Chances are if you’re reading this article, either you or someone you care about is struggling with marijuana (weed) use. You’re not alone. Research shows that more than 200,000 Australians struggle with cannabis addiction every day. As common as the use of marijuana, is the misconception that it isn’t addictive. And it’s this misunderstanding that prevents people who have problems with this drug from seeking the treatment they might need.
If you or a loved one are using marijuana, it pays to be informed about the side effects, both short and long term and knowing what you can access in terms of support to quit marijuana.
In Australia, cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug and is often seen and referred to as a ‘gateway’ drug with people starting out using it before trying harder narcotics.
THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) is the chemical in cannabis, marijuana, hashish and hash oil that makes you feel high when you smoke, vape or consume it in edibles.
The cliched stereotype of a cannabis user is a chilled out, happy go lucky individual and while cannabis can ‘chill you out’, the reality of this drug is that it slows down your central nervous system and delays the message pathways between your brain and the rest of your body, potentially having detrimental impacts on your mental and physical health.
Some users experience serious side effects from low level use, with others it might take longer term consumption, but it will differ depending on the individual’s mental and physical health and any potential predisposition to certain conditions.
Cannabis and Mental Health
Cannabis use has been linked to a range of mental health conditions.
For instance, people with schizophrenia are particularly vulnerable to cannabis abuse; research suggests that those who use cannabis are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.
Weed users with known mental health conditions may experience an exacerbation of symptoms, or in some cases even the onset of these symptoms. This can be incredibly dangerous and potentially fatal if left untreated.
As is the case with most illicit drugs, there are no controls on synthetic cannabinoids. This means that you never know what’s in it.
Synthetic cannabinoids are often more potent than THC – they can have more severe consequences for users. It can also be laced with other substances, such as methamphetamine. However, there is no quality control over these products and even if manufacturers or distributors assure you that their product is ‘safe’, they cannot guarantee that it is.
One of the biggest problems surrounding these substances is their unpredictable effect due to an ever-evolving chemical composition. As a result, synthetic drugs are known to have extremely unpleasant side effects.
Synthetic marijuana is also linked with psychosis, delusions and hallucinations in some cases. These may appear hours after use or even days later—leaving the user confused about what’s real and what isn’t. Long-term users of synthetic cannabis often experience memory loss, anxiety and/or depression.
Effects of Cannabis Addiction – Long and Short Term
One in ten users are at risk for addiction using cannabis, but the risk increases to one in six for those who start using during adolescence.
Like any other drug, using weed long term can have negative and long-lasting impacts on your health.
Short term side effects include:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Dry mouth
- Increased appetite (the ‘munchies’)
- Slow reaction time and poor coordination
- Distorted sense of time, or short-term memory loss.
Real challenges are more apparent for people who begin using the drug in their early youth and continue to use it on a regular basis.
Regular users are likely to experience higher levels of depression than non users. They may also experience challenges with maintaining employment, intimate relationships and can struggle socially and with finances. Keeping up with formal education can also prove challenging for regular users.
Longer term effects of cannabis use can include:
- Negative effect on brain development in younger people
- Sexual performance and libido issues
- Memory loss
- Lower dopamine production
- Depression and anxiety
- Increased risk for heart disease, heart attacks and strokes
- Learning difficulties, challenges with problem solving, decision making and attention span
- More likely than non users to develop prediabetes or diabetes later in life
- More susceptible to lung damage, infections of the throat and chest and related respiratory issues such as asthma and bronchitis
- If marijuana is being mixed with tobacco there’s an increase in chance of getting various cancers
- For those predisposed to having schizophrenia, there’s increased risk of psychosis
- Suicidal ideation
- Mood swings
- Lower sperm count in males
- Periods can become irregular in females
Mixing Cannabis With Other Drugs And Alcohol
There are a number of serious issues with mixing marijuana with other drugs and alcohol.
Firstly, you can drastically increase your risk of developing mental health conditions.
It’s not uncommon for weed to be used to ‘take the edge off’ the come down from other drugs, but it is important to understand that mixing substances, including cannabis, has potentially fatal consequences.
When you mix cannabis with other drugs, you can make the effects of the other substances much stronger and therefore highly unpredictable. Mixing marijuana with alcohol often results in nausea and vomiting and there’s the real risk of users potentially choking on their own vomit.
It’s also important to note that different combinations of drugs will impact everyone differently.
If you use weed regularly and have decided you want to quit, you are likely to experience some withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are not life-threatening; however, they will be difficult to deal with at the time, and ensuring you have family and friends to support you is essential.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Feeling on edge and irritable
- Feeling like you don’t want to eat
- Stomach and headache.
After quitting, these symptoms are most likely to last around two weeks, but some users might experience the symptoms for longer. This is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome.
It’s also important to remember that one person’s experience of quitting weed will be different from another’s, and the severity of withdrawal will depend on things like frequency of use and overall health.
Benefits of Quitting Marijuana
Once you’ve stopped using weed, research shows that the withdrawal symptoms will start to improve within a week.
However, they may take up to two to four weeks or longer for some people who have been regularly consuming. Your general overall health will also influence how quickly you detox.
Here are some of the positive results that people who give up cannabis experience:
- More clear-headed and more articulate, with improved memory
- Increased energy
- Breathe more easily
- Need less sleep
- Less worry because there’s no need to hide your addiction from friends, family and co-workers
- Improved finances – not just because you aren’t buying cannabis, but because you become more productive with your time
- Less anxious or depressed, and able to use more grounded approaches to cope with stress (rather than getting high)
- Less paranoia
- A great deal more self-respect
Support For Cannabis Addiction
Do you think you or a loved one might have a problem with cannabis?
For help and support in addressing cannabis addiction, seek drug counselling, individual or group therapy, support groups, or a professional rehabilitation support program like those on offer through Arrow Health.
If you are struggling to quit marijuana, Arrow Health has a variety of treatments, rehabilitation, and long-term support available.