At home, at work, or in other places where sobriety is the norm, individuals who are high on marijuana may sometimes go unnoticed.
Oftentimes, people who notice a change in someone may second-guess their initial perception. As part of this process of doubting, people may attribute the concerning behavior to fatigue, illness, or even just an off mood.
As the concerning behavior persists, it becomes more difficult for concerned individuals to deny that there may be a problem. In order to informally investigate if drug abuse is occurring, it’s important to have an understanding of both physical and psychological signs of abuse.
The Effects of Marijuana on the Brain
Most Americans have a general idea about the side effects associated with marijuana use, and these effects are the result of how marijuana acts on the brain. THC is the short-form term for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. Blood carries THC to the brain where it acts on cannabinoid receptors (the complexes that interact with the cannabinoid neurotransmitter). Cannabinoids naturally occur in the body.
The general effect of cannabinoids on cannabinoid receptor sites is to slow down communications between the cells in the body and the brain. The presence of THC has a similar effect, which is why marijuana is often associated with a relaxing and calming effect. THC also triggers the brain’s reward system, which results in the pleasurable effects associated with marijuana.
Signs of Use
The short-term effects of marijuana use are also signs of recent use. As the Foundation for a Drug-Free World notes, the following are some common physical side effects associated with marijuana use:
- Poor muscle and limb coordination
- Delayed reaction times and abilities
- An initial liveliness
- Increased heart rate
- Distorted senses
- Red eyes
Methods to Use Marijuana
A marijuana high can generally last up to a few hours. In general, the duration of the high will depend on the user’s level of tolerance, the particular potency of the marijuana, and the way the drug was consumed. The following are some of the most popular ways marijuana is used:
- Smoking it (in a bong or rolling papers)
- In food as “edibles”
- In teas
- In hash or wax form
- In a vaporizer
- In tonics and tinctures
The consumption of marijuana-based edibles can increase the likelihood of adverse reactions. The THC in edibles takes longer to be absorbed into the blood than when marijuana is smoked. As a result, the individual who consumes edible forms of marijuana may overeat to compensate for the lag time in the high, which can be dangerous
Hazards of Use
The hazards are not limited to edibles. A high level of THC in the body can lead to acute marijuana toxicity.
In some cases, the toxicity may owe to the marijuana alone, but some drug dealers mix other drugs into marijuana (such as hallucinogens).
The substances added to marijuana may result in serious effects, such as:
- Chest pain and heart rhythm irregularity
- Hyperactivity and/or aggressiveness
- Cardiac arrest
- Heart attack
- Headache and high blood pressure
Marijuana is not only a popular drug; it is an evolving one. The National Institute on Drug Abuse warns that the potency of marijuana has been on the rise for the last few decades. The increased potency mainly stems from the ability of marijuana cultivators to continually create new, more powerful strains.
The increased THC may result in uncommon and easily observable side effects. As CNN reports, Dr. Stuart Gitlow of the American Society for Addiction Medicine has found that approximately one in every 100 people who uses highly potent marijuana will manifest psychotic symptoms. Further, as Fox News reports, one study found that smoking marijuana with high THC content can lead to the onset of psychiatric disorders.
These observations about super potent marijuana translate into guidance for concerned individuals. Sudden or uncharacteristic psychotic symptoms (e.g., a disconnection from reality) can be evidence of marijuana use (although it may separately be a sign of a mental health disorder). Psychiatric side effects may be more acute in a person who has an existing mental health disorder, but individuals without a diagnosis are not immune from severe reactions. It is important to note that super potent marijuana is not the same as “synthetic marijuana” (chemicals sprayed onto leaves and sold under various names, such as Spice). According to reports on synthetic marijuana side effects, some users have experienced extreme aggression, the inability to speak, hallucinations, and/or general unresponsiveness.
Marijuana use may lead to addiction and/or physical dependence, despite popular belief that it won’t. Regular users may begin to build a tolerance and require more of it to achieve the effects. With increasing and continued use, they may become dependent and experience withdrawal if they stop. They may also eventually become addicted.
Although marijuana withdrawal is generally considered to be mild, effects can include irritability or anxiety. In heavy users, marijuana withdrawal symptoms can include cravings for marijuana, trouble sleeping, irritability, anxiety, and boredom.
To avoid these symptoms, or to get a reprieve from them, some people who thought they were done with marijuana decide to resume use.
Finding Marijuana and Related Paraphernalia
Whether a concerned person finds paraphernalia accidentally or after a search, the discovery can confirm suspicions or alert individuals that drug use is occurring. It is critical to note that searching for drug paraphernalia can be construed as an invasion of privacy, but on balance with the hazards associated with marijuana abuse, it may be considered justified. The question then arises as to where to look. Individuals who are hiding marijuana use from the people with whom they reside can be very inventive.
The following is a partial list of some marijuana-specific types of paraphernalia:
- Rolling papers (usually white or brown)
- Pipes (various materials, such as glass)
- Cigar papers (contents emptied)
- E-cigarettes (to smoke concentrates)
- Roach clips
The following are some places where persons who use marijuana or other drugs may hide drugs or paraphernalia:
- In a carved-out space at the top of a door
- In over-the-counter drug packages
- In an unopened soda can
- In hollowed-out cans
- Under a fish tank
- In the lining of a speaker
- In a drop ceiling
- In the false roof of a bird house
- In a wall outlet
- Between slats of assembled furniture
Once marijuana or paraphernalia is discovered, the next issue will be determining its age or when it was last used. Old marijuana may have mold on it, be brittle, break into a near powder-like consistency, and/or not have a fresh plant-like smell. In some cases, a person may fold marijuana into an envelope or piece of paper that may have a date.
A judgment of the age of paraphernalia can be difficult. A bong or pipe that is well used will be darkened from the burn residue of the marijuana. In cases where the marijuana use just occurred, the bong or pipe may be hot or warm. When marijuana smokers make a “blunt,”they will discard the tobacco contents, which may then be found in the garbage or bits may be discovered on the floor. Regarding marijuana edibles, light-colored baked goods like chocolate chip cookies may have a green hue. Edibles may have a noticeable odor, especially if they have high marijuana content.
Individuals who are concerned that someone they care about is abusing marijuana should be advised that this drug invites risky behavior.
Uncharacteristically risky or reckless behavior may be a sign that marijuana use or other drug use is occurring. Some of the risky behaviors associated with marijuana include:
- Driving under the influence of marijuana
- Being a passenger while knowing the driver is “high”
- Having unprotected sex
- Conflicts, public fights, or relationship problems
- Legal troubles such as a DUI arrest
When marijuana users continue to use this drug despite negative outcomes or acute problems, they may be in the grip of addiction.
As marijuana is addictive, it has the potential to become a priority in a person’s life. As marijuana use becomes a pressing priority, important obligations will likely begin to suffer. Often, concerned individuals will become especially motivated to help the marijuana abuser to get help after an incident, such as a DUI, or other clear indication of a problem. It is never too soon to seek treatment.