a study over the course of 25 years involving 4,000 adults and their marijuana use. The results of the study found that the amount of marijuana consumed was related to lower verbal memory scores, but it was harder to gauge processing speed or cognitive function due to the myriad of other drugs used. In short, lifestyle and additional substances continue to be another factor.

While marijuana is proven to causes issues in adolescence, it’s unclear what the cognitive, long term effects are in adults.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

Marijuana is addictive. Physicians can diagnose someone with Marijuana Use Disorder and a study in 2013 estimates that 30% of users have some form of Marijuana Use Disorder, ranging from mild or moderate to severe. Anyone who starts using the drug before the age of 18 is seven times more likely to develop a Marijuana Use Disorder. Marijuana rewires the brain’s rewards system and reduces its own sensitivity to endocannabinoid neurotransmitters. Additionally, people can build a dependence on the substance without being addicted. Typically, dependence implies that a person feels withdrawal symptoms if they go without the drug for an abnormal length of time. The most common side effects of which are restlessness, lack of appetite, and increased irritability.

Since the mid-1990s, the potency of marijuana has increased substantially with the average THC content rising from 3.7% to 6.1 in under ten years. Research is still ongoing to determine the full, long term effects of marijuana.


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