Marijuana Use Labeled a Risk Factor for Post-Surgery Complications

Cannabis use complication,

People who struggle with an addiction to drugs and alcohol should get help as soon as possible. That is a fairly noncontroversial view, but what doesn’t always receive widespread agreement is what types of substances people can become addicted to. Case in point, even as a growing body of evidence suggests marijuana is addictive, the drug is increasingly legalized across the U.S., and many Americans don’t see marijuana as addictive.

However, one of the defining traits of an addictive substance is that compulsive use often leads to serious physical health problems. A recent study found that people who use marijuana compulsively—who use it repeatedly and regularly—are more likely to experience negative health complications during and after surgery.

What the Findings Show

A paper titled Cannabis Use Disorder and Perioperative Complications was recently published in JAMA Surgery. The study found a potential link between compulsive cannabis use and health complications during and after surgery. The study authors suggested doctors screen for and assess cannabis use and potential addiction before performing elective surgery on a patient to mitigate risk factors that may be present if the patient is addicted to cannabis.

For the study, the researchers analyzed records of patients who received major elective surgeries between 2016 and 2019. The researchers began by analyzing 62,000 hospitalizations, eventually narrowing their analysis down to 6,211 surgery patients who met the criteria for marijuana addiction and 6,211 who did not. The researchers defined marijuana addiction as “continued excessive use of marijuana even when it’s causing health and social problems or interfering with work.”

Man in a hospital

The researchers found that the 6,211 patients addicted to marijuana had higher risks of heart attack, stroke, kidney problems, respiratory failure, blood clots, hospital-acquired infections, and additional surgical procedures related to complications. The rate of complications for this group was about 8%, versus 7% for the non-marijuana-addicted patient group.

The researchers indicated the study did not directly prove marijuana caused the risk for complications during or after surgery, but other data suggests it does. Marijuana can cause blood vessels to spasm, leading to heart attacks and strokes, both of which are more likely to occur in patients addicted to marijuana. Marijuana also suppresses the immune system, and marijuana-addicted patients were more likely to contract infections during and after surgery than non-marijuana-addicted patients.

The Scope of Marijuana Addiction and How to Tell if a Loved One Is Addicted

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], approximately three in ten people who use marijuana are addicted to it, meaning “they are unable to stop using marijuana even though it’s causing health and social problems in their lives.” That figure translates to about 16 million Americans. The CDC also highlighted that risk factors for becoming addicted to marijuana increase when people start using marijuana during youth or adolescence or when people of any age begin using marijuana more frequently.

Signs of marijuana addiction include:

  • Craving the drug
  • Using more marijuana than intended
  • Experiencing cravings when not using marijuana
  • Spending significant amounts of time using marijuana
  • Trying to quit using marijuana but being unable to do so
  • Needing to use more marijuana to experience the same effects from it
  • Using marijuana even when doing so causes problems at home, at work, or in school
  • Continuing to use marijuana despite physical and mental problems developing from it
  • Using marijuana in high-risk situations, such as while driving a car or operating heavy machinery
  • Forsaking important activities, passions, hobbies, and friend groups to make time for using marijuana
  • Continuing to use marijuana even though doing so causes social problems and relationship difficulties

People addicted to marijuana may also be at higher risk for other negative consequences like problems with attention, memory, and learning.

Known Short-Term and Long-Term Harm from Using Marijuana

Marijuana long-term effects

Using marijuana in any quantity has short-term and long-term effects on the brain. Short-term effects include:

  • Slowed reaction time
  • Altered sensory perception
  • Changes in mood, often rapid
  • Altered sense of time and space
  • Impaired movement and motor function
  • Difficulty thinking and solving problems
  • Impaired memory, both short-term and long-term
  • Hallucinations, delusions, and psychosis (when taken in high doses)

When used over time, marijuana can affect brain development and function, especially when one begins using the drug during adolescence, teens, or young adult years. Repeated drug use can begin to impair thinking, memory, and learning functions. Regular use of the drug has also been linked to a reduction in IQ.

People who are hooked on marijuana will likely need to use more over time to experience the same “high.” The more potent the marijuana (the greater the concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol [THC]), the stronger the drug’s effect on the brain and body. When people use more potent marijuana more often to feed their addiction, they put themselves at greater risk of harm.

The Need for Marijuana Addiction Treatment

If you know someone who is addicted to marijuana, someone who is using the drug and who cannot stop using on their own despite experiencing harmful effects from it, please do everything you can to help them find and enter a qualified, residential drug addiction treatment center. Please don’t wait to get them help, as every day they continue to use the drug, they are at risk of experiencing serious harm.


  • JAMA. “Cannabis Use Disorder and Perioperative Complications.” Journal of the American Medical Association, 2023.
  • USNews. “Strong Marijuana Habit Could Raise Odds for Complications During Surgery.” U.S. News, 2023.
  • CDC. “Addiction.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020.
  • NIDA. “What is Marijuana?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019.



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.