Marijuana Addiction, Symptoms and Treatment Information

Addictions can occur with any substance that alters the way the brain functions. Marijuana is not typically thought of as a physically addictive substance, but research shows that it is often abused. When it is consumed for long periods of time tolerance, dependence, and addiction can occur.

Marijuana is derived from the cannabis plant. It is dried out, ground up, and usually smoked either in a cigarette form or in a pipe. It can also be used in food products to achieve a longer lasting effect. A resin substance can be extracted from the plant, which produces a more intense high for users. It can be in the form of a viscous liquid, a wax, or a hard, crystallized material that looks similar to hard candy. This resin is referred to as “dabs” and can be vaporized and inhaled. When “dabs” are smoked, the effects are immediate but are longer lasting and more intense due to their high THC content.

Marijuana contains a psychoactive compound called THC. THC acts on brain chemistry to produce a “stoned” effect in users. This “stoned” effect includes feelings of happiness, mild hallucinations, increased appetite, and reduced anxiety.

For the older generation who remember smoking pot in the 1960’s, it can be difficult to understand how individuals can become dependent on marijuana. It is important to understand that the THC content of today’s marijuana has increased as much as 300 percent since the 1960’s. This increased THC content leads to abuse, dependence, and addiction. It also contributes to marijuana-induced accidents and emergency room visits due to intoxication.

Marijuana can be either smoked or ingested to obtain its effects. It can be legally prescribed for individuals with specific illnesses, like cancer, to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and nausea. The street names for marijuana include pot, dope, ganja, grass, mary jane, reefer, and weed.

Individuals who use marijuana can grow to become dependent on it. Like other illicit substances, marijuana affects dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is the “feel good” chemical the brain naturally produces. When dopamine is increased by other means, like drug use, the brain stops producing it naturally. Over time, the brain needs marijuana in order to feel and function normally. This leads to a physical dependence on the drug. With chronic use, the brain’s focus can become dulled and lose its ability to think clearly.

Most users will not become addicted to marijuana after one-time use. Daily chronic use can lead to tolerance. This leads to needing more of the drug in order to achieve the same effects. If chronic marijuana use is stopped abruptly, it can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms include irritability, insomnia, loss of appetite, anxiety, depression, agitation, cravings, and mood swings. These symptoms typically are at their worst three to four days after marijuana use is ceased. Physical withdrawal symptoms from marijuana use will usually stop altogether within two weeks. Psychological withdrawal symptoms can last a prolonged period of time while the user resumes normal daily life. These psychological symptoms of marijuana addiction may require treatment and counseling in order to overcome them.

Chronic use of marijuana can have a lasting effect on the body, particularly when smoked. Marijuana can increase the heart rate which increases a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke. Like tobacco cigarettes, marijuana contains carcinogens which increase the risk of lung and other types of cancer. It also increases the risk of catching viruses, like colds, and pneumonia.

The relaxed mental state marijuana brings to users can negatively impact their lives. It leads to a lack of motivation because the user is so relaxed. Individuals cannot operate heavy machinery or drive while intoxicated because of the reduced cognitive abilities involved. It can cause strife within family units which lead to a poor social life.

The first step in recovering from marijuana addiction is recognizing that there is a problem. A growing tolerance to marijuana can signal an addiction. If withdrawal symptoms occur when an individual attempts to stop smoking, the body has developed a dependence on it. Individuals may try to cut back on their marijuana use and fail. They may intend to smoke less on a given day and be unable to stick to their boundary. When smoking marijuana takes up the majority of a person’s time and reduces their participation in activities they previously enjoyed, addiction is in play. Many employers require a drug test to obtain employment or use random drug tests. Individuals who are addicted to marijuana will be unable to stop using it despite negative consequences for their employment. If an individual has gotten into legal problems due to their marijuana use but continues to use the drug, this signals an addiction.

In addition to the problems marijuana abuse can cause on its own, it can also lead users to seek out harder drugs in order to achieve greater effects. This is why marijuana has been called a gateway drug. Not everyone who uses marijuana will go on to abuse other drugs, but most individuals who become addicted to drugs like heroin started out using marijuana.

Overcoming an addiction to marijuana can be achieved with help. Outpatient rehab can help individuals quit using marijuana with weekly or semi-weekly counseling and therapy sessions. Behavioral therapy has been shown to help marijuana addicts by changing their negative behaviors to more positive, productive behaviors. Support groups like marijuana anonymous and other 12 step recovery programs can help individuals achieve sobriety.

For many marijuana users, they started smoking marijuana as a means to medicate an underlying mental health disorder. When the marijuana is stopped, the mental health issue is still present and will need to be treated. Depending on the severity of the mental health disorder, inpatient rehab may be necessary to treat both the disorder and the addiction to marijuana.

While addiction to marijuana is not generally as life-altering as other drug addictions, it can be difficult for individuals to overcome on their own. Trial and error with different treatment options may need to be employed in order to successfully treat marijuana addiction.


Further Reading:

Is Marijuana Addictive?