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Marijuana and Addiction: Understanding the Risks of Marijuana Use

Last updated: 09/20/2018
Author: Medical Review

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Contrary to popular belief, marijuana use can have negative health effects after long term use and may impose a variety of risks. A debate about the relationship between marijuana and addiction has been going on for some time, but science has told us some things. According to a scientific study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, several adverse health risks can be linked to marijuana use, including:

  • Addiction and association with an increased vulnerability to other drugs
  • Impaired driving and increased risk of being involved in a car accident with the risks further enhanced when combining marijuana with alcohol
  • Implications of rising marijuana potencies or THC, the main psychoactive chemical found in marijuana, may have stronger adverse health effects
  • Impairments to critical thinking and memory functions during use and that these deficits persist for days after using
  • regular marijuana use in the early teen years lowers IQ into adulthood
Marijuana and Addiction

Marijuana has a risk of causing dependency and tolerance, two signs of addiction.

As more people support marijuana use and the issue of its medicinal benefits are debated, understanding the risks of marijuana use has become more important than ever. There is a growing skepticism about marijuana’s dangers, especially among adolescents and teens. The misconception that this drug is safe poses the greatest risk to this age group. Beyond the potential for addiction, there is an increased risk of vulnerability to other drugs. Research shows an ever increasing usage of marijuana among the youth and, while they may deem the drug safe, the long term effects can impede success and hinder the user from fulfilling their potential. With daily use, the brain is compromised and as reported, regular marijuana use in the early teen years lowers IQ into adulthood, resulting in lifetime consequences.

According to Nora D. Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, many people are ”misinformed about the drug’s dangers and its addictive nature. People use marijuana to feel good. THC is the principal psychoactive cannabinoid that produces the marijuana high as increased dopamine is released in the brain. After long term use, it takes more of this THC to get the same good feeling and results in inhibiting the brain’s natural cannabinoid functioning which is crucial to cognitive functions such as memory, movement, and emotional control. Marijuana research from the past is based on a lower THC content than the marijuana grown today and therefore, understanding the risks of marijuana use from past research studies may be underestimated and other consequential risks may need to be considered. The higher THC content increases the chances of other dangers such as driving impairments and increased driving accidents as motor functions are inhibited.

The addictive nature of marijuana is often subtle, but long term use can produce a psychological dependency where the user is unable to regulate emotions or feel normal unless they use marijuana regularly and in some instances, it is known as a gateway drug leading to use of other more harmful drugs. Possible health complications may include respiratory ailments, consequences of secondhand marijuana smoke, and the long-term impact of prenatal exposure to marijuana.