How is marijuana abused?

Marijuana abuse occurs when you use marijuana for non-medical reasons. More on the definition of drug abuse as related to weed.

minute read

Marijuana is the most commonly abused psychoactive drug in the United States. As a dry, shredded mix of the flowers, stems, and leaves of the hemp plant cannabis sativa, marijuana is usually smoked. However, smoked marijuana can cause respiratory problems or immune system deficiencies.

So, what does it mean to abuse marijuana?  What kinds of side effects does it cause and how can you identify abuse? And what does it take to help a marijuana addict get treatment?We answer these questions here, and invite your comments or questions about marijuana use and abuse at the end.

Can marijuana be abused?

Yes, marijuana can be abused.

While many people use marijuana for legitimate legal reasons, recreational use of marijuana has significantly increased in recent years. And while the number of people who use marijuana at any one time does not seem to have increased in the past decade, the number of people who have a marijuana-related disorder has increased significantly. So what is the definition of drug abuse as related to weed?

How marijuana is abused

Substance abuse, also known as drug abuse, is a patterned use of a drug -in this case marijuana- which leads to harm to users or others. And while the term “drug abuse” has a huge range of definitions, using marijuana for non-therapeutic or non-medical effect is considered abuse.

During marijuana abuse, users consume weed in amounts or via methods which are harmful to themselves. In this case, marijuana is consumed via smoking or oral ingestion through foods. Smoking it can cause some of the same coughing and breathing problems as smoking cigarettes. Marijuana is abused when:

  1. smoked, causing side effects similar to smoking
  2. taken for non-medical use and euphoric effect
  3. taken in amounts that are harmful

Marijuana abuse side effects

Within a few minutes after inhaling marijuana smoke, an individual’s heart rate speeds up, the bronchial passages relax and become enlarged, and blood vessels in the eyes expand, making the eyes look red. The heart rate-normally 70 to 80 beats per minute-may increase by 20 to 50 beats per minute, or may even double in some cases.

The intoxicating effects of marijuana include relaxation, sleepiness, and mild euphoria (getting high). Smoking marijuana leads to fast and predictable signs and symptoms. Eating marijuana can cause slower, and sometimes less predictable effects. Marijuana can also cause undesirable side effects, which increase with higher doses. These side effects include:

  • addiction
  • decreased short-term memory
  • dry mouth
  • impaired judgment
  • impaired perception and motor skills
  • increased risk of mental illness

More serious side effects include panic, paranoia, or acute psychosis, which may be more common with new users or in those who already have a psychiatric disease. Taking other drugs with marijuana can amplify this effect. Additionally, after regular use physical signs of marijuana addiction can indicate the need for treatment.

Signs of marijuana abuse

Some noticeable signs and symptoms of marijuana abuse include:

  • craving for sweets or food
  • distorted sense of time passage and a tendency to overestimate time intervals
  • forgetfulness in conversation
  • increased appetite
  • inflammation in the whites of the eyes
  • lack of concentration and coordination
  • odor similar to burnt rope on clothing or breath
  • rapid, loud talking and bursts of laughter in early stages of intoxication
  • sleepy or stuporous in the later stages
  • use or possession of paraphernalia including roach clips, packs of rolling papers, pipes or bongs

Questions about marijuana abuse

Do you still have questions about marijuana abuse? Do you suspect that a loved one is abusing MJ? Please leave us your questions in the comments section below. We’ll do our best to respond to you personally and promptly. Please note that we will not engage in debates with marijuana advocates, nor post pro-weed comments here.

Reference Sources: NIDA: Drug Facts: Marijuana
MedlinePlus: Marijuana intoxication
NIH: How does marijuana use affect your brain and body?
Wiki: Substance abuse
Medline Plus: Marijuana
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. If I smoke three to four puffs everyday after work just to help me with relaxing. Would you say it’s harmful?

  2. My husband is 70yrs old he told me he had smoked pot for 40yrs now he is retired he smokes pot at least 5 times a day I am worried about him in the past 3months he has gained 30 lbs he has highbloodpressure he doesn’t want to listen to me what can I do.?

    1. Hi Billie. First, I suggest that you look into the CRAFT model for families and interventions. One NGO called Allies in Recovery has some online reading that can help:
      Then, call 1-888-503-1835 for a toll-free and confidential marijuana helpline available 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.

  3. Dang man, I was reading this sh*t high, and I tripped the f*k out cause I thought I was addicted or f*k*d up in some way, but then I read Marijuana lovers comment and it made me feel a lot better cause I guess if you put it that way then yeah it sounds kinda silly, but then again I read Addictids comment and I completely flipped! So as I finally got to the end of the last comment I came to a realization… I don’t drink, or smoke tobacco, no heroin, cocaine, opiates etc. I just smoke some weed, and I just smoke maybe two bowls in the morning, and two at night… Ok I’m lying, I probably smoke like three times a day two to three bowls each sesh but fat ass ones. Idk, what do you all got to say about that?

  4. Oh, and now we are 12 months down the track ill see your opiates and raise you a shit load of Ice/meth. ive never used opiates, I smoke MJ occasionally now (twice a month if ever) for the last 9 years after 10 years of 3 cones a day min. I used plenty of speed, E and the odd trip in my 20’s – 30’s. I don’t drink, haven’t since the age of 25, ive smoked 25 cigarettes a day since the age of 19. Im 44, 4-5 years ago I used ice for the first time, once every 3 months or so at first, I gave it up finally 8 months ago. ill say this. DONT EVER DO IT EVEN ONCE, IF SOMEONE OFFERS YOU THIS DRUG PUNCH THEM IN THE FACE< WALK AWAY AND NEVER HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THEM AGAIN. If all 5 of your best friends start using it, walk away from your five best friends, they are not long for this world or any resemblance of a life.

  5. Hi Matt and Marijuana Lover no offence mate and someone has probably said this in a less Australian way but………you are comparing apples and oranges dude. You have missed the point completely for the sake of a personal piece on the addictive nature of a completely different type, class etc etc of drug.
    Its been a while since anyone’s commented and im not sure if you have all moved on or if this will ever be seen but 12 months on and while I hate to follow your lead or detract from the well written article on ” How Marijuana is abused ” (addiction is listed as a side effect, side effects from any substance we intake differs for every human being, that even comes down to basic things like peanuts and the toxins from bee stings, the side effects from introducing these to some people are more deadly than any drug. If you look for the underlying cause of abuse you see why some people don’t develop an addiction, doesn’t mean your not abusing it. If you scoff at the idea you could become addicted to MJ you probably just aren’t and are just as content without 5 cones a day, you just like it maybe, I don’t know really. If you are Jack, or the bit of paranoia you feel when coming down turns into a tin foil hat and your y fronts and the FBI is watching me 24/7 but 5 cones a day and your relatively normal, you don’t do much, lol but your friends still come over you have obviously developed a reasonable level of dependence on the stuff. I have friends that use coke when the occasion arises and have done for 15 years. I know others who have destroyed their lives for it. we can even go into the whole ” functioning drug taker, user, abuser, addict. Im sure we all know the kid from high school that never worked a day in his life and just stayed home, stoned, functioning enough to remain alive, but stoned and caring only deeply for his beloved next crop and smoked bongs on the half hr till they passed out. Ive known 50 yr olds that can hold 6 figure paying jobs that smoke an ounce every two weeks to a month, both examples would rather die than give up but are either of them abusers or have an addiction. Im not even sure abuse might be the result of a need, to me a need for something whether you are ware of it or not would automatically cause an addiction, eg can you say that we are addicted to oxygen. Our body craves it, we cant do without it or we suffer the side effect of ….death, can it be abused, yes, plenty of people use oxygen deprivation for erotic purposes and not for its primary, natural intention, this has a well known possible side effect of death or permanent brain damage same as abusing any other substances, I guess the personal tolerance here relates to how long you can hold your breathe (Ha ha)
    Horses for courses mate, read the thread properly and think about or youll get whacked as fk blokes like me raving on about your errrrrrr, lack of understanding every time. peace.

  6. Yeah, this post is a bit – lackluster – and I laughed myself too, Matt & Marijuana Lover. Posts like these don’t do the “marijuana addict” justice. The point is that SOME people can get “addicted” to anything, including weed. I too have had my runs with “harder shit” – Oxy and Coke (and alcohol) – but quitting smoking brings its own – unique – demons.

    My contention here – Matt – is that LITERALLY anyone can get addicted to opiates. That’s a fucking no-brainer. I mean, how could you NOT get physically addicted to a substance with such – again, physically – powerful properties? When we talk about marijuana addiction, we’re not talking so much about physical addiction – although, with extreme abuse … no, not smoking a lot every day (Hi, I’m Bob. I smoke pot, LOL) – there’s a 3 to sometimes 7+ day period of withdrawal that, dare I say, IS physical.

    AGAIN, nothing like the physical withdrawal from opiates. I hear you. Been there too. What we – or at least I – really mean is the PSYCHOLOGICAL effects cannabis ABUSERS experience – a terrible mental withdrawal that, in my experience, can last anywhere from 9 months to a year-and-a-half.

    GRANTED, most people who smoke weed won’t have this sort of trouble with it. Most drug users prefer – and I hate this term – “harder” stuff over cannabis, to get them going. For a sub-set of users, though, marijuana IGNITES “their addict,” if you will, and starts a nasty cycle of almost constant use that can lead to extreme isolation, aggression, lost friends, lost jobs, no money, PSYCHOSIS, and slew of other mental health issues.

    I leave you with this: How “hard” is it, really, to get “addicted” to opiates? Not at all. That’s the point here. It, however, takes a truly “addictive brain” to become “addicted” to cannabis. So, from another angle – isn’t it the “pot abuse addict” who is more an addict that the heroin user? I don’t even want to imagine how bad it could get – if weed did have the same physically addictive properties as opiates…

    I welcome all thoughts, as long as there’s some intellect behind them.

  7. This whole list is a fucking joke! haha reading this high as fuck is hilarious, can’t wait to share this with my friends hahaha
    Some noticeable signs and symptoms of marijuana abuse include:
    craving for sweets or food
    distorted sense of time passage and a tendency to overestimate time intervals
    forgetfulness in conversation
    increased appetite
    inflammation in the whites of the eyes
    lack of concentration and coordination
    odor similar to burnt rope on clothing or breath
    rapid, loud talking and bursts of laughter in early stages of intoxication
    sleepy or stuporous in the later stages
    use or possession of paraphernalia including roach clips, packs of rolling papers, pipes or bongs

  8. I understand you’re response but that is my story not yours. I’ve experienced opioid and opiate addiction and they are horrible. Luckily the lower than life feeling of sticking needles in my arm stopped my progress into heroin addiction. God bless you man. We all need it.

  9. What a joke. If you get “addicted” to smoking pot don’t take anything EVER. Don’t take Tylenol, Advil, aspirin etc.., EVER. Your problems go much deeper than pot all jokes aside. The only problem you MAY experience is trouble sleeping for a couple of days, You wanna feel addiction or withdraw? Take an opiate (which are legal with a prescription) WHAT A JOKE

  10. Weed is not the only drug I ever abused and cannot be the sole cause off all that I’ll share, but after 12 years of being a drug addict I can truly say it’s the only drug I desire and have always desired(I’m currently clean and am a member of Marijuana Anonymous out of Austin, TX.

    I don’t believe my experience with marijuana to be common, quite the opposite probably, but the following is a short list of the things I’ve experienced due to weed addiction:
    2 felonies
    10+ psychiatric hospital stays (longest over 90 days)
    5 substance abuse rehabs (1 was court-ordered)
    Extensive financial issues, devastating to think about
    10+ lost jobs (either quit without notice or fired)
    Complete alienation from close-knit family
    Absurdly anti-social in relationships (I was a literal hermit)
    Extensive lack of normal psychological development (that’s unclear but I’m not sure how to word it more accurately)
    Dropped out of 3 universities and 2 community colleges
    And, I currently reside in my third homeless shelter

    I wrote this for my own recovery but if anyone can appreciate the possible effects that weed can cause that’s great.

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