According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), marijuana is the most commonly used federally illicit drug in the United States1.  It is estimated that about 3 in 10 people who use marijuana meet the diagnostic criteria for a cannabis use disorder1. The climbing number of states with medical marijuana laws or full legalization has led to an increase in accessibility and use in most areas of the country. Regardless of legality, marijuana use still poses a risk and has the potential for misuse that can lead to problems with memory, learning, coordination, and decision making2.   

Understanding the Risks

It’s a commonly held misconception that if a substance is legal, or prescribed, the potential risk of harm is minimal.  This flawed thinking has contributed to the development of many public health issues related to substances use disorders throughout the years.  As with alcohol or opioids, understanding the risks involved in using marijuana is critical in preventing the development of a marijuana use disorder. When understanding a cannabis disorder, it is important to know what cannabis is.

Marijuana, also knowns as cannabis, weed, or pot, refers the dried flowers, leaves, stems, and seeds of the cannabis plant4. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive chemical responsible for marijuana’s desirable psychological effects.Research has shown that the concentration of THC found in cannabis has nearly doubled over the past 10 years, with products from dispensaries showing levels of THC up to 45%2.The risks associated with use of high concentration THC are currently unknown; however research has shown that recreational users of marijuana may experience the following adverse effects3:

  • Impaired judgement
  • Paranoia
  • Cognitive Impairment
  • Chronic Bronchitis
  • Psychosis
  • Altered Brain Development
  • Addiction
Signs of a Cannabis Use Disorder

A person’s individual risk for developing a cannabis use disorder depends on many different factors including genetics, co-occurring mental health issues, age of first use of THC, and frequency of use. Only a qualified healthcare professional can formally diagnose a Cannabis Use Disorder. However, if you are concerned about your own use, or a loved one’s marijuana use, here are a few signs to watch out for5:

  1. Loss of control: Using marijuana at a higher frequency or in larger amounts than intended
  2. Inability to cut down or discontinue use independently: Having the desire to quit or reduce use but not being able to do it
  3. Cravings: Experiencing intense urges to use marijuana
  4. Inability to fulfill essential responsibilities or obligations: Being unable to perform one’s standard responsibilities at home, work, or school due to marijuana use.
  5. Strained Relationships: Disregarding the impact marijuana use is having on primary relationships
  6. Ignoring Complications: Continuing to use marijuana despite evidence use is worsening physical or psychological well-being
  7. Using in high-risk scenarios: Ignoring the dangers related to marijuana use or the risks surrounding use
  8. Tolerance: Requiring larger amounts of marijuana to achieve the desired effect
  9. Withdrawal: Experiencing common withdrawal use when not using, such as: ;irritability, depressed mood, decreased appetite, or insomnia.

Cannabis Use Disorders are classified as mild, moderate, or severe depending on the number of symptoms an individual displays. Regardless of the severity of the cannabis use disorder, a variety of beneficial treatment options are available.

Treatment for Cannabis Use Disorder

Understanding a cannabis use disorder can be overwhelming. Cannabis use disorder is currently treated with a combination of counseling and therapy techniques. Since a substance use disorder of any kind is not a matter of will power alone, someone struggling with a cannabis use disorder needs access to evidence-based treatment options to begin their recovery. Prior to beginning treatment, a thorough evaluation will be conducted to determine individual needs. At Greenbriar Treatment Center, we provide comprehensive care that help build the foundation for lasting results. Contact us(opens in a new tab) today to learn how we can help.

  2. in a new tab)
  3. Bridgeman MB, Abazia DT. Medicinal Cannabis: History, Pharmacology, And Implications for the Acute Care Setting. P T. 2017 Mar;42(3):180-188. PMID: 28250701; PMCID: PMC5312634.
  4. in a new tab)
  5. Patel J, Marwaha R. Cannabis Use Disorder. [Updated 2022 Feb 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: