When people use marijuana recreationally, they could find themselves among the users who can pick it up and put it down whenever they want. Or, they could become chronic users and fall into the nine percent of people who develop marijuana dependence with regular use, a figure that rises to 17 percent if use starts in the teen years, data show. While the number of people who become addicted is small, the risks are there every time the drug is used.
Marijuana remains the most commonly used and abused illegal drug in the U.S. among teens and adults. Its legalization in some parts of the country and growing social acceptance can make it difficult to determine when use has become a marijuana addiction.
Despite the public’s perception that regular marijuana is not as harmful as other drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and even alcohol, it is still a Schedule 1 drug in the U.S., which means it has a high potential for abuse. Abusing it can lead to cannabis use disorder, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5), which can, in turn, lead to addiction.
Table of Contents
What Is Marijuana?
Marijuana is a leafy green and brown mixture of dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa or the Cannabis indica plant. People commonly smoke, eat, drink, or inhale it. While marijuana contains more than 500 chemicals, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is believed to be the main ingredient responsible for the drug’s mind-altering effects on the brain. Once consumed, the user feels marijuana’s effects within minutes, and highs tend to peak after a half hour. Highs; however, can last anywhere from an hour to a few hours.
There are many different types, or strains, of marijuana as well. These different variations of the plant possess different chemical makeups which directly impact the amount of THC present in the plant. This is what makes certain types of marijuana stronger, or more potent than others. The effects of these plants can cause a much more intense high, as well as cause the user to experience the high for a longer duration of time.
As the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, when marijuana is smoked or vaporized, THC quickly passes from the lungs and into the bloodstream, which carries it to the body’s organs, including the brain. Once THC enters the brain, it attaches to the cannabinoid receptors of nerve cells that control learning and memory, movement, coordination, and judgment. THC also stimulates neurons in the brain’s reward system that release dopamine at higher levels.
Immediate effects of marijuana use include euphoria, relaxation, and detachment. Heightened sensory perception, an altered perception of time, and a hearty appetite are other effects. Pot smokers also can experience not-so-pleasant effects, such as mood changes, anxiety, paranoia, distrust, fear, and panic. When the drug enters the body via foods or beverages, its effects take longer to appear because it must be processed through the digestive system first.
The presence of THC can be traced up to three days after marijuana was last used. If used moderately (four times a week) or heavily (every day), it can stay in the body anywhere from five to 10 days. Evidence of chronic heavy use can remain in the body for a month.
Marijuana’s other physical effects include:
- Shallow breathing
- Increased appetite
- Dry mouth
- Red eyes and dilated pupils
- Slower reaction time
Researchers do not yet fully know how high concentrations of THC affect the body and brain, but there are symptoms that signal when a chemical dependence has developed.
Marijuana is also called pot, weed, herb, hash, grass, bud, ganja, Mary Jane, MJ, reefer, and other names. It should be noted that “synthetic marijuana” and “fake weed” are not the same thing as marijuana. Those slang terms refer to Spice or K2, which is a mixture of shredded plant material that is sprayed with harmful, mind-altering chemicals. The drug has no medicinal benefit and is used recreationally.
While it affects the same areas of the brain as marijuana does, the drug is more powerful than traditional weed because of the manmade chemicals in it. K2’s effects are unpredictable and can be life-threatening.
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Is Marijuana Addictive?
This is the age-old question posed by marijuana users across the globe. Throughout the years, indulging in marijuana use has become a more popular activity across all demographics, but most particularly young adults.
With the usage of marijuana becoming so widespread, it has garnered traction in the battle over its legality. As of 2018, marijuana has become completely legalized for both recreational and medicinal use in 9 states. It’s also currently legal for medicinal purposes in 28 states. That’s more than half the country!
According to a recent Gallup poll, approximately 64 percent of U.S. citizens support the overall legalization of marijuana. The movement of legalizing marijuana has come a long way in just a few decades. But the opposition facing the legal marijuana movement often cites the drug as a “gateway drug” or even that it’s an addictive substance. But is it actually addictive?
The short answer to a complicated question is that yes, marijuana is addictive. Despite naysayers, the fact of the matter is that marijuana does possess addictive qualities and can pose the potential to be addictive to some people.
However, marijuana is not addictive in the more “traditional way” in which people think about addiction. When people imagine someone having an addiction to drugs, they picture an alcoholic or a heroin addict.
In the terms of marijuana addiction, the picture is not accurate. Marijuana is addictive in the psychological sense. This means that people who use large amounts of marijuana will not encounter any physical dependence or withdrawal symptoms.
Instead, people who are addicted to marijuana will encounter psychological withdrawal symptoms, which can be just as bad as physical symptoms in some cases. People become dependant on marijuana in order to function on a daily basis, and when the drug is removed, it can have some dreadful consequences on those psychologically dependant upon the drug. Read on to learn more about the signs of marijuana addiction to identify it in yourself and others.
What Are the Signs of Marijuana Addiction?
When people find it difficult to stop using marijuana despite how such use is affecting their lives, a psychological dependence has developed. Here are common signs and symptoms that indicate addiction is underway:
- Withdrawal symptoms that occur within 24-28 hours after marijuana use are reduced or stopped
- Tolerance for marijuana that increases over time with regular use
- Using more of the drug than intended
- Intense drug cravings
- Replacing daily activities to get high on marijuana
- Spending a great deal of time thinking about marijuana or looking for it
- Failure to stop use despite repeated attempts to quit
- Seeking out the drug despite its consequences, side effects
- Using marijuana to deal with stress, anxiety, and fear, or using it relax
- Failure to meet daily responsibilities
- Behavior problems at school, work
- Using the drug in a risky manner, such as while operating machinery, driving
Signs of Marijuana Addiction
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What Are the Effects of Marijuana?
The short-term effects of marijuana will generally begin to manifest within less than 10 minutes of being smoked and between 30 minutes to an hour after being eaten and include:
Short Term Effects of Marijuana
- Dry Mouth
- Red, glassy eyes
- Impaired motor skills
- Impaired motor skills
- Impaired memory and other cognitive processes
- Altered perception of time
- Altered sensory perception (colors, sounds, etc.)
- Elevated heart rate
What Is Involved in Marijuana Addiction Treatment?
Marijuana users may feel mild withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the drug. Symptoms include irritability, sleepiness, appetite loss, weight loss, anxiety, and drug cravings. Some people may seek treatment at a drug rehab to end their dependence.
There are no medications available to treat marijuana addiction or marijuana withdrawal. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, also known as CBT, can help recovering marijuana users learn and apply skills and coping strategies that can help them identify and correct problematic behaviors that contribute to their drug use. Behavioral support such as this can be effective, NIDA says. Treating the underlying destructive and negative behaviors associated with drug use and abuse of any kind is important. This is the only way to ensure that you or your loved one does not ultimately end up returning to active addiction.
Since addiction is a chronic and progressive disorder, meaning it cannot be cured and will get worse before it gets better, addressing it with evidence-based therapy practices is the only way to combat the destructive disorder.
What’s important to also take into consideration is if you or a loved one who has a marijuana addiction is also engaging in polydrug use. Polydrug use refers to the practice of ingesting multiple substances at one time. This could mean, for example, drinking alcohol while also abusing marijuana.
Depending on what other substances you may have used in tandem with marijuana may affect the type of addiction treatment you need. While there may be no physical withdrawals associated with marijuana addiction, the same cannot be said about other drugs and alcohol.
There are certain detox medications and precautions that must be taken if there are other substances present in your system. Certain withdrawal processes from other substances can present serious physical consequences, including life-threatening seizures. Due to the volatile nature of some of these various withdrawal processes, they require specialized detox medications and plans in order to avoid serious detox side effects.
It’s always important to seek both medical and clinical intervention whenever dealing with addiction of any kind. Your health and safety are of the utmost importance, so ensuring you or your loved one gets proper addiction treatment should be your No. 1 priority.
How Dangerous Is Marijuana?
Researchers continue to explore the dangers of chronic marijuana use, but studies do offer evidence that constant use can be problematic.
When marijuana enters the body, it affects nearly all of the organs, immune system, and nervous system. According to WebMD, smoking marijuana can speed up the heart rate twice as much for up to three hours. When this happens, the risk of having a heart attack increases. Marijuana use also can increase bleeding, reduce blood pressure, and affect a person’s blood sugar, and lungs.
The amount of THC found in marijuana has increased in recent years, the medical site reports, making the drug more potent—and perhaps more harmful to one’s health—than before.
“Most leaves used to contain between one percent and four percent THC. Now, most have closer to seven percent,” according to the website. The increase in THC has some experts concerned that higher amounts of the chemical could make marijuana more addictive and enhance its psychoactive effects.
Marijuana use can worsen health problems such as low blood pressure and diabetes, among others, and over time, it can contribute to the worsening of mental health disorders.
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“The biggest risk related to the use of marijuana is the increased risk of psychosis,” said Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York, told Live Science for its report, “7 Ways Marijuana May Affect the Brain.”
WebMDexplains on its site, “Research shows a link between marijuana use and mental health problems like depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, short-term psychosis, and schizophrenia. While it’s not clear if marijuana causes these conditions, it can make them worse.”
Marijuana-impaired users who have ingested large doses of the drug are at risk of experiencing hallucinations and delusions, a condition known as acute psychosis. This means they have lost touch with the world and may act strangely in reaction to seeing things that aren’t there or smell things that aren’t there. This can be especially dangerous when driving, operating machinery, or supervising children.
Marijuana Abuse Statistics
- In 2015, about 4 million people in the United States met the diagnostic criteria for a marijuana use disorder.
- 22 million people reported using marijuana in the month before a 2015 survey.
- Marijuana is the second-leading substance for which people receive drug treatment (behind alcohol).
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Is marijuana addictive? Retrieved April 10, 2018, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-addictive
Scarola, C. (n.d.). More Americans Than Ever Support Legalizing Marijuana. Retrieved April 10, 2018, from https://www.inverse.com/article/30579-more-americans-support-legal-weed-than-ever
(n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2018, from https://www.dea.gov/druginfo/ds.shtml
Cannabis-Related Disorders Clinical Presentation. (2017, December 12). Retrieved April 10, 2018, from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/286661-clinical
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Marijuana. Retrieved April 10, 2018, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana