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Marijuana Addiction: Signs and Effects of Marijuana Abuse

Man smokes a joint

Published: August 3, 2023

Marijuana addiction occurs when someone feels a compulsive need to use marijuana, even if they experience negative side effects or consequences with use. In 2021, over 35% of young adults ages 18 to 25 reported using marijuana within the last year.

While marijuana addiction is controversial, there is help for you or family members if you feel you may have a marijuana use disorder. Treatment comes in many different forms and can last various lengths of time and in various levels of intensity.

If you are interested in learning about cannabis use disorder, continue reading to learn about marijuana use, addiction symptoms, withdrawal symptoms, treatment options, and more.

Can You Become Addicted to Marijuana?

Marijuana is the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds that come from the cannabis sativa or cannabis indica plant. Marijuana contains a mind-altering chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

The effects of THC can lead people to develop a marijuana addiction, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The topic of marijuana addiction is controversial. Because marijuana has been found to have medicinal value and is legal in many states, it may not be viewed as a dangerous or “serious” substance. However, research shows that it’s possible to form an addiction to cannabis products.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 30% of people who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder (MUD). Research also shows that people who begin smoking before 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a MUD.

Marijuana Abuse vs. Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana can be dried and smoked, used in edibles, or have cannabinoid concentrate extracted. Edibles have become an increasingly popular method of ingesting cannabis, which has led to the steady growth of THC concentration levels in cannabis.

Studies have shown that the concentration levels of THC have increased from 4% in the 1970s to over 16% in 2020. The higher the concentration of THC, the more likely a person is to develop a marijuana addiction.

However, not all use of marijuana is considered ‘abuse.’

Marijuana abuse occurs when:

  • Using the drug in high doses
  • Using it frequently — such as daily
  • Using it heavily, or multiple times a day

Marijuana abuse is often what leads to marijuana addiction. For example, when a person only uses marijuana every now and then, but over time their use increases to the point where they need it to function.

The use of marijuana in states where it is still classified as an illegal substance is also considered abuse.

Can You Form a Dependence on Marijuana?

No, marijuana is not the type of substance that a person forms a physical or chemical dependence on. Dependence is what usually causes a person to develop withdrawal symptoms when they quit a substance.

Even though it is not possible to develop a chemical dependence on marijuana, some withdrawal symptoms are still possible if you have become addicted to it.

Signs of a Marijuana Addiction

It can be hard to know if you or a loved one have an addiction to marijuana, but there are signs and symptoms you can look for if you know what they are.

Signs of marijuana addiction can include:

  • Disrupted sleep patterns and insomnia
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Increased appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Impaired balance and coordination
  • Poor performance/attendance at work or school
  • Paranoia
  • Feeling nervous or “on edge”
  • Defensiveness
  • Agitation
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Reduced self-esteem
  • Mood swings

Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

When the brain adapts to large amounts of marijuana, it reduces the production of and sensitivity to its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters. Quitting suddenly can cause withdrawal symptoms.

When a person has been using marijuana heavily for a long time, they may become addicted to cannabis. If they decide to quit using marijuana abruptly, they can feel some physical and mental side effects from doing so.

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms can include the following:

  • Irritability
  • Mood and sleep difficulties
  • Decreased appetite
  • Cravings
  • Restlessness

Various forms of symptom discomfort may peak within the first week after quitting and last for up to two weeks.

Side Effects of Marijuana Use

The psychoactive effects of marijuana can cause many unintended health effects, including mental and physical.

Short-Term Effects of Marijuana

Even if you only use marijuana a few times, you may experience short-term effects.

Some of the short-term side effects include:

  • Altered senses (such as very vivid colors)
  • Altered sense of time
  • Changes in mood
  • Body movement impairment
  • Difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
  • Impaired memory
  • Hallucinations (when taken in high doses)
  • Delusions (when taken in high doses)
  • Psychosis (When consistently using highly potent marijuana)

Long-Term Effects of Marijuana

Using marijuana for an extended period of time can have negative consequences.

Long-term side effects of cannabis use can include:

  • Breathing problems
  • Increased heart rate
  • Problems with child development, before and after pregnancy
  • Intense nausea and vomiting
  • Memory issues
  • Effect on brain function, including learning and impulse control
  • Declines in IQ, especially in people who begin marijuana use in teen years
  • Increased risk for other drug use

Risk Factors for Marijuana Addiction

There are many different risk factors for marijuana addiction, with two of the biggest risk factors being smoking cigarettes or vaping.

Young people who are underage are more likely to develop an addiction to marijuana if they are already in the process of illegally buying nicotine products.

Other risk factors for developing substance use disorder include a family history of addiction to illicit drugs or marijuana. When someone grows up in a household where other people use cannabis freely, they are more likely to use it themselves.

Risk factors can also include factors pertaining to genetics, environment, prescription medication abuse, and more. Marijuana can also be used as a way to manage pain and can be easier to obtain than prescription pain medication.

Diagnosing Cannabis Use Disorder

Cannabis use disorder is usually diagnosed through a medical evaluation. A doctor or healthcare provider will usually ask a series of questions to determine a history of use, family history, and other relevant questions.

They may request urine and blood samples as well to get a clearer picture of a person’s drug use. Online self-testing is another option available to people who want to see if they may have a cannabis use disorder before contacting their healthcare provider.

Legalization of Marijuana

Marijuana legalization is a controversial topic. There are many people who still consider it to be too dangerous to be helpful, while others see the medical value that it may contain.

As of 2023, marijuana is still considered an illegal substance according to federal laws and regulations.

Marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 drug, which is the strictest classification given by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for drugs with no acceptable medical purpose or a high chance of abuse.

If marijuana is determined to have medical use and a lower level of potential for abuse and dependence, it may be reclassified or declassified entirely. As of February 2023, the FDA has not approved the cannabis plant for medical use.

Legalization of Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana was first legalized in California in 1996 and has now been legalized in 38 states, 3 territories, and the District of Columbia. Although legalized for medicinal purposes, marijuana is still widely considered to be an alternative medicine.

For those who are interested in seeking medical marijuana as a treatment, there are medical doctors who specialize in prescribing medicinal cannabis. If the doctor decides that the patient would benefit from it, they will be given a medical marijuana card.

Patients can then take their medical marijuana card to a dispensary.

Legalization of Recreational Marijuana

The recreational use of marijuana was first legalized in Colorado in 2014. The first dispensary opened its doors to the public January 1, 2014.

Since then, 21 states have fully legalized recreational use of marijuana. This allows the creation of a taxable, regulated, and recreational adult-use marijuana market.

Marijuana Addiction Treatment Options

If you or a loved one have a marijuana use disorder, there are many different treatment options available. Many treatment programs start with detoxification, followed by long-term or short-term treatment.

Treatment options for cannabis addiction will usually also include treatment for co-occurring disorders. There are often underlying mental health factors that contribute to addiction, and treating these problems can lend to a successful recovery.

Medical Detox

In medical detox programs, patients are monitored 24/7 by qualified medical staff. They will routinely check vitals such as blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate.

The first thing that happens when a person enters a medical detox program is a complete physical examination to assess their overall health and identify any co-occurring disorders.

During this time, a doctor will complete a full drug use history and, based on the information gathered, develop an individual treatment plan for each patient.

Inpatient Rehab Programs

Inpatient programs are considered to be a higher level of care and have the highest success rates for any degree of addiction.

Inpatient programs require you to stay on the premises around the clock and typically include several different types of behavioral therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), as well as mandatory support groups.

These programs are successful because they keep you away from outside addiction triggers while you learn new routines and life skills.

Outpatient Programs

If someone does not require intensive help or if they have graduated from an inpatient treatment program, there are outpatient treatment programs available. They are different types of outpatient treatment, with differing levels of assistance.

Types of outpatient treatment for synthetic marijuana use:

  • Partial hospitalization programs — These programs help patients transition from inpatient to outpatient treatment in a step-down approach designed to assist patients who need more frequent, intensive treatment.
  • Intensive outpatient programs — This program is used as a step-down from partial hospitalization programs. This could also be a program for patients who need less-intensive care than inpatient or partial hospitalization.
  • General outpatient programs — This is considered the least-intensive level of outpatient programs. These programs help prepare patients for life in long-term recovery and will continue for as long as it is needed.

Continuing Care

Continuing care programs are designed to help people who have substance use disorders continue their sober living after they have graduated from inpatient and outpatient programs.

Continuing care programs generally consist of community-based self-help support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. These types of programs are meant to taper off after a while, if possible.

You can also seek individual therapy, group counseling, sober apps, or alumni sober network groups through your rehab center to help you stay on the path to recovery.

Find Help for Yourself or a Loved One With Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana addiction is possible, but it is also highly treatable. If you or someone you love have a marijuana use disorder, you are not alone. The good news is help is available in many forms.

When you or someone you love are ready to end your addiction to cannabis, call our helpline today. Our addiction experts are ready to help you find a treatment program near you.

Marijuana Addiction FAQs

Is marijuana addictive?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the CDC have stated that marijuana can be addictive. A person can develop an addiction if they use marijuana in large amounts, for an extended period of time, or both.

Is marijuana dangerous?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) stated that clinical studies suggest people who smoke marijuana are more likely to develop respiratory illnesses than nonsmokers. Marijuana is also considered to be a gateway drug.

Most people who use illicit drugs start with marijuana, but not all people who smoke marijuana move on to “harder drugs” such as opioids.

Is marijuana addiction serious?

While marijuana may not be as serious as other illicit drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, there are serious complications that can come with long-term use. Memory loss, sleep impairment, and mental health problems such as depression are possible with continued use.

Researchers with the National Institutes of Health haven’t fully explored the effect of secondhand marijuana smoke on humans, but they do know that the toxins and tar found in marijuana smoke could affect vulnerable people, such as children or people with asthma.

If you or a loved one think you may have a drug addiction, contact our hotline today and take your first step on your sober journey.

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