Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal substance in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About 19% of Americans used marijuana at least once in 2019. Like with any substance you put in your body, there are risks that everyone should be aware of. Several concerns around marijuana are not simply black and white, which can complicate people’s perception of the drug. Yes, marijuana is safe, but you still have to be cautious. Yes, you can overdose on marijuana, but it’s really unlikely. Here’s some information to help you make sense of the situation.

Is Marijuana Legal?

If your state has legalized marijuana, you need to understand if it’s medicinal, recreational, or both. For medicinal, you likely need a card from a medical practitioner to grant you access. For recreational, you likely need to meet your state’s age requirements to purchase marijuana. Just as with alcohol, it is illegal to use marijuana in public or while you’re driving. It is also illegal to take marijuana across state borders, even between two states where it is legal.

At the federal level, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 Drug, meaning the federal government considers it of no medicinal value with a high potential for abuse. Generally speaking, the federal government isn’t currently pursuing people who use or distribute marijuana according to state laws, but that could change, and there is no law protecting marijuana use at a federal level.

Is Marijuana Safe?

Marijuana is a relatively safe drug, but you should still be cautious. Compared to other drugs like opioids or even alcohol, and in the immediate (i.e., not talking into effect long-term consequences from excessive use), marijuana is a relatively safe drug. That doesn’t mean you should drive, operate heavy machinery, or anything else while high until you know how you’ll react. All that said, it is always risky buying drugs on the street or from a dealer because you don’t know what you’re getting. If marijuana is legal in your state, consider buying it from a dispensary where production and quality are controlled, and the staff can advise you on what will work for you.

Is Marijuana A Gateway Drug?

Marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes are all equally gateway drugs. Using any of them may make you more likely to try other substances.

Can I Get Addicted to Marijuana?

Studies vary, showing that between 10-30% of people who use marijuana will become addicted, which means you meet the criteria for substance use disorder as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Your risk of developing marijuana use disorder increases greatly if you start using it before the age of 18.

What’s the Risk of Overdose?

It’s very unlikely you will overdose purely from marijuana, but it is technically possible.

Can I Drive After Using Marijuana?

No, driving while you’re high is illegal, and like driving after drinking, it’s just a bad idea. Marijuana can impact your body in several ways including your coordination, focus, and judgement, three key things you need to be a safe driver. Use a rideshare app, have a designated driver, or use public transportation if you want to go somewhere after using marijuana.

Will I Suffer Withdrawals?

Probably not if you’re a light or moderate user. If you’re a heavy user, however, you may experience withdrawal symptoms like irritability, mood changes, appetite changes, and difficulty sleeping that peaks about two weeks after use.

Can Employers Test Me for Marijuana Even if It’s Legal in My State?

It’s up to the employer. It’s likely dependent on your state’s laws, but generally speaking, employers can test you for marijuana and other drugs and can terminate employment if you test positive, especially if you’re high or in possession of marijuana at work.


More Information

For more information on substance use in general, please check out our Substance Misuse resources page. If you’re a Youturn Health member, and you’d like to learn more, check out our Young Adult Marijuana Use course. It’s aimed at young adults, but the information is relevant to all age groups.