What Are the Long-Term Concerns of Marijuana Use?
Marijuana is among the most frequently used illicit drugs in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are more than 22 million people who use the drug at least once each month.
Even though the drug is very popular, it carries many dangers, especially for people who use the drug repeatedly over a long period of time. These are just a few of those risks.
Marijuana Use and Physical Health
Marijuana is typically used by smoking it. People who smoke marijuana often inhale a large amount of smoke and then hold that smoke in their mouth and lungs for as long as possible to increase their intoxication. Researchers at the University of Washington say that smoking marijuana this way exposes the lungs to five times the amount of carbon monoxide and three times the tar people would take in if they were smoking regular cigarettes.
Long exposure to damaging smoke could lead to a number of chronic respiratory issues, including:
- Swelling in the lungs
Someone who smokes marijuana just once could have these health problems. But someone who smokes a great deal of marijuana over a long period of time could do more damage yet.
Marijuana’s impact does not stop with the lungs, and people that choose to consume marijuana orally rather than smoking it still face some physical risks. Using marijuana—even one hit—hit can increase someone’s heart rate by 20-50 per minute, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. People who use marijuana repeatedly may do considerable damage to the heart over time which could lead to life-threatening heart attacks or strokes.
Cannabis, Mental Health, and Social Problems
Just as marijuana changes the body, it can also change a person’s mind. For example, the Royal College of Psychiatrists suggests that there is sufficient evidence to link marijuana use at a young age to an increased risk of developing either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The researchers go on to say that the risk is dose-dependent, meaning that people who take bigger hits of drugs have a bigger risk of mental illness when compared to people who take smaller hits of the drug.
That risk is tied, in some cases, to genetic vulnerabilities. So people who have a family history of schizophrenia or bipolar might have a higher risk of developing mental illness due to marijuana. But it is clear that the drug has the ability to change the brain in such a way that a mental illness could appear. Once it does, stopping marijuana use will not make it disappear. Someone with these conditions will need therapy and/or medications for the rest of life to keep the mental illness under control.
Marijuana use has also been linked to a boost in risk of depression, although that link is slightly unclear. Mayo Clinic reports that people who smoke marijuana are diagnosed with depression more often than people who do not smoke marijuana, and that is especially true of people who use marijuana heavily over a long period of time. But researchers do not claim that marijuana directly causes depression. Instead, it might be that people at risk for depression are more tempted to use marijuana. Or it might be that something about using marijuana brings on a lifestyle that supports depression. More research is required to clarify that link.
Marijuana users also tend to lean on the drug during periods of upheaval and stress. The drug, for them, becomes a little like a crutch. They lean on it when times are tough rather than dealing with problems head-on. That can lead to what clinicians call a lack of distress tolerance. People like this simply do not know how to handle life without drugs, so they keep on using drugs because they have no coping skills. That could make mental health more fragile.
Treatment for Marijuana Addiction
An article in Scientific American suggests that a record low number of people think that regular marijuana smoking is harmful, despite evidence that the drug causes physical, mental, and social problems.
Some of these issues last for just a short time; others can last for a lifetime. But there is a simple solution. Evidence-based treatment methods can help people gain control over the cravings that drive drug use and live fulfilling drug-free lives.
Call an admissions navigator at to start addiction treatment. Admissions navigators can also answer questions about using insurance to cover addiction treatment and other ways to pay for rehab. Verify your insurance coverage using the confidential .
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.
While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.