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Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance in the United States,1 and recent measures to legalize the drug for both medicinal and recreational use have resulted in a booming industry surrounding the cultivation, distribution, and sale of marijuana products in those states. However, despite the perceived safety and therapeutic value, millions of people struggle with substance use disorders stemming from their marijuana abuse. Heavy users face the risk of accidents—especially if driving under the influence of marijuana—and may be more likely to experience psychological problems. Professional treatment is an option for those who are unable to quit using marijuana on their own.
The scientific name for marijuana is cannabis sativa, and the plant has 2 other subspecies varieties: cannabis ruderalis and cannabis indica. There are numerous slang terms for marijuana, including:4
The marijuana plant originated in central Asia but grows wild in parts of the United States as well as most regions of the world. The cannabis plant has a tough stem that is harvested to make hemp oil, hemp seed, and hemp rope. The leaves and resinous flowering tops contain delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main chemical responsible for the “high” produced when the plant is smoked or ingested.
In a study of high school students, researchers found that nearly 1 in 5 e-cigarette users put cannabis or hash oil into their pens.Marijuana is often encountered as a dried greenish or brownish leaf and can have a skunk-like odor. It may be sold as whole buds or cut/ground into smaller pieces. People typically grind marijuana up and roll it into a cigarette, cigar, or pipe to smoke it. Marijuana can also be mixed into food and teas. More recently, people vaporize the plant using an e-cigarette pen. In a study of high school students, researchers found that nearly 1 in 5 e-cigarette users put cannabis or hash oil into their pens. E-cigarette use among teenagers has been increasing nationally, and 27.9% of high school students reported using e-cigarettes. Of those users, 18.7% say they have smoked marijuana using an e-cigarette.3
Additional cannabis paraphernalia can include:4
Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin and cocaine, meaning it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.2
As more and more people use cannabis, the science surrounding the effects and benefits of the drug continue to emerge. THC is the primary compound responsible for marijuana’s mind-altering effects.
THC works by interacting with cannabinoid receptors located throughout the central nervous system, predominantly on cells in the brain and spinal cord.5 Cannabinoid receptors are also located in the immune system, which could help explain marijuana’s observed therapeutic effects on inflammation and immune cell mediated pain processes.5
Cannabidiol (CBD) is another chemical compound in marijuana. CBD does not contain the psychoactive properties of THC and does not produce the same high.6 The way CBD works is still not completely understood by the medical community, but many studies have shown its effectiveness at reducing anxiety, seizures, depression, and inflammation.6 Because of this, CBD is being increasingly accepted in the medical community as a therapeutic approach to treating a wide range of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dementia, schizophrenia, and osteoporosis.
While recreational marijuana use is now legal in 8 states and the District of Columbia, selling, growing, or transporting marijuana remains a federal offense.
States that have legalized recreational use differ widely in their specific regulations. For example, in California, an adult cannot carry more than 1 ounce of marijuana on their person. In Maine, however, residents can carry almost twice that amount—up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana.
In all 8 states where recreational marijuana use is legal, it is still against the law to consume marijuana in public. For more information about your state’s marijuana policies and laws, visit your local government website.
States that have legalized recreational marijuana are:
As of 2017, medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam. States where medical marijuana is legal are:
Even in states that have legalized marijuana use for medical and recreational purposes, the drug remains illegal at the national level and certain crimes, such as driving under the influence, will still be prosecuted even with patients who hold a doctor’s prescription for medical marijuana.
The cannabis industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. In 2015, Colorado’s marijuana industry created more than 18,000 new jobs and brought in more than $2.4 billion dollars.7 The legalization of marijuana led to an increase in demand for local goods, such as warehouse space for growers and lighting and watering equipment for new plants.
By 2020, the cannabis industry is expected to create more than a quarter of a million new jobs.8 This data could be good news for many, as it corresponds with a report from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics that predicts steep declines in manufacturing, utilities, and government jobs by 2024.9 Recent data suggests that the market for legal marijuana was $6.6 billion in 2016, and it is expected to grow to over $24 billion by 2025.10
Businesses that grow and sell marijuana in states where recreational marijuana is legal must pay taxes, and recreational marijuana is heavily taxed. In Washington, the tax is 37%. In Colorado, weed is taxed at 28%,11 and in Oregon the tax rate is 17%.12 In the first 3 months of 2016, Oregon sold roughly 11,000 pounds of marijuana, and from February to November 2016 the state brought in $54 million in marijuana tax revenue.12
New dispensary companies are entering the market and innovating the cannabis scene to keep up and stand out. Some dispensaries offer free grams of weed for patient referrals, discounts for veterans or individuals with PTSD, and daily deals on products such as pre-rolled joints and edibles. In response to the growing marijuana sector, businesses, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists are investing in new ways to reach customers. For example, new smartphone apps allow you to order medical marijuana, edibles, and oils from your phone and have them delivered to your doorstep.
With the influx of companies joining the cannabis scene, the number and size of marijuana-focused events and expos has also exploded. These events aim to bring together leaders in the cannabis community so that people can network, share ideas, and market new approaches and products.
Some doctors are experimenting with medical marijuana to treat patients with a range of health issues, including:13
Limited research studies have found that marijuana may have health benefits for those with the following conditions:14
Marijuana has also been reported to benefit patients by helping manage both the disease symptoms and the side effects associated with the treatment of the following conditions:13
Additionally, some doctors who prescribe medical marijuana see it as a viable form of harm reduction in patients with alcoholism, drug addiction, or physical dependence on prescription drugs. In a study preformed at a medical cannabis dispensary, researchers found that 40% of survey respondents reported using cannabis as a substitute for alcohol, 26% as a substitute for illicit drugs, and nearly 66% as a substitute for prescription drugs because it gave them fewer adverse side effects and better symptoms management.15
There is evidence that marijuana can help people manage chronic pain as an alternative to opioids.16 According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 91 people die every day from an opioid overdose.17 In states that have legalized marijuana, researchers have noted significant reductions in opioid-related deaths. In fact, one study found a 25% reduction in opioid overdose mortality rates in states that legalized medical marijuana.18
Certain conditions can be exacerbated by marijuana use, and people who do use cannabis products either recreationally or medicinally should consult their doctor if they notice any worsening of symptoms. Examples of such conditions include:13
It is important to note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved marijuana as a treatment for any disease or medical condition.19 The FDA requires rigorous clinical trials before approving any drug, and without those clinical trials, the agency warns that a drug that is not FDA-approved may have unknown consequences. The FDA has said it is working with states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes and is considering future support of medical research to ensure these states can meet federal drug requirements and scientific standards.19
Despite state-level legalizations and favorable attention in the medical community, long-term marijuana use can negatively impact an individual’s health and wellbeing in a number of ways, including:20,21
In the short term, marijuana use can lead to the following negative effects:22
Marijuana is a drug that is frequently used in combination with other drugs, especially alcohol.15 This can create what is called a synergistic effect—magnifying the effects of both substances to potentially dangerous levels. Mixing marijuana and alcohol can lead to dizziness and dramatically reduced motor control (some users call this “the spins”), extreme paranoia, and heavy vomiting.23
Sometimes marijuana is mixed with other substances such as cocaine, PCP, crack, heroin, or other contaminants.22 While some users lace marijuana themselves by sprinkling cocaine or crack into joints, users also run the risk of buying drugs laced with unknown substances.
If you suspect that someone close to you has a problem with marijuana, be aware of any changes in their behavior. Every individual is different, but below are some common signs of marijuana use that may help confirm your suspicion:24
The individual may also exhibit more serious behavioral signs of substance abuse, including:25
Marijuana use can affect a person’s life in many ways. Some people may feel hesitant to admit that they have a problem and ask for help. If you are close to someone who is struggling with marijuana or other drug use, reaching out could make an incredible impact on their life. Having the support of someone who cares can help them seek treatment and change habits that are harming their mental or physical health.
If your spouse, friend, co-worker, or child is abusing marijuana and you are concerned about their health and wellbeing, don’t be afraid to speak up and reach out. You should only approach the individual about your concerns when they are sober. Try to avoid using any language that is accusatory, blaming, or patronizing. You want to encourage the person to seek treatment while also offering your support.
If you suspect that the person is in physical danger, having health issues, or exposing themselves to physical danger or possible legal or financial consequences, there are additional free resources that can provide you with information and advice on next steps:
There have not been any reports of death from marijuana overdose alone.26 However, smoking or ingesting large quantities of marijuana can be problematic. It can cause an individual to experience panic attacks, psychotic episodes, and extreme loss of judgment or coordination (increasing your chances for injury in an accident, especially while driving).27
If you fear that someone near you is in danger due to excessive marijuana use, you can call 911. While you are waiting for help to arrive, try to calm the person down and monitor their heart rate and breathing. If the person mixed marijuana with alcohol or other drugs, try to figure out what substances they took and how much so you can share this information with emergency responders.
Although pot is generally thought to be less addictive than other illicit drugs, problem use has been reported to develop into addiction in extreme cases.28 One study found that nearly 30% of marijuana users meet the criteria for diagnosis of marijuana use disorder, a percentage that might translate into a growing number of individuals as more states legalize marijuana use for medical and recreational purposes.29
Nearly 30% of marijuana users meet the criteria for diagnosis of with marijuana use disorder.Regular marijuana users can develop a tolerance to its effects. Once a tolerance develops, it takes larger amounts of marijuana to achieve the same desired effects, and this can develop into dependence—meaning users need marijuana in their system in order to function normally.
Marijuana dependence occurs when your brain adapts to the presence of the drug. People who have developed marijuana dependence and then stop using the drug will likely experience withdrawal symptoms. Although cannabis withdrawal can be uncomfortable, it is not dangerous and is considered mild compared to withdrawal from other substances like opioids, alcohol, or benzodiazepines.
A person who feels they are having trouble quitting marijuana, despite it interfering with their daily life, would likely benefit from some form of substance abuse treatment. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 4 million people met the criteria for a marijuana use disorder in 2015 and of these people, only 138,000 sought treatment for their disorder.30
It’s natural to feel cravings when you stop using the drug. Thankfully, there are many ways to manage cravings. Try these strategies and see if one works best for you.
Cannabis withdrawal is not life-threatening. Researchers estimate that at least 1 out of every 6 marijuana users experiences withdrawal symptoms (some estimates are closer to half of all users).31 Despite this, cannabis withdrawal can be uncomfortable, so choosing to detox in a professional rehab center may be beneficial for your long-term sobriety.
Common symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include:31
Professional treatment of marijuana abuse typically involves behavioral and psychological therapy. Commonly used methods include:32
The cannabis withdrawal timeline typically lasts up to 5 days. People feel the peak of discomfort sometime during day 2 or 3. Some people, however, experience a protracted withdrawal, with sleep difficulties and strange dreams lasting 45 days after stopping drug use.33
There are no approved medications to treat marijuana dependence and withdrawal, but treatment providers may prescribe medications to help ease withdrawal symptoms during the detox period.31
Marijuana abuse and dependence are typically treated in an outpatient setting, though if you are abusing other drugs in addition to marijuana, or suffer from a mental health disorder, you may consider entering a higher level of care.
After completing treatment, you may ask yourself, what’s next? As you return to daily life, it’s important that you stay engaged in care, as it can be easy to slip back into drug-using behaviors. During treatment you will work with a therapist to develop an aftercare plan. This may include attending 12-step meetings, helping another person in recovery as a sponsor, or seeing a therapist regularly. The key to recovering from marijuana abuse is finding a system that works for you.
What would you do with that money if treatment was affordable? Find out if your insurance covers treatment now!