Long-Term Health Impact of Marijuana Use

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Updated on 1/31/2023

Pot, weed, ganja, hash, Mary Jane, reefer or even wacky tobacky, no matter what you call it, marijuana has been used by humans for thousands of years. It has been used medicinally, recreationally and ritually throughout history. In the United States, marijuana use has been a controversial topic for decades. Recently attitudes toward its use have changed and some states have legalized its use recreationally, medicinally or both. Other states continue to decriminalize its use. However, marijuana use remains illegal under federal laws. Even though attitudes about and laws regulating marijuana use are changing, it is important to remember that this substance can still have a long-term impact on physical and mental health.

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana refers to the leaves, flowers, seeds and stems of the cannabis plant. It can be smoked, brewed in tea, mixed in food and consumed as edibles or vaped, and it comes in high concentration resins. Cannabis contains more than 100 compounds or cannabinoids. Two of these compounds are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is mind-altering and produces a “high,” and cannabidiol (CBD), which is not mind-altering and does cause a high. CBD was isolated from marijuana in 1940, before THC. As it is not psychoactive, CBD was dismissed and largely neglected when THC was isolated in 1964. However, CBD use has gained popularity recently for people who are looking for alternative treatments for pain, insomnia and anxiety without the psychoactive properties of THC-containing products.

Marijuana’s Impact on Physical Health

The medical community has started to acknowledge that marijuana use can be helpful in the treatment of some medical conditions when guided by a knowledgeable physician. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  has even approved the use of two medications, Marinol and Syndros, to treat nausea and vomiting in cancer patients undergoing chemo. These medications are synthetic forms of specific cannabinoids.  However, one cannot ignore the risks of negative long-term health consequences of marijuana use. Marijuana can have negative effects on:

  • Lung health. Marijuana smoke is an irritant and it can harm lung tissues and damage small blood vessels. Although many people think it is less dangerous than cigarette smoke, Marijuana smoke contains many of the same carcinogens as tobacco smoke. It can also increase the risk of bronchitis. 
  • Heart health. Upon immediate use, marijuana can elevate heart rate and blood pressure. Long-term use can increase the risks of myocardial infarction, stroke and other cardiovascular issues. Smoking marijuana increases cardiovascular risks more than other methods of ingestion.
  • Brain health. It is well known that marijuana use has a short-term effect on brain function causing alteration in memory, thinking, attention, coordination and time perception. There are conflicting results in studies regarding structural changes in the brain related to long-term marijuana use. Marijuana can cause functional cognitive impairment but severity depends on how old a person was when they began using, the amount used and duration of use.
  • Risk for bodily injury. Engaging in activities such as driving while under the influence of marijuana can increase the risk of bodily harm and injury. This can occur due to impaired coordination, slowed reaction time and distortion of perception.

Can Marijuana Use Have an Adverse Effect on Mental Health?

People often use marijuana to relax, wind down, manage depression or take the edge off their anxiety. While this sounds great, not everyone who tries marijuana will experience pleasant effects from marijuana use.  Some negative mental health effects of marijuana use are:

  • Daily or near-daily use and use of higher amounts can lead to feelings of anxiety, paranoia and symptoms of psychosis.
  • Use has been linked to suicidal ideations, suicide attempts, social anxiety and depression. However, some research showed no link to mood disorders after adjusting for other factors.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

In 2019, an estimated 48.2 million people used marijuana, making it the most commonly used federally illegal drug in the United States. In addition, it is the most commonly used addictive substance after alcohol and tobacco. More men than women use marijuana.

Some signs of marijuana use disorder are:

  • Trying but failing to quit using
  • Cravings
  • Continued use despite negative consequences such as problems at work or school, relationship problems, psychological problems or medical problems
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Tolerance

Treatment for Marijuana Use Disorder Is Available

For people who want to stop using marijuana, treatment is available. Contingency management, motivational enhancement and cognitive-behavioral therapy have all shown promise in treating marijuana use disorders. Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications for treatment. However, some sleep aids, anti-epileptics and anti-anxiety medications are promising.

Despite changing laws and more accepting attitudes toward marijuana, its use can still be problematic for some people. Marijuana can cause lasting long-term health effects. Casa Palmera can give you the knowledge and tools to begin a new, sober life free from marijuana. Our compassionate, expert staff will thoroughly assess and work with you to create an individualized treatment plan to meet your needs. Our services blend the best evidence-based treatment with eastern intuitive practices to provide a holistic approach to care. We provide care at the residential, partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient levels of care. Recovery is a lifetime process, and you can remain part of the Casa Palmera family even after completing treatment through the use of our app and engagement in our alumni activities. If you or a loved one would like to stop using marijuana, Call Casa Palmera at (855) 508-0473 for more information about how we can help.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.