What Do We Know About the Effects of Chronic Marijuana Use?

Vanessa Shanahan

August 15, 2019

Marijuana is one of the most popular drugs in the world today. While it has many benefits, it is still a drug that alters the mind, sometimes causing long-term or possibly permanent adverse changes- in certain people, anyway. The long-term changes in the mind and body can lead to negative outcomes that often don’t show until years later. With increasing legalization should come the subsequent rise in public awareness of the potentially harmful effects of chronic use.

It is important to point out that in all of the studies that have been done regarding the chronic use of marijuana, it can be tricky to tease out whether it is a cause and effect relationship, or whether there could be something else going on. We have combed through some data from studies that point strongly to cause and effect.

Chronic Marijuana Use

Negative cognitive effects.
Specifically, reduced learning, attention span, and short term memory.

Could seem hard to believe, but for some people, marijuana can become an addiction. About 10% of users will develop a dependence syndrome. Withdrawal syndrome is also a problem tied to this.

Change in brain structure
Studies are still being conducted to determine whether or not marijuana really changes the brain, however, recent evidence has suggested that is linked to change that occur in the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex.

Risk of psychotic symptoms
E.g., delusions, hallucinations, disordered thinking. This one is tough because it is always hard to know which way the connection goes. A chicken-and-egg problem.

Marijuana is a gateway drug
Teenage marijuana users are more likely to use other drugs in the future.

May develop cardiopulmonary issues
Regular users have a heightened risk of developing chronic bronchitis.

Linked to schizophrenia
Many studies have suggested this connection between chronic marijuana use and schizophrenia. It was suggested that marijuana use may double the risk of schizophrenia from 7 in 1000 non-users to 14 in 1000 marijuana users.

Now, with most controversial topics, research will be pushed your way and it will be up to you to discern what is merely a suggestion and what is fact. With that, the same goes for deciding what kind of marijuana user you are — moderation my friends! For now, there is not enough research to come up with a definitive answer, the conversion is complex and ongoing.