Study: Chronic marijuana use can cause severe sickness

5:31 AM, Oct 22, 2018
9:38 AM, Jun 12, 2019

The National Institute on Drug Abuse recently released a study which examined trends on substance use among non-college and college young adults.

The researchers surveyed people, aged 19 to 22, from across the United States and found more than 13 percent of young adults not in college reported using marijuana daily or near daily.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States, with 37.6 million users in the past year, and marijuana use may have a wide range of health effects on the body and brain.

Using marijuana for medical or recreational purposes is legal in some states, but doctors are finding some cases where the drug itself is actually making people sick.

“Ever since they are trying to legalize marijuana, we have seen an increase use of marijuana among the young population. It can cause Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, where you have severe nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and that can lead to dehydration. So people come in, and they can get fluids, medication to stop the vomiting. So we do see it quite often in the ER,” said Corpus Christi Medical Center ER Dr. Kim Onufrak.

The symptoms can be severe and can sometimes last up to a month.

“It can lead to psychiatric disorders so if you think your family member or friend is acting not normal, that would be a reason to take them to the ER. It does increase your heart rate, and sometimes it can double your heart rate. Normal heart rate is less than a 100. ” said Onufrak.

Medical experts want to stress that marijuana is a potent mind-altering drug that can cause both short- and long-term effects, and for some, marijuana poses a substantial risk of addiction.

“You can have psychosis, irrational thinking, it can increase your heart rate, increase risk of stroke, increase risk of heart attack, all of those are some effects from using marijuana. It is an addictive drug and then it increases the risk of being addicted to other drugs like opioids, alcohol, so abusing other drugs along with it. For those who use it, sometimes other drugs are mixed into it, and that could be a dangerous combination,” said Onufrak.

There is no medical research on marijuana as potent as what is currently being sold to show what amount or how many doses can make a person sick. The illness is often hard to diagnose, and it’s cropping up more and more.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) announced the latest Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey results on substance use trends as teens transition to adulthood.

Most notably the study revealed that more than 13 percent of young adults not in college report daily, or near daily, marijuana use; alcohol use is more common among college students; some opioid use is declining in both groups, and the most sizeable difference is the higher rate of cigarette smoking in the non-college group.

Below are the highlights from the 2017 MTF survey results on drug use among college students compared to their peers not attending college (ages 19-22).

  • Daily, or near daily, marijuana use among non-college young adults has continued to rise, reaching its highest level (13.2 percent). As a result, daily, or near daily, marijuana use is now nearly three times as high among non-college young adults as among college students.
  • For the first time, questions about vaping marijuana, were added to the survey in 2017. Past month use appears to be higher among non-college young adults than among college students (7.8 percent vs. 5.2 percent).
  • With respect to past month use, alcohol use in college students is higher than in non-college peers (62 percent vs. 56.4 percent). Additionally, mixing alcohol with energy drinks appears to be higher among college students than the non-college group (31.5 percent vs. 26.7 percent) in the past year.
  • The largest difference between annual, past month and daily use in rates for college vs. non-college groups is for smoking cigarettes. Daily smoking for non-college peers is higher than college students (14.4 percent vs. 2 percent). Past month use of vaping nicotine appears to be higher for non-college young adults compared to college students (7.9 percent vs. 6 percent).
  • Past year misuse of Vicodin® in both college and non-college peers dropped dramatically since 2009 (8.4 percent in 2009 to 1.1 percent in 2017 and 11.2 percent to 1.8 percent, respectively).
  • Synthetic drug use over the last year is lower in college students than in non-college peers. Synthetic cannabinoids (K2/spice) use is 0.5 percent vs. 2.4 percent and synthetic cathinones (bath salts) is 0.2 percent vs. 1.5 percent, respectivelyWhat are marijuana’s effects on other aspects of physical health?

    Short Term Effects

  • Short-term memory problems
  • Severe anxiety, including fear that one is being watched or followed (paranoia)
  • Very strange behavior, seeing, hearing or smelling things that aren’t there, not being able to tell imagination from reality (psychosis)
  • Panic
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of sense of personal identity
  • Lowered reaction time
  • Increased heart rate (risk of heart attack)
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Problems with coordination (impairing safe driving or playing sports)
  • Sexual problems (for males)
  • Up to seven times more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections than non-users (for females)

Within a few minutes after inhaling marijuana smoke, a person’s heart rate speeds up, the breathing passages relax and become enlarged, and blood vessels in the eyes expand, making the eyes look bloodshot.

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. Taking other drugs with marijuana can amplify this effect.


  • Decline in IQ (up to 8 points if prolonged use started in adolescent age)
  • Poor school performance and higher chance of dropping out
  • Impaired thinking and ability to learn and perform complex tasks
  • Lower life satisfaction
  • Addiction (about 9% of adults and 17% of people who started smoking as teens)
  • Potential development of opiate abuse
  • Relationship problems, intimate partner violence
  • Antisocial behavior including stealing money or lying
  • Financial difficulties
  • Increased welfare dependence
  • Greater chances of being unemployed or not getting good jobs.
  • Testicular Cancer increased risk

A few studies have shown a clear link between marijuana use in adolescence and increased risk for an aggressive form of testicular cancer (nonseminomatous testicular germ cell tumor) that predominantly strikes young adult males.

The early onset of testicular cancers compared to lung and most other cancers indicates that, whatever the nature of marijuana’s contribution, it may accumulate over just a few years of use.

Studies have shown that in rare cases, chronic use of marijuana can lead to Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome-a condition marked by recurrent bouts of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.

Like tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke is an irritant to the throat and lungs and can cause a heavy cough during use. It also contains levels of volatile chemicals and tar that are similar to tobacco smoke, raising concerns about risk for cancer and lung disease.

What are marijuana’s effects on the brain?

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, substantial evidence from animal research and a growing number of studies in humans indicate that marijuana exposure during development can cause long-term or possibly permanent adverse changes in the brain. Rats exposed to THC before birth, soon after birth, or during adolescence show notable problems with specific learning and memory tasks later in life.

Cognitive impairments in adult rats exposed to THC during adolescence are associated with structural and functional changes in the hippocampus. Studies in rats also show that adolescent exposure to THC is associated with an altered reward system, increasing the likelihood that an animal will self-administer other drugs (e.g., heroin) when given an opportunity.

Several studies have linked marijuana use to increased risk for psychiatric disorders, including psychosis (schizophrenia), depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders, but whether and to what extent it actually causes these conditions is not always easy to determine.

The amount of drug used, the age at first use, and genetic vulnerability have all been shown to influence this relationship.

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