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Know the Risks of Marijuana

Content Adapted from "Know the Risks of Marijuana" published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) on 12/60/20.

Marijuana use comes with nuanced benefits and risks that can impact a person’s health and life. Marijuana is among the most commonly used substance in the U.S. and its use is growing. Marijuana use among all adult age groups, genders, and pregnant people is going up. At the same time, the perception of how harmful marijuana use can be is declining. Increasingly, young people, today do not consider marijuana use a risky behavior. But there are real risks for people who use marijuana, especially youth and young adults, and people who are pregnant or nursing. Today’s marijuana is stronger than ever before. People can and do become addicted to marijuana.

"Approximately 1 in 10 people who use marijuana will become addicted. When they start before age 18, the rate of addiction rises to 1 in 6."

Marijuana Risks

Marijuana use can have both positive and negative long-term effects. In the list below, we will focus on sharing harmful risks associated with marijuana use:

  • Brain health: Marijuana can cause permanent IQ loss of as much as 8 points when people start using it at a young age. These IQ points do not come back, even after quitting marijuana.

  • Mental health: Studies link marijuana use to depression, anxiety, suicide planning, and psychotic episodes. It is not known, however, if marijuana use is the cause of these conditions.

  • Athletic Performance: Research shows that marijuana affects timing, movement, and coordination, which can harm athletic performance.

  • Driving: People who drive under the influence of marijuana can experience dangerous effects: slower reactions, lane weaving, decreased coordination, and difficulty reacting to signals and sounds on the road.

  • Baby’s health and development: Marijuana use during pregnancy may cause fetal growth restriction, premature birth, stillbirth, and problems with brain development, resulting in hyperactivity and poor cognitive function. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other chemicals from marijuana can also be passed from a parent to their baby through breast milk, further impacting a child’s healthy development.

  • Daily life: Using marijuana can affect performance and how well people do in life. Research shows that people who use marijuana are more likely to have relationship problems, worse educational outcomes, lower career achievement, and reduced life satisfaction.

Marijuana Addiction

Contrary to popular belief, marijuana can be addictive. Research shows that:

  • 1-in-6 people who start using the drug before the age of 18 can become addicted.

  • 1-in-10 adults who use the drug can become addicted.

Over the past few decades, the amount of THC in marijuana has steadily climbed; today's marijuana has three times the concentration of THC compared to 25 years ago. The higher the THC amount, the stronger the effects on the brain—likely contributing to increased rates of marijuana-related emergency room visits. While there is no research yet on how higher potency affects the long-term risks of marijuana use, more THC is likely to lead to higher rates of dependency and addiction.

Rise of Marijuana Use

Today, marijuana use is on the rise among all adult age groups, genders, and pregnant people. People ages 18-25 have the highest rate of use.

Marijuana and THC remain illegal at the federal level, even though many states have legalized its use. In states where legal, marijuana is a fast-growing industry with sales to individuals over 21 in retail stores, wineries, breweries, coffee shops, dispensaries, online, as well as grown at home.

Need Help?

If you, or someone you know, needs help with a substance use disorder, including marijuana use, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889, or use SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to get help.

Looking for a recovery community to join? Check out one of our SMART Recovery groups!

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