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What Are the Long-Term Consequences of Cannabis Use?

With the recent legalization of cannabis (i.e. marijuana) by many states in the U.S., people have let their guard down regarding the use and possible effects of this drug.

If state governments are okaying cannabis for use, including nine states that have legalized it for recreation as well as medicinal purposes, surely it is safe, right?


Unfortunately, the move to legalize marijuana has created a false sense of security for many, including parents, about the use and abuse of this substance. But this misconception can be potentially dangerous and harmful, as cannabis has been proven to have numerous long-term, negative side-effects.

Permanent Brain Damage

As we have noted in previous articles on marijuana, use of the drug risks long-term brain damage, particularly among adolescents who begin using it in their teens.

  • Brain-size reduction: studies of teenagers who used marijuana found that certain brain structures—such as the hippocampus, responsible for memory and learning—had shrunk in size. Besides causing immediate problems, which will be discussed below, it also indicates long-term damages, as these abnormalities were still being found in individuals who had been clean for over two years.
  • Reduced brain activity: the same studies have revealed that there was also a reduction in brain activity among those who began using cannabis in their teens.
  • Damage to memory function: teenagers who smoke or use marijuana struggle with memory function, most certainly due to the shrinking of the part of their brain responsible for it.
  • Damage to learning capacity: marijuana use in teens results in significant alteration and damage to healthy brain development, and consequently impairs users’ abilities to learn and retain information. It can even alter brain-pathways altogether, significantly damaging one’s ability to learn. One study proved that this was a long term side-effect, demonstrating how those who persisted in using the drug in their adolescence lost up to 8 IQ points by the time they were an adult.

While the most significant brain damage and alteration occurs in those who began abusing cannabis in their childhood, even those who use in adulthood complain of memory loss and difficulty thinking clearly and focusing.

More studies continue to be done, which may shed yet more light on these concerns. In fact, in one study performed in 2015, researchers explored the depths to which cannabis hindered the memory function of adult users and found that regular users were susceptible to memory distortion (false memories) and long-lasting memory and cognitive damages, even after the users became drug-free.


Another long-term consequence of indulging in cannabis use is developing dependence.

Research has demonstrated that cannabis impacts the brain’s reward center, resulting in physical changes to the brain that are commonly associated with addiction. In other words, the brain is retrained to reward the body for the behavior, which naturally results in a physical addiction.

Heart & Lung Conditions

Unfortunately, so many are eager to point out that tobacco is so much more harmful to the lungs and heart than cannabis, that they drown out the fact that cannabis is still a health risk.

Long-term exposure to marijuana smoke, which has many toxic chemicals in it, poses a real threat to the bronchioles and lungs, resulting in anything from a persistent cough to breathing difficulties and excess phlegm.

Furthermore, the active compound in cannabis, THC, is known to cause increases in heart rate which can last for hours. This obviously puts marijuana users with heart conditions at a much higher risk for heart attack.

But research has also shown that even in younger cannabis users with no known risk of heart problems, there is a significantly increased risk of heart attack, heart rhythm disorders, and even stroke.

Emotional & Relational Consequences

The list of consequences could truly go on, and thus far we have only focused on the more purely physical aspects of them.

However, the long-term consequences of cannabis use include emotional and relational difficulties as well. Marijuana use often has immediate side effects of apathy, mental confusion, and lethargy. Naturally, these are not conducive for daily and familial responsibilities such as work, relationships, parenting, etc.

Furthermore, those who use heavily or who have been using since they were young are prone to developing mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, conditions which are also hard on relationships and responsibilities.

The Bottom Line

In all truth, the list could go on.

At the end of the day, we are not here to argue the legalization of cannabis with anyone. As a wise man once said, just because something is permissible does not mean it is beneficial.

But one thing is clear: at least for those who use it recreationally, cannabis results in all harm and no actual good. The consequences could be severe, and they could be life-long.

If you or a loved one struggles with cannabis abuse, our addiction rehab in NJ is here to help. We provide a wide variety of interventions and assistance, with numerous out-patient options, and a diverse array of therapy methods. Our goal is to have something for everyone. Our team of qualified experts is ready to help you find freedom from substance addiction. Call us today to learn more.

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