Marijuana is one of the most popular substances of abuse in the United States. According to federal data, more than 118 million Americans aged 12 or older have used marijuana in their lifetime. Cannabis use is more common than the use of cocaine, hallucinogens and inhalants combined.
Each year, the federal government conducts a nationwide survey on substance use and mental health trends. The results can be found in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
The 2017 survey found that:
Since 2011, the average age of first marijuana use has gradually increased. This indicates that people are waiting until they are older to use the substance. Among the substances measured in the survey, only alcohol was used more frequently by Americans.
Despite the common misconception that it is harmless, marijuana has many long-term side effects. These consequences include lung cancer and brain development problems in teens. But the drug’s short-term side effects can require immediate medical attention.
According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, the rate at which people visited the emergency department for cannabis problems increased from 51 to 73 visits per 100,000 people from 2004 to 2011.
The report also found that teens aged 12 to 17 had the largest increase in marijuana-related emergency room visits. Non-Hispanic blacks visited the ER for marijuana problems more than any other ethnic or racial group.
Marijuana-related ER visits were the result of adverse reactions, malicious poisoning and accidental ingestion. Taking more cannabis than what your body can handle can cause a marijuana overdose.
More teens used marijuana in the year in 2017 than in 2016, according to the Monitoring the Future survey. Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the annual report examines substance use trends among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students.
Percentage of Students Who Used Marijuana in the Past Month, 2017:
More high school seniors used cannabis in the past 30 days than all eighth- and 10th-graders combined. In total, 14.5 percent of the students surveyed were current marijuana users in 2017.
Medical marijuana includes natural or synthetic cannabis that many people use to treat pain, illnesses or medical symptoms. Researchers have studied the effectiveness of medicinal marijuana in treating a variety of conditions, including inflammation, cancer-related nausea, multiple sclerosis and mental health disorders.
As of 2017, medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Among these states, California has the highest number of legal medical marijuana patients. Michigan has the second highest number patients, and Arizona has the third most.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Food and Drug Administration has not recognized or approved the cannabis plant as medicine. Two FDA-approved medications contain a synthetic form of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. The drug remains a Schedule I drug, making it illegal in the United States.
Chronic marijuana use can lead to a marijuana use disorder, a condition that varies in severity. Most people with the disorder are dependent on the drug but not addicted. Dependence means people rely on the drug to get through the day. They also experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using it.
Marijuana addiction occurs when people cannot stop using the substance even though it interferes with many aspects of their life. They compulsively seek the drug despite the health, social and legal consequences.
According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health:
Research shows that 9 percent of marijuana users develop dependence, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Individuals who begin using marijuana before age 18 are four to seven times more likely than adults to develop a marijuana use disorder.
Researchers have identified a link between marijuana use and mental health disorders such as depression.
The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that more than 28 percent of adults who used marijuana in the past year reported experiencing a major depressive episode. That year, 9.7 percent of past-year marijuana users had serious thoughts of suicide.
Overall, about 24 percent of adults who used marijuana in the past year had a mental illness in 2016. Among those with a mental disorder, 30.6 percent had a condition that caused serious functional impairment.
A 2017 study published in the journal Addiction found that youth with chronic or severe depression in early adolescence face a higher risk for developing a marijuana use disorder than adolescents with fewer symptoms of depression.
Symptoms of depression include reduced interest in everyday activities, weight loss, fatigue and changes in sleeping patterns.
Other facts about marijuana and mental health:
The best way to overcome marijuana dependence and co-occurring disorders is to seek treatment. But the vast majority of people with a marijuana use disorder do not get help. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 30,000 people received treatment for a marijuana use disorder in 2016.
Evidence-based treatment at an addiction treatment center can help people overcome their problems with cannabis and learn how to live a healthy life in sobriety.
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