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Marijuana Intoxication

Last updated Nov. 13, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Marijuana, also known as cannabis or “pot”, is the most commonly used illegal drug within the United States. According to a global survey conducted in 2014, next to alcohol and tobacco, it is the third top drug used worldwide. Marijuana Intoxication is a term used for the effects of marijuana on individuals who smoke or ingest it.

What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Cannabis Intoxication
  • Intoxication by Cannabis
  • Intoxication by Marijuana

What is Marijuana Intoxication? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Marijuana, also known as cannabis or “pot”, is the most commonly used illegal drug within the United States. According to a global survey conducted in 2014, next to alcohol and tobacco, it is the third top drug used worldwide
  • Marijuana Intoxication is a term used for the effects of marijuana on individuals who smoke or ingest it. Marijuana refers to different parts, such as leaves, stem, flowers, and seeds, of the plant Cannabis sativa. It is used in the form of cigarette, cigar, vapor, resin, tea, or even mixed with food
  • The habit of ‘smoking pot’ is mainly prevalent among adolescent and adult males and females. However, those with depression or other mental health issues are more at risk for getting intoxicated with Marijuana
  • Marijuana Intoxication is caused by a chemical known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinal (or THC), which gets into the bloodstream and then the brain, to bring about feelings of relaxation, elation, and exhilaration
  • Apart from euphoria, the symptoms of Marijuana Intoxication can include memory loss and seizures. If used too often or in high doses, undesirable and serious medical complications can develop. It can also lead to life-threatening side effects
  • Discontinuing the use of marijuana is the first step towards treating intoxication by the substance. Medical and psychiatric intervention may become necessary for serious addictions and complications
  • Besides the above, the support of family members and friends can be beneficial in providing a measure of control, which can help pave the way for better outcomes in individuals with Marijuana Intoxication

Who gets Marijuana Intoxication? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Marijuana Intoxication occurs worldwide and individuals of all races, ethnic groups and both male and female genders are affected
  • However, college-age students and young and old adults are most likely to be affected

What are the Risk Factors for Marijuana Intoxication? (Predisposing Factors)

The common risk factors for Marijuana Intoxication include:

  • Mental health problems including depression
  • Personality disturbances
  • Lack of motivation
  • Problems with relationships
  • In adolescents and youth
    • Low IQ
    • Failure at school, poor academic or job performance
    • Attention problems
    • Being subjected to physical and mental abuse
    • Having issues with law enforcement or justice system in some form or manner
    • Individuals harboring suicidal thoughts
  • Having easy access to marijuana

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases one’s chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Marijuana Intoxication? (Etiology)

  • Marijuana Intoxication is caused by the mind-altering chemical, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinal (THC), which is the main active ingredient found in marijuana
  • When marijuana is smoked, THC is passed from the lungs to the bloodstream. Blood carries THC to the brain and other vital organs
  • In the brain, THC interacts with cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are predominant in centers of the brain involved with perception of pain, learning, and memory, as well as that of reward or pleasure processing
  • Normally, the receptors bind some chemicals naturally produced by the body, known as endocannabinoids (such as anandamide). These chemicals are important for the proper development and function of the brain
  • However, when THC binds to the receptors, they get over-activated. This leads to changes in the following functions, in the short-term:
    • Thinking
    • Problem-solving
    • Perception of sensory stimuli
    • Mood
    • Sense of time
    • Coordination, and therefore, movement
    • Memory
  • The continued use of marijuana can result in the following, which may be permanent:
    • Changes in brain connections
    • Drop in IQ points: The changes in IQ are predominantly reported in individuals who used marijuana in their teens

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Intoxication?

The common signs and symptoms of Marijuana Intoxication include:

  • Relaxation, sleepiness
  • Euphoria
  • Dry mouth, red eyes
  • Headaches
  • Decreased short-term memory
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Panic, paranoia
  • Increased heart rate, high blood pressure, trouble breathing
  • Sudden collapse, unconsciousness

How is Marijuana Intoxication Diagnosed?

Marijuana Intoxication is diagnosed using the (US) Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. If the following criteria are present, the individual is considered to have Marijuana Intoxication:

  • Recent use of marijuana
  • Psychological changes that developed from using marijuana
  • Dry mouth, increased appetite, tachycardia, and/or conjunctival injection

In addition to the above, a physical examination, assessment of symptoms, and study of the affected individual’s medical history may be considered, along with results from the following, to make an accurate diagnosis:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Chest X-ray
  • Electrocardiogram

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Marijuana Intoxication?

The following are some potential complications of Marijuana Intoxication:

  • Poor academic or work performance
  • Physical violence
  • Automobile accidents while driving, when intoxicated
  • Chest pain
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Heart attack
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Seizure
  • Stroke
  • Harmful effects on the developing fetus, when pregnant women use marijuana

Often, marijuana is used with other drugs and hallucinogens. These can additionally cause serious symptoms and unwanted complications.

How is Marijuana Intoxication Treated?

In most cases, if no complications arise, treatment is not necessary for Marijuana Intoxication. The symptoms usually subside in a few hours, and the individual can resume normal functioning. However, in severe cases, a healthcare professional may recommend the following:

  • Sedatives, such as benzodiazepines, to calm the affected individual
  • Treatment with activated charcoal, if marijuana has been ingested
  • Equipment to help ease breathing
  • Intravenous fluids for restoring nutrients, if the affected individual has had vomiting episodes, to control body temperature, etc.

How can Marijuana Intoxication be Prevented?

Marijuana Intoxication is preventable by considering the following measures:

  • Avoiding the use of marijuana
  • Seeking the help of a responsible adult for situations such as abuse
  • Seeking the support of family and friends
  • Recognizing and seeking medical intervention for psychological or mental disorders; including seeking the help of friends and family

What is the Prognosis of Marijuana Intoxication? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • Most cases of Marijuana Intoxication are uncomplicated and do not require medical care. Individuals typically resume their normal functioning, after the symptoms have subsided
  • In rare cases, severe symptoms may develop that require urgent medical care. With prompt treatment, the affected individuals can recover without long-term harm
  • Continued use of the drug, however, may lead to permanent damage, particularly in individuals who started the drug habit as teens

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Marijuana Intoxication:

Marijuana (pot) is also informally referred to as:

  • Mary Jane
  • Weed
  • Grass

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: April 7, 2017
Last updated: Nov. 13, 2018