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Facts & Risk Factors

Marijuana is a commonly used drug in the United States. As more states legalize recreational and medical marijuana, it’s important to understand the risks associated with using marijuana. Marijuana misuse can negatively impact physical and mental health. Understanding the health impacts of using marijuana can help protect you and the people you care about.

Marijuana is a mixture of the dried flowers of Cannabis sativa that people use as a medicinal and recreational drug. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main mind-altering ingredient in marijuana that creates its intoxicating “high.” CBD (cannabidiol) is a non-psychoactive compound in marijuana that is legal in Arizona and most states. Individuals may use CBD to address symptoms such as anxiety and chronic pain.

Mental and psychological risks The higher the THC content, the stronger the effects on the brain—and these effects are not yet entirely understood. Some of the risks are believed to be:
  • Frequent marijuana use may lead to struggles with attention, memory, and learning.
  • Those who are addicted are significantly more likely to develop temporary psychosis and long-lasting mental disorders, including schizophrenia.
  • Marijuana use has been linked to depression and anxiety, as well as suicide among teens, though it is unknown whether it is the cause.
  • The impact of marijuana depends on factors such as frequency of use, age at first use, and whether tobacco, alcohol, or other substances are used at the same time.
Adolescent use can limit brain development Adolescents and young adults report consuming marijuana, with more than 11.8 million young adults reporting use in 2018. Marijuana use in the teen years presents some significant risks:
  • May limit attention, memory, and learning functions in the short-term, long-term, or even permanently.
  • One in six individuals who start using before the age of 18 become addicted.
  • A study published in 2019 shows that legalization of marijuana has led to an increase in addiction among young people.
  • Frequent marijuana use before age 25 is reported to be a risk factor for opioid and heavy alcohol use as well as major depressive episodes.
Health risks of smoking marijuana Marijuana smoke contains many of the same toxins and carcinogens as tobacco smoke. Typically, these symptoms improve when marijuana smoking stops. Smoking marijuana can:
  • Elevate heart rate
  • Increase the risk of stroke and heart disease
  • Harm lung tissues
  • Damage or scar small blood vessels
  • Increase risk of bronchitis, cough, and phlegm
Health risks of edible marijuana The effects of marijuana when consumed in foods or beverages are different from smoking. Edibles can:
  • Take from 30 minutes to 2 hours to take effect as the drug passes through the digestive system. Therefore, people may consume more THC than intended, resulting in poisoning or serious injury.
  • Create stronger and longer-lasting effects than expected depending on how much is consumed, prior meals, and use of medications or other substances along with marijuana.
  • Harm children. Some edible marijuana products look like and can be confused with candy. Children who eat them can become sick enough to need emergency medical care.

Vaping THC could cause lung injury or death

As vaping devices become more popular, increasing numbers of people—especially teens—are vaping THC. In response to a surge in lung injuries and deaths connected to vaping, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published several recommendations warning of the risks.

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