Cannabis (also known as marijuana) is the second-most commonly used recreational drug in NYC, after alcohol. It can be smoked, vaped or ingested as a food or beverage, producing reactions such as a relaxed, euphoric feeling, anxiety and an increased heart rate.

It comes from the cannabis plant, which contains several compounds, including THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is a psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant that makes people feel high. Unlike THC, CBD does not produce a high or cause impairment.

Different forms of cannabis contain different amounts of THC and produce different effects. The more THC that a cannabis product contains, the stronger the effect.

Concentrates, such as dabs, wax and oil, may have much higher proportions of THC — 40% to 90% — than other forms of cannabis, which are usually about 20% THC. Concentrates can cause a faster, more intense effect than other forms of cannabis and may lead to an increased health risk. Cannabis added into food and beverages, known as “edibles”, have a delayed and longer-lasting effect than smoked or vaped cannabis.

A person’s reaction to cannabis may be affected by their age, height, weight, health status, medications taken, tolerance and what other food, liquids and drugs they have consumed that day.

Temporary Negative Effects

People may experience negative effects from cannabis, especially after using concentrated cannabis or taking multiple doses of any type of cannabis within a short period of time. Negative reactions may include:

  • Temporary anxiety
  • Faster heart rate
  • Impaired reactions and/or distorted perceptions
  • Temporary panic, paranoia or hallucinations
  • Severe vomiting
  • Respiratory problems from smoking cannabis

Health Risks

There is limited data currently available about the health effects of cannabis use.

Severe Lung Injury Outbreak

Health officials nationwide are currently investigating a multistate outbreak of severe lung injury associated with vaping (PDF). Many of the cases seem to involve vaping cannabis products, such as THC oils.

For more information about the outbreak and investigation, including guidance for health care providers visit the CDC's website.

Learn more about e-cigarettes, including the increase in use among youth.

Possible Long-Term Effects

People who smoke cannabis may develop a cough, asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory issues. Cannabis smoking is not associated with the types of cancers that can be caused by smoking tobacco, such as lung, head and neck cancers.

People who use cannabis frequently, or who use cannabis with higher concentrations of THC, have a higher risk of experiencing psychotic symptoms. People who have a history of psychosis are also more likely to have psychotic symptoms after using cannabis.

People who start using cannabis early in adolescence or use it frequently are also more likely to develop a cannabis use disorder.

Other Risks

  • It is unsafe and illegal to drive while impaired by any substance, including cannabis. No one drives better while high. If you drive while impaired, you are at a higher risk of being in a fatal accident.

  • Avoid using too much cannabis too quickly. You may not feel the full effect of edible cannabis until up to four hours after taking it. To avoid negative effects, start with a low dose and wait at least two hours before considering whether to take more.

  • Mixing cannabis with other drugs, including alcohol, can cause unpredictable effects. Avoid taking different drugs at the same time. If you take prescription drugs, ask your health care provider about the possible effects of taking them with cannabis.

  • Cannabis may affect you differently if you have a chronic or acute health condition. Talk to your health care provider about how cannabis use may affect your existing condition.

  • Synthetic cannabinoids, commonly referred to as K2, are not cannabis. If you use them, the effects may be unpredictable and entirely different than cannabis use.

Current Legal Status in New York

Medical Cannabis is legal in New York State. People who have certain medical conditions certified for treatment with cannabis by a specially licensed physician may buy non-smokable cannabis and CBD products from dispensaries licensed by the State’s medical marijuana program.

Smoking or possessing any non-medical cannabis is prohibited in New York and subject to arrest or summons and penalties, including fines. Smoking and vaping of any cannabis in public — even with a prescription for medical cannabis — is not permitted.

For more information about whether medical cannabis could help you, talk to your health care provider.

Federal Law

Under federal law, cannabis possession and use in all forms remains illegal. There are a few FDA-approved prescription medications that contain cannabis-derived products, such as CBD, or are made with synthetic products related to cannabis.

For more information on the federal law, visit the FDA webpage on cannabis and cannabis-derived products.


In NYC, CBD is prohibited in food and drinks. The Health Department is embargoing food and drink products that contain CBD, meaning the products will have to be returned to the supplier or discarded. Starting October 1, 2019, the Health Department will begin issuing violations to food service establishments and retailers for offering food or drink containing CBD.

If you are a food service operator, learn more about the laws on CBD sales.

Additional Resources

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