Marijuana: Straight Facts

Myth or Fact? “Marijuana Is Stronger These Days”

Facts in red. Myths crossed out.

It’s no myth: Marijuana today is much stronger than it was in the past.

Of the more than 500 chemicals in marijuana (weed), THC is the main one that causes a person to feel high. And THC levels in marijuana have been increasing.

  • In the early 1990s, the average amount of THC in marijuana seized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was less than 4 percent; in 2018, it averaged more than 15 percent.
  • The average THC potency (or strength) in products available in some state marijuana dispensaries can be even higher.

This rise in THC levels could increase the negative effects of using marijuana, especially for people who are using it for the first time—and for young people, because their brains are still developing.

Here’s what else we’ve learned about today’s marijuana:

  • Marijuana concentrates and resins, which contain concentrated THC removed from the marijuana plant, have three to five times more THC than the plant itself does.
  • Some concentrated marijuana products, like dabs or waxes, may contain as much as 80 percent THC.
  • Smoking or vaping higher-potency marijuana can cause side effects, leading some people to seek help in emergency rooms. In fact, high doses of THC can trigger psychotic episodes. That’s one of the main causes for emergency department visits associated with marijuana use.
  • A person who tries marijuana edibles may get frustrated because they don’t produce a high as quickly as smoked marijuana does. So, the person may eat more and more of the edibles until the effects kick in, leading to an overdose. (With marijuana, “overdose” usually means feeling really sick and disoriented, not dying.)

The risk of dependence, addiction, and other negative consequences increases as a person uses marijuana more often, or as they’re exposed to high concentrations of THC. And using marijuana at a young age increases the risk for addiction later in life.

The good news is that teens can find science-based information about marijuana, and get the facts about marijuana’s risks.


Is Marijuana Addicting?

Marijuana Withdrawal Is Real

graphical illustration of a person with marijuana withdrawal

Image by NIDA. 

We published this post originally in 2015. This update reflects current research as of March 2020. 

In the 2019 Monitoring the Future survey, the number of teens saying they vaped marijuana (weed) in 2019 increased dramatically from 2018. And while the number of teens saying they smoked marijuana didn’t change much in 2019, fewer teens said they believe that using marijuana is generally harmful.

The truth is, whether it’s smoked or vaped, marijuana use can affect the developing teen brain, just like most other drugs, including alcohol and nicotine.

You can also get addicted to marijuana—especially if you use it during your teen years. A recent study(link is external) found that teens and young adults (age 12 to 20) had much higher rates of marijuana use disorder than adults age 21 and older.

Dependence vs. addiction
A marijuana use disorder can include both dependence and addiction.

  • Being “dependent” on a drug means you need the drug to feel physically okay. However, being dependent doesn’t necessarily mean you’re addicted.
  • People who are addicted start to think about the drug all the time, and make it more important than other things in their life. They also constantly worry about how to get more drugs.  

Repeated drug use can change the brain in ways that make it harder to quit. So, people addicted to drugs are unable to stop even though it’s causing problems with school, a job, or relationships.

If someone is dependent or addicted, they may experience withdrawal if they stop using the drug all at once. Withdrawal can be very uncomfortable; it’s part of what makes it hard for someone to stop using a drug.

study(link is external) found that marijuana withdrawal is a reality for teens. Among teens who received drug use treatment at an outpatient clinic, 40 percent experienced symptoms of withdrawal when they stopped using marijuana.

The symptoms
You may have a mental image of drug withdrawal based on TV and movies: sweating, shaking, and being curled up in bed with unbearable discomfort and depression. These symptoms do occur in people addicted to drugs like opioids, alcohol, or cocaine. Marijuana withdrawal symptoms aren’t as obvious as those for some other drugs, but they’re every bit as real.

The main behavioral symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include:

  • Being irritable
  • Feeling anxious or worried
  • Feeling depressed
  • Being restless

The physical symptoms can include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Sweatiness
  • Shakiness
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Having trouble sleeping at night and feeling tired during the day
  • Having low appetite or losing weight

People who use marijuana regularly may not realize that their symptoms could actually be part of withdrawal. One in six teens who try marijuana will get addicted to it, and that increases to as many as half of all teens who use it every day. 

Whether you’re dependent or addicted, if you’re experiencing withdrawal from any drug, you should seek medical advice.

Source: NIDA Teens