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Marijuana, Just Harmless Fun? Revisiting an Issue

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 5th 2008

 Last January 2007 I wrote a web log called, "Marijuana, Just Harmless Fun?" There were a variety of reactions to that web log entry. Among those were some that were very supportive and confirming of the dangers of chronic marijuana smoking, especially from those who admitted to histories of chronic smoking. In addition, there were comments opposed to the things pointed out in the log entry.

During the last couple of weeks new articles have appeared further documenting the dangers of this drug. Article 1: On January 24 2008 published a report from Johns Hopkins Department of Medicine stating that withdrawal from chronic marijuana usage is just as difficult as withdrawal from cigarettes. The research group from John's Hopkins, one of the finest medical schools in the nation if not the world, stated that a wide variety of studies from around the world showed that marijuana users, particularly those who are heavy users, experience such withdrawal symptoms as: irritability, anger, difficulty sleeping, nervousness, restlessness and anger, among other symptoms, when they abstain from using. These symptoms are similar to those who try to abstain from cigarette smoking.

Article 2: On January 29th 2008 a report was published from Hong Kong that smoking "a joint" is equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes in terms of the risk of lung cancer. This article was published in the European Respiratory Journal. The report states that smoke from cannabis contains twice the level of carcinogens as compared to cigarettes. As a result of these findings scientists from around the world warn of the risk of an epidemic of lung cancer directly linked to chronic or heavy marijuana usage. They point out that marijuana joints do not have filters. The Medical Research Institute of New Zealand reports that one in 20 lung cancers diagnosed in that country were caused by the use of cannabis. Of course, many people smoke both cigarettes and cannabis, seriously increasing their exposure to carcinogens and the risk of cancer. What is also troubling is the fact that so many people, world wide, begin using marijuana at ever younger ages.


What is concerning to me is, first, the firm conviction of so many marijuana users that it is a benign substance that can be used frequently and at leisure. Among these people are those who report that they smoke before and after work. Therefore, they are driving while "high" but deny that their perception and ability to drive is in any way affected.

Another concern I have is that many people, when presented with this and other data about the potentially harmful effects of chronic cannabis use, seem to think that I advocate the use of alcohol. They also seem to assume that I am opposed to legalizing marijuana while allowing for the legal use of alcohol. Nether is true:

First, the harmful effects of alcohol are well documented and it is crucial that users of alcohol be just as wary of its use as of any other substance. In fact, I would say that the chronic use of either alcohol or marijuana carries with it very great dangers to the health and well being. The key word in all of this, it seems to me, is the word "chronic use."

Second, from my individual point of view, and in my opinion, and that has nothing to do with Mental Help Net or the other professionals associated with Mental Help Net, the legalization of marijuana makes perfect sense. People are regularly using the substance but without quality control being provided. The U.S Food and Drug Administration would be able to see to it that, if cannabis were legalized, its production was not polluted with unwanted substances, as it does with other drugs and food. Just to clarify, I am not discussing the medical use of marijuana by prescription, as in California, but the legal and leisurely use of the substance just as alcohol drinks are legal and available.


It is time for those who use marijuana, particularly on a chronic basis, to stop deluding themselves about this being a harmless product that makes them feel good. In fact, other research, cited in the earlier posting, clearly shows that those with a tendency towards depression become clinically depressed as a result of the heavy use of wee. Also, those who are vulnerable to psychotic illnesses risk hastening the onset of scary psychotic symptoms and full blown psychotic illness.

User beware.

This is a controversial issue and your comments and opinions are welcome.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

TO MR. "Easy" - Plato - Sep 13th 2011

If smoking weed is like releasing a bird from its cage and then expecting it to return to the cage, then let me ask you this, were birds meant to fly or to live in a cage?

Where Did Weed Come From Anyways? - Plato - Sep 13th 2011

All in all, the bottom line is that this specific drug affects people differently period.  If you have certain anxiety attacks or you do not like the feeling of being high, then by all means stop using it.  On the same note, when I smoke down, I feel like doing things like golfing, fishing, and playing sports.  I do not feel lazy.  When I smoke I tend not to sleep (by choice) because I love to think and do.  If i have a problem and I can't figure out the solution, sometimes getting high can help me solve the problem, however like anything in this world too much of something can have negative effects.  I am 20 and have a 3.96 GPA in college and have been using weed for almost a year.  I smoke up to 3 times a week usually less.  I am not saying whether or not it is right or wrong.  Maybe in a few years from now I will have a different opinion, but as for now, the way it affects me is something I like. 

About "Withdrawals" from wuitting marijuana - Dennis - Feb 9th 2011

About the very first comments stating that "research" says quitting smoking marijuana gets the same withdrawal effect as quitting smoking cigarettes is complete bull.

I have recreationally smoked marijuana for the past 4 years and every year during the winter I quit and I experience absolutely no withdrawal symptoms. The only reason that would make me want to start smoking again against my own will is if a group of people I hang out with smoke all the time. But even then its not really a pressure. I smoke during the summers and quit during the school year. I have never experienced any sort of withdrawal symptoms.

So stop posting this nonsense propaganda.

There Is Good Smoking... - Jacob - Jan 4th 2011

I have just been reading the numerous posts from people regarding their use, experience, thoughts or just opinions about marijuana. Some people seem to have had a negative experience and some others find it somewhat harmless. The most obvious thing to say is it affects everybody differently. Having said that I can't believe people have been smoking for years and are still at school! It's not so much I can't believe it's happening(because I saw it happen when I was at high school but it seems that most opinions of the drug are made from how it affects high school students. Which is insane! I didn't smoke pot in school, lots of friends did but something inside me said I wasn't ready for that yet(not to mention research). Now I'm 27 and have smoked on and off for about 2 years(I only have 1 joint a day and not everyday). I have never felt happier with my state of mind and what it does for me is and has been quite profound, so it's hard for me to be negative about marijuana but, I would strongly recommend anybody reading this that is atleast under the age of 22 to seriously consider putting it off untill your a bit older. I can't imagine where I would be right now if I had started smoking earlier than 24-25, because untill then I didn't know what kind of person I was or what I wanted to do with my life. I think that is kind of important too.

In the end everyone will make their own choice, the government need to understand and accept they can not control choice. Replace the drug war money with drug education, and not the cheesey, pathetic presentation that makes students laugh or the harsh, shock factor ones that make students scared. One day I'd like to see an internet forum that students go on and perhaps read along with the teacher about "real" people and their experiences with drugs. I had the awarness and accessibility to research "real" peoples opinions and not just the boring old facts and scare tactics and HEY, it did wonders for me. This sort of thing is easier now than it's ever been. Kids just need to know where to look or do it in class.

Wow! That was a long post, sorry.




Effects on Infants - Deborah - Jan 1st 2010

I wonder what effects the drug has on infants.  If a chronic user smokes in their presence what is the effect?  I wonder if, because of their size, they may have an more powerful time of it.  Does it harm them at ages of infancy, I don't know but would really like some data on this if possible.  Concerned grandmother.

Really Guys? - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Dec 20th 2009

Sorry to disappoint you but I did not write the responses to the article, I only wrote the article and have made it clear when I have put in an addtional comment such as this one.

You report that you "smoke every hour." There is no way you will ever convince me that doing so is healthy. Marijuana is made up of many chemicals, some of which we know little or nothing about in terms of how they could affect people and at what doses. I do know from direct experiences working with psychotherapy patients that:  The kind of smoking you are doing, hourly in nature, robs them of their ambition and motivation.

Additional comment: Someone stated that they have the right to ruin their health whether its with alcohol or marijuana. My response is that "You do not have the right to ruin your health when I and all of us have to pay higher and higher health insurance premiums because of what you have done to your body and the amount of medical care is then required. I don't care whether the offending substance is marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, cigarettes, etc. When your behavior affects all of us then it becomes every person's business.

Dr. Schwartz

really... really guys? - - Dec 20th 2009

i am starting to think that every single post in this dicussion was written by the doctor himself. i say this because the comments written by the people who are attempting to advocate the use of cannabis are actually solidifying the opposition. long story short- i am extremely disappointed in every single one of you.. i smoke on an hourly basis and somehow i am able to articulate my words in a way that most educated people are able to understand.

Ingesting marijuana - - Jun 7th 2009

It is true that smoking cannabis is worse for your lungs than cigarettes, and CHRONIC use is as hard to quit as cigarettes.  But what about cooking cannabis in vegetable oil or butter and ingesting it? 

a sort of unwritten stoner rule - Burrito - Jun 6th 2009

I noticed your response regarding testicular cancer.  I just wanted to point out that when that study was done, they were burning everything: buds, stems, seeds.  It is, I suppose, a sort of unwritten stoner rule that you don't smoke the stems and seeds.  Not only can the stems/seeds cause testicular cancer, but also moderate to severe headaches.

tim is always right - - May 8th 2009

this web site is extremely hard to find for a project. and i believe we have the right to injure our health with cannabis if we can with alcohol. forget getting drunk when you can get higgh

Teen insight - Let's see.. - Apr 8th 2009

I really just feel as though people should be responsible for themselves, and make their own decisions regarding their body, health and so forth. If you feel like your going to be negatively effected in the long run from smoking pot, then don't do it. If its a sacrafice you think your willing to take, then go right ahead. I'm not for the legalization of drug - only because I feel as though people will absolutely abuse it. The main consumer of marijuana - teenagers - are just too immature, unprioritized, and incapable of making their own responsible decision, and I say this as a teenager myself. I have smoked pot in the past (at most 3-5 times/ week during summer), and can say that I'm an individual whom is capable of understanding the balance of work and play. I, of course, express this opinion realizing that it may be unique to myself, as I do have a few friends who cannot discern such between the two factors in their lives'.

To Cheyenne - Allan N Schwartz - Mar 16th 2009

Hello Cheyenne,

Unfortunately, marijuana will do nothing good for the development of your brain at this early stage of your life. Despite what you report about improvement in Math in school, I notice that your grammar and spelling are terrible. Your sentence structure is not much better. The influence of Pot? Maybe. But, there is a new finding you must think about. It is this, the most recent finding is that teenage boys who are heavy smokers run a very high risk of developing testicular cancer. I don't know about you but I know I would not want that to happen to me. In fact, no man on earth wants that to happen. Protect yourself and take care of yourself. Can all of us be wrong for opposing the chronic use of marijuana?

Dr. Schwartz

I Think I Agree With Devon - Cheyenne - Mar 16th 2009
I am 17 yrs old and I have expierciend life with and without pot several times and I have been smoking for years and yes I have heard all thous "bad things" about pot before, during I smoked pot but is still don't get them. see the first time I smoke pot was during the summer so I couldn't see how it realy effected me until I was in school mode so I quit until about four months after school started I realized hey my math grades arnt so good. so after I realized that I thought to my self I wonder if I smoked pot before I went to school, seeing how I had math first period, so I did. after I about a 6 weks I got my report card and my grades were better they went from F's to B's and I started noticing that I was paying more attention at school and all my grades went up not just in math. after while my mom started noticing and she asked what I had ben doing different lately and I told her and even though she was mad she really couldn't say anything because my grades went up. so I then smoked for 2 yrs straight after that been then high school cqme and I had to quit for a year so I could play soccer and I didn't show any different changes or anything. during that year I started driving I drove for about 8 months sober and then I started smoking again and my friends even thougt it was going to change my driving. but I drove the exact same. I just don't under stand why they just don't leagalize it because if obama did and then the U.S. could tax it we could have has much weed as we want and the U.S. would come out of debt more than we are now anyway.

Marijuana is cool, but soberiety is cooler. - Easy - Jan 25th 2009

Dude, the bottom line is this.  Kids should be given a real and intimate conversation from parents or guardians about drugs like marijuana.  I am 21 and have smoked for five years of my youth and if I knew then what I know now, I would have never smoked the first hit.  Smoking weed for the first time and NEVER doing it again is like releasing a bird from a cage and asking it to go back inside.  In other words once you open that part of your mind up, you ALWAYS know how good it feels to be high.  I wish someone would have just been REAL with me and said that people do it because it feels really good but causes a lot of other problems.  My advice is unless you are rich and never have to work a day in your life, marijuana is by no means going to help you with money, jobs, or a wife.

I think I disagree - Devon - Oct 9th 2008

First off, let me say that I (in general) smoke every day, and have done so for years. Now then, with that being said I'm not too sure what sort of horrible things were being done to these people that were supposedly experiencing withdrawal symptoms from smoking weed, but I do and often have to simply not smoke for a week+ and never once do I think "Man, I need a joint", nor do I experience any withdrawal symptoms at all. A good friend of mine recently was placed on probation and had to stop immediatly, but showed none of these supposed "withdrawal symptoms". As a matter of fact, I can say this is the first time I've ever even heard of such a thing, marijuana has been studied many, many times and been found to not contain any addictive chemicals. What I'm guessing happens to people who have withdrawal symptoms is that they have dependence issues and would get psychologically addicted to anything, and marijuana just so happens to be the easiest mind altering substance to use. Also, a good while ago when I was in school I was already smoking, and yet I personally tested out very well on every standardized test I took. I went to an area where it was a big problem, and yet I knew many people who could handle their school work and using cannabis at the same time. Anyone who says it makes you stupid most likely simply lacks the willpower to balance smoking with schoolwork/studies, and in that case it's the person's problem, not marijuana's. On top of that, there's the fact that it's illegal and gets mislabled as making you stupid, so you have to assume that an unfortunate amount of people that use it aren't of the highest academic caliber to begin with since a lot of mislead smarter individuals are afraid their brains going to melt and run out their ears if they use it and they don't want to ruin their minds, as many people say it will do.

Then you have the odd article about marijuana containing more carcinogens than cigarettes. This is true, on the other hand anyone who does a bit of research also find that there are fun little chemicals, I forget if it's the cannabinoids or the actual THC that does it, that actually fight cancer by promoting the replacement of older cells that are more prone to cancer. On top of that, even if the chemicals weren't present, the amount of marijuana one needs to smoke to be good for quite a few hours is infinitesimal compared to the amount tobacco smokers smoke.

Then, to all the people that say they have increased motivation now that they quite or they have decreased motivation because they smoke, all i can say is that the mind can have great effects on the body. I've never experience any more depleted motivation from smoking, but it's also something I don't have much perspective on and haven't heard much about so I can't definitively comment, but I'd definently advise anyone who thinks that to examine whether that's true or if it's perhaps just in their heads. 

Abuse - bob - Jul 26th 2008

I agree with the author of this article. Abuse, not use is the problem.

Marijuana has been shown in scientific studies to be less addictive than caffine and less harmful than alcohol. (look it up, don't take someon's word for it. But many studies on it are prohibited!). (unlike other highly addictive drugs where you lose the ability to make a choice, and are highly harmful. There is not a single documented case of marijuana overdose, only a biased study that displaced so much much oxygen with marijuana smoke that the monkeys in the study suffocated from deprivation of oxygen!). I don't smoke anything because I like to run, but scientific facts, not public opinion, should determine the classification of drugs (based on level of addiction and harm). The "drug war" is inefective and a HUGE (look up the numbers!) wast of government funds that could be much more effectively spent (ie. awareness programs that make the scientific facts clear). Not to mention the punishment for this victimless crime is disproportionate to the 'crime'! An autonomous decision maker has the right to make their own decisions. 



Saddened and sickened - Grandma - Jul 23rd 2008

Try it in a controlled environment?   Yes, try me O'dumbone.  Be my puppet. 

If you are healthy you don't need it.  Just like you don't need a daily shot of insulin if you're not diabetic. 

You marijuana worshippers have been fooled by the devil.  You used to be so smart and so handsome.  Please stop destroying yourself.

marijuana is horrible take it from me - KAT - Jun 18th 2008

I am 19 years old and have smoked weed since I was 14 up until recently. I am a girl and an attractive one at that, so coming across marijuana especially for free on a daily basis for the past five years has been a piece of cake for me... However I feel it has ruined my life completely...In december of 2007 I had my first panic attack...It was h o r r I b l e...I have never been so scared in my entire life I literally thought I was having a heart attack and going to die..It happened to me at work while on my lunch as I was smoking a "bowl"...After being rushed to the emeergency I informed the doctor that I had been smoking weed prior to my attack...He said that it was benigne and irrelevant to what had just happened to me...That I was simply stressed and that I need rest and prescribed me ativan...So being trusting of the man with the ph.D I continued smoking in the days...Weeks... Months to follow... However I found my self constantly having anxieties and panic attacks here and there after a large consupmtion of marijuana(im talking 4- 5 blunts a day && some hash here and there) after talking with a psychologist and my family doctor we came to the conclusion that my excessive use with cannabis was the cause of my aniety disorder that I now suffer from...Each and everyday is a struggle for me... I have constant thoughts and fears about dying....Every little ache and pain that I feel in body scares me to death and I think that something incurable is wrong with me...No matter how many times I go to the doctor and no matter how many tests they run that prove that im physically fine I just cant seem to believe otherwise...I am writing this because for a few weeks I pretty much isoslated myself from all my friends to abstain from using...To be honest with vigorous exercise and proper diet I had never felt better in my life...On the contrary I smoked last night I only took a hit...And today I feel so horrbly sick...My stomache is in knots and im having horrible heart burn...And I couldnt even finsih working out...I regret it big time and I pray to god that he just gives me the strength to just say no from now on.

Anger and aggressive associated with Marijuana - - Apr 22nd 2008

I wonder if there is a correlation between long term and/or heavy use of marijuana and a lack of impulse control    I myself am not an indulger, however, over the years it seems that some friends and acquaintances have this issue as a common denominator and as well as an unreasonable level of animosity and irrational anger responses at very small things - sometimes the issues are not even there

 I have noticed this for some time and have had discontinued a number of relationships because of this    Most notably, an acquaintance's son has stolen a significant amount of money from myself and I have never before encountered a situation before where someone would actually steal for pot      I have also seen some people going very much out of their way to ensure a consistent supply of pot - this I have seen with decades long use  

I use to think this was simply a personal preference and even though I don't use this myself felt it was relatively benign   I am changing my opinion as I feel, like alcohol, chronic usage definitely changes behaviour(s)




To chronic user NEEDS ADVICE - JR - Apr 22nd 2008

To the doctor's comment I would add the perhaps blindingly obvious comment that if you are binge drinking 4-5 times a week, this is probably blasting your memory as well (along with various other things) and you seriously need to deal with this, also.  Again, the general belief now seems to be that if one gives up the Evil Spirit (and that may be the only way for you), and keep your thiamine and vitamin B12 levels healthy, mental capacity (including memory) can recover over time.  I understand that other drug therapies, undertaken under medical supervision, may also be helpful. The alternative - keep blasting your brain with the Evil Spirit, and risk severe and irreversible brain damage over the long run ("wet brain syndrome") really does not bear thinking about.

I think that you should consider seeking medical help as a matter of priority. You need to start by getting clear of these intoxicants, completely.  I believe that one of the biggest problems facing someone in this situation is, simply, that getting even the first few clear days is very difficult - believe me, been there, at least as far as alcohol is concerned - but even a few days can make a huge difference to your appreciation of the problem.  This is, I believe, essential if you are to move on.  Also, whatever about the Weed, the Evil Spirit can gain such a grip on your body that unsupervised detox from a high level of alcohol consumption can be physically dangerous (seizures, severe anxiety etc.).  Medically supervised detox, involving appropriate drug therapy and vitamin treatment, can greatly reduce these dangers.

Whatever path to recovery you take, I wish you all the best.  You are clearly very young, with your whole life before you.  Don't waste it on drink and drugs.  To paraphrase Homer Simpson, beer may be a "temporary solution", but it is no solution to anything in the end - quite the opposite.

Live Long and Prosper in Recovery.  Believe me - it is worth it.


marijuana - - Apr 21st 2008

Anybody who promotes marijuana is probably a fifteen to eighteen year old inexperienced immature CHILD. This is not a put down, It is just a fact, I was once one. Marijuanna is a bad drug for chronic use and it should be illegal because it does harm others around them. Drugs are still BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD And cigarettes, and alcohol. Still bad. They Always will be.


Yes - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Mar 13th 2008

Dear Bryan,

The answer to your very passionate and worried comment is Yes, if you stop smoking marijuana you will recover your mental faculties.

Please look for a fuller answer under "Ask Dr. Schwartz" and please join our Online Community where you can discuss this with others and get lots of support.

Dr. Schwartz

chronic user-NEED ADVICE - Bryan - Mar 13th 2008

I am a chronic user of marijuana. Currently I smoke about 1-3 times a day. This may include a blunt (marijuana filled cigar), bowl, bong, or joint. I also smoke cigarettes occasionally. I also binge drink 4-5 times a week. I believe my family is prone to depression because I've noticed it in many of my family members. Before I started smoking (9th grade...I'm now 20) I had some self-esteem problems, that eventually lead to depression. Throughout high school, I was actually pretty confident and happy. I had good friends, good times, good band, good looking girls. College comes around. I started smoking and drinking MUCH more than i did in HS.  I go to a school that these things are extremely abundant at and hard to avoid. Now, I'm scared for my own health. In the past 6 months, I've had extreme feelings of anxiety, paranoia, depression. I feel I'm actually getting dumber. Communication has become a real problem because I can't hold a normal interesting conversation. I end up spacing out and saying something really thick headed. It is an ongoing joke for my friends. I have lost any confidence I may have ever had. My memory has seriously gone to shit. I won't remember something we were just talking about, not to mention a day or week. I've had real problems in relationships because I've forgotten many important things. I've become extremely anti-social, basically because of the paranoia. I've noticed that I'm an extremely awkward person. Sex has also become an issue. In the past 6 months I've experienced both Erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation on numerous occasions. I've slacked off in school a lot. 


dont hate - i like weed - Feb 14th 2008

i really dont know who to believe because I hear all these random numbers and facts comparing weed and cigarettes and everytime their different.

Weed is used ti help patients with cancer, glaucoma, Arthitis, miltiple serosis, aids and a ton of other diseases so weed is better than alcohol and cigarettes and its 

dont drink and drive smoke and fly  

get a life - roley1kenobi - Feb 9th 2008
People's choice to use Marijuana is strictly their own business . Who are governments to tell us that this is wrong when other drugs such as alcohol is promoted every few minutes and tobacco is sold every second over the counter . The " Drug dealer " in society needs to be abolished and drugs need to be legalised simply to educate people about them and to let people experience first hand use in a controlled enviroment , free the weed

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