Updated on 1/31/2023

Content reviewed by Christian Losch, LCSW, LCADC, CEO of Pinelands

With the legalization of marijuana, it’s crucial to understand the risks marijuana poses for any individuals in recovery. About 1 in 10 users may become addicted, rising to 1 in 6 if marijuana use starts before 18. Long-term use can increase psychosis risk and impair memory, learning, and coordination. Short-term effects of marijuana use include mood changes and impaired coordination. Marijuana can impact driving, athletic performance and overall life satisfaction. Despite legality, it can still cause addiction and dependence, hindering presence in sober life. Coping mechanisms like art and physical activity can help manage triggers.

It is no secret that many states are beginning to legalize marijuana for various reasons. Some of these may include economic growth, improved access for patients, regulated consumer safety and taking money away from illegal drug dealers.

According to the National Institute of Health, “Surveys show 9.5% of Americans use marijuana; 30% of users meet criteria for a disorder.” With the widespread legalization and perceived acceptance of recreational marijuana use, those in recovery may be tempted to implement marijuana use into their lives. Some people in recovery may even consider marijuana not to be an addictive substance.

To avoid sacrificing sobriety, it is important to stay informed about marijuana. 

Here are some facts found from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) regarding the effects (long-term and short-term) of marijuana usage.

  • Research shows that about 1 in 10 marijuana users will become addicted. For people who begin using before the age of 18, that number rises to 1 in 6.
  • Long-term or frequent marijuana use has been linked to an increased risk of psychosis or schizophrenia in some users.
  • Marijuana use directly affects the brain — specifically the parts of the brain responsible for memory, learning, attention, decision making, coordination, emotions and reaction time. In babies, children and teens, developing brains are especially susceptible to the adverse effects of marijuana.
  • Short-term effects can cause changes in mood, lowered reaction time, increased appetite, problems with balance and coordination and more.
  • Long-term effects may cause an increased heart rate, breathing problems, mental health issues and birthing issues if pregnant.
  • Research shows that marijuana affects timing, movement and coordination, which can harm athletic performance.
  • People who drive under the influence of marijuana can experience dangerous effects: slower reactions, lane weaving, decreased coordination and difficulty reacting to signals and sounds on the road.
  • Using marijuana can affect performance and how well people do in life. Research shows that people who use marijuana are more likely to have relationship problems, poor educational outcomes, low career achievement and reduced life satisfaction.

Being aware of the facts surrounding marijuana usage can help create informed decisions for sobriety when moving forward in a society where marijuana is becoming legalized.

Many people may think that it is possible to be sober and still use marijuana. While this may be considered functional for some, this is not necessarily the case for all in sobriety.

Marijuana, regardless of whether it is legal or not, is still a substance that can cause addiction. Even though the physical effects of marijuana addiction are not as severe as harder drugs such as meth or cocaine, a person can still be physically dependent on it. In addition, an individual can also be mentally dependent on marijuana. Due to the feelings of euphoria and disassociation that marijuana can cause, many users continue to use it more to get the same desired effect. Not using the substance can be nearly impossible for users, given that it can cause extreme depression and anxiety when they are no longer experiencing the high of euphoric feelings.

Sobriety is not just about no longer using a problematic substance. It is about bettering one’s life by managing various hardships and regulating emotions. Being able to find meaning and enjoyment in sober life is incredibly important for growth and development. When using marijuana, one is continuing not to live life in the present moment. Whether or not a person is using a substance to escape or distract themselves, using marijuana prevents them from fully ever being present in everyday life.

If you find it difficult to be in an environment where marijuana is readily available, there are healthy coping mechanisms that you can begin to practice. 

It may be triggering to live alongside the legalization of marijuana for those in recovery. Many may find it tempting to begin or continue using this substance. Others may experience increased anxiety, anger or fear as legalization continues. To mitigate these feelings, one can try the following activities:

  • Engage in art. Art is designed to help one express and release their feelings, good or bad. If you are experiencing any urges, anger or fear, art can be extremely beneficial. You can subdue or even release these potentially intense, temporary feelings by singing, dancing, writing, painting or more.
  • Go running. Engaging in physical activity can be a great release when experiencing emotions. Physical activity boosts your energy levels and helps to decrease feelings of anger, fear or anxiety. Running, in particular, can help you release these feelings while also giving you a sense of empowerment and freedom.

Work on a project. By having a project to work on, not only can you escape from your reality for a while, but you can also have a safe way to release your energy. Whether you are putting together a couch, painting your walls or planting flowers, you can effectively and safely release this negative energy.

Those of us at Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford want to help ensure your sobriety. We understand that with the continued legalization of marijuana, much conflicting information is being spread about its use. Under our care, you can trust that we will help you during your recovery journey despite the widespread legalization of marijuana in the United States. Call us today at (877) 557-5372 to learn more and ensure your sobriety.