More than 22 million Americans reported past-month use at the time of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2015, and over 35 percent of high school seniors admitted to past-year use in 2016, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) publishes.
Marijuana is the most frequently used illicit substance in the United States. Public, and youth, perception of the dangers of marijuana use are waning with looser regulations and increasing legalizations of the drug on the state level. That being said, marijuana is still a psychoactive and potentially addictive substance with serious risks and consequences of use.
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Marijuana is typically smoked through a pipe, in a cigarette, as a blunt, or in a water pipe (“bong”). The shredded plant material may also be brewed into tea or mixed with other beverages, or baked into edibles.
When smoked, the effects of marijuana begin within a few minutes, peaking in 5-10 minutes, and the high typically lasts about two hours on average, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) reports. Edibles may take longer to take effect (like between 30 and 60 minutes) and stay in the system longer as well. Marijuana is also called pot, weed, ganja, reefer, Mary Jane, and grass. Someone who is high on marijuana is often described as “stoned,” and a regular user may be referred to as a “stoner.”
The National Library of Medicine (NLM) publishes that a marijuana high is recognizable by:
- Feelings of euphoria
- Extreme relaxation
- Dry mouth
- Red eyes
- Trouble with short-term memory
- Distorted perceptions of time and the senses
- Impaired motor control and coordination
- Increased appetite
- Possible psychosis, including panic, paranoia, and hallucinations
- When someone is currently high, they are likely happy, relaxed, mellow, giggly, unbalanced, and forgetful. They may have exaggerated movements and the “munchies.” They are likely to behave uncharacteristically, make poor decisions, and may put themselves into potentially dangerous situations.
- In very high amounts, marijuana can cause a person to experience fear, anxiety, delusions, hallucinations, distrust, and schizophrenic symptoms instead of the pleasant effects, NIDA warns. This may occur in an inexperienced user, someone who has taken too much at once, or when the potency of the THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is very high.
Signs of Marijuana Abuse
Aside from the telltale signs of being currently high, there are other warning signs that can indicate if a loved one is using or abusing marijuana, such as:
- Skunk-like sweet smell on clothing and surrounding the person
- Presence of dried plant material in baggies
- Drug paraphernalia (e.g., pipes, bongs, wrapping papers, lighter, etc.)
- Lack of motivation and interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Change in social circle
- Sleeping more or at odd times
- Weight gain and increased appetite
- Mood swings
- Declining grades and/or work production
- A persistent cough or breathing problems
- Trouble remembering things
- Difficulties focusing and paying attention
When someone uses marijuana, the active chemical THC binds with cannabinoid receptors in parts of the brain responsible for sensory perception, learning and memory, motivation, pleasure, concentration, and coordinated movement, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warns. The more often a person uses the drug, the more pronounced the side effects will be.
A tolerance to marijuana can form, requiring the person to take more of the drug to feel its effects. Increasing dosage can more quickly lead to marijuana dependence and withdrawal symptoms when the drug wears off. Withdrawal symptoms are often opposite of a marijuana high and include anxiety, depression, irritability, restlessness, agitation, nausea, abdominal cramps, hyperactivity, insomnia, sweating, disturbed sleep, and decreased appetite.
About 30 percent of people who abuse marijuana suffer from addiction to the drug. When it is taken before the age of 18, the risk for struggling with addiction as an adult is increased 4-7 times, NIDA publishes. Compulsive drug-seeking and using behaviors, coupled with an inability to control how often and how much marijuana is taken, are common signs of addiction. Addiction is a chronic brain disease that is optimally treated in a specialized care facility by highly trained treatment providers.
How to Get Help if Your Loved One Is Abusing Marijuana
Marijuana use can negatively impact interpersonal relationships, school and work output, and family life. It has many adverse social, emotional, physical, and behavioral consequences when abuse continues regularly. The sooner a person gets help for problematic marijuana abuse, the better.
Families and loved ones should educate themselves on marijuana abuse, treatment, and recovery, and gather information on local treatment options. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a Behavioral Heath Treatment Services Locator tool that people can use to find treatment resources that are nearby. Not everyone will need the same level of care, so obtaining an assessment from a treatment provider prior to admission into a program is ideal. These professionals can help determine if the person will benefit from a detox program first and then whether residential or outpatient services will be the optimal fit. Marijuana abuse treatment programs generally offer therapy, counseling, and support groups, as well as educational programs and family services.
In some cases, individuals may not be willing to admit that their marijuana use is a problem, and in this case, an intervention may be needed. An intervention is a structured and well-planned meeting between families, loved ones, and other people who are close to the individual struggling with addiction, such as neighbors, coworkers, members of their church, teammates, classmates, etc. A professional interventionist can help families structure the event and choose treatment options to present to the person in need.