How Marijuana Affects the Brain and Body

Marijuana, which is also known as cannabis, comes from the cannabis plant and is a psychoactive drug. It has more than 100 chemical compounds. These are called cannabinoids, and the two that are the most well-known and understood are THC and CBD.[1]

Consuming marijuana causes THC to interact with specific brain and body receptors. These are known as cannabinoid receptors and are part of the endocannabinoid system. This system regulates memory, mood, appetite, pain, and sleep.

THC replicates the effects of cannabinoids that naturally occur in the body. This interaction impacts neurotransmitter release, affecting mood, perception, cognition and behavior.

Specific brain and body effects of marijuana vary depending on things like your individual metabolism, the potency of the THC, the dosage and how you use it.

Short-term effects include:

  • Euphoria
  • Relaxation
  • Alterations in how you perceive time and space
  • Increased appetite
  • Impaired coordination and motor skills
  • Changes in mood

Long-term or heavy marijuana usage can lead to effects like:[2]

  • Cognitive impairment: Prolonged marijuana use, especially when the brain is still developing in adolescence, can impair cognitive functions like attention and memory.
  • Addiction and dependence: Not everyone who uses marijuana goes on to develop an addiction, but some will. When you’re addicted to or dependent on marijuana, you might experience compulsive drug-seeking behaviors even though your use is causing problems and consequences in your life.
  • Respiratory issues: When you smoke marijuana, it can cause respiratory problems similar to what you can experience from smoking tobacco. These can include respiratory infections and chronic bronchitis.
  • Mental health effects: Marijuana use can raise the risk of certain mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, especially if you’re already predisposed to these, or you’re still experiencing brain development, as is the case with young people.
  • Impairment: Marijuana use can impair your judgment, coordination and reaction time, which increases your risk of accidents and injuries.

The Development of Marijuana Addiction

As with other substances, marijuana addiction occurs through biological, environmental and psychological factors. Certain vulnerabilities impact the risk of addiction.[3]

The following are contributors to the development of marijuana addiction:

  • Biological factors: Genetic predisposition is part of developing addiction. Certain genetic variations cause you to be more susceptible to marijuana’s addictive properties or less able to regulate your use. Also, there may be differences in your brain chemistry or how your endocannabinoid system functions, contributing to addiction.
  • Neurochemical changes: When you use marijuana, it affects your brain’s reward system and floods it with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s associated with reinforcement and pleasure, and over time, repeated THC exposure can cause neuroadaptations in the brain. That reduces your natural dopamine production and changes the function of your reward circuits. These changes can contribute to tolerance, dependence and addiction.
  • Psychological factors: Personality traits, mental health disorders, stress and trauma can all influence addiction. You might have started using marijuana to cope with underlying issues or self-medicate, and having co-occurring psychiatric disorders increases the risk of addiction.
  • Environmental factors: Environmental factors like peer pressure, social norms, exposure to trauma or stress and the availability of marijuana can affect addiction. If you grow up in an environment where its use is normalized or easily accessible, that can make you more likely to experiment, which can then become regular use.
  • Patterns of use: The frequency and duration of marijuana use can influence addiction development. Chronic and heavy use raises the risk of addiction, as does starting to use it at an earlier age. Using marijuana with higher concentrations of THC can also make addiction more likely to occur.
  • Reinforcement: Marijuana, as is true with other addictive drugs, has rewarding effects like relaxation, stress relief and euphoria. That can reinforce use patterns and contribute to addiction development. Over time, you may associate its use with positive feelings or experiences and use it as a coping mechanism or a way to escape stress or negative emotions.

Marijuana Abuse vs. Addiction

Marijuana abuse isn’t the same as addiction. Abuse can occur without an addiction. An addiction is a diagnosable, chronic condition.

Marijuana abuse refers to patterns of use that lead to negative consequences. While marijuana abuse can have significant negative effects on different parts of your life, you don’t necessarily meet the criteria for addiction. You may have a level of control over your use and be able to cut down or stop using marijuana if you’re dealing with negative consequences because of it.

Marijuana addiction is also called a cannabis use disorder. This is a condition defined by a loss of control over marijuana use, compulsive drug-seeking and continued use despite consequences. The CDC estimates that up to 30% of people who use marijuana have a marijuana use disorder.[3]

Someone with an addiction might spend large amounts of time trying to get the drug, and they’re unsuccessful when they try to cut back or stop. They may even experience withdrawal symptoms. Between 40-50% of heavy cannabis users experience withdrawal symptoms to some extent.[4]

Marijuana addiction tends to lead to progressively worsening effects in most areas of a person’s life, including their cognitive function, mental health, relationships and their career.

It’s difficult to overcome marijuana addiction without professional help.

Marijuana Addiction Treatment in Los Angeles

If you’d like to learn more about marijuana addiction treatment in Los Angeles, contact Invigorate Behavioral Health. We are a licensed Southern California detox and addiction treatment service. We offer treatment programs for different substance use disorders at our treatment centers, including marijuana. We can help you stop using the drug safely and effectively. Call now to get started.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Cannabis (Marijuana)
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Addiction (Marijuana or Cannabis Use Disorder)
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Is marijuana addictive?
  4. National Institutes of Health (NIH): Cannabis use, abuse, and withdrawal: Cannabinergic mechanisms, clinical, and preclinical findings

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