The Truth About Marijuana Addiction
Marijuana, also known as cannabis and several other street names, is a widely consumed psychoactive (or mind-altering) plant substance. People often smoke marijuana leaves, flowers, and other plant materials in cigarettes, pipes, bongs, or vaporizing devices (referred to as “vaping”), though other methods of ingestion may be used for certain cannabis-derived substances (such as with edibles). Relatively recently, amidst a changing national landscape regarding medical and recreational marijuana, there has been increased confusion regarding the potential for marijuana addiction.2
Is Marijuana Dangerous?
Though many downplay the abuse potential of marijuana, its continued use can become problematic for some people. Especially in cases of chronic, heavy use, marijuana can increase the risk of developing a cannabis use disorder (i.e., marijuana addiction) and may be associated with several additional health issues. Marijuana contains tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short, as its primary psychoactive component. In a dose-dependent manner, THC is thought to be primarily responsible for the cannabis-related high, its reinforcing properties, as well as its addictive potential.1
When examining THC concentration, marijuana’s potency has increased dramatically over the past several decades. For example, in the 1990s, the average THC level in confiscated marijuana was roughly 4%. In 2018, it was found to be at levels of 15% or higher. In addition, newer methods of using marijuana and other cannabis-related preparations can deliver higher levels of THC to users.3 Higher potencies could mean an increased risk of addiction and a potential worsening of certain cognitive and mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and memory problems.3,4
The Effects of Marijuana
Like other drugs, marijuana can affect people differently depending on their unique physiological and psychological makeup. Other factors, such as genetics, can also play a role in how marijuana affects somebody. Most people use marijuana for its pleasurable effects. When THC and other active chemicals enter the bloodstream, many people experience sensations of euphoria and relaxation.
Yet some are unaware that marijuana use may also be associated with several additional short-term and long-term effects that can be detrimental to a person’s health and well-being, especially in chronic and heavy users.5
Short-Term Effects of Marijuana
In addition to its potentially-euphoric high, other short-term effects of marijuana use may include:6,10
- Altered senses.
- Changes in time perception.
- Mood changes.
- Impairment in bodily movements.
- Impaired motor coordination.
- Problems with cognition.
- Poor memory.
- Increased appetite.
- Increased heart rate.
- Dry mouth.
- Conjunctival injection (red eyes).
In addition, people who use high doses may experience additional negative short-term effects and dangers that can include:5, 6
Long-Term Effects of Marijuana
Chronic marijuana use maybe associated with additional physical, psychological, and cognitive effects. Some of these long-term effects of marijuana use include:5, 6
- Addiction, which has been estimated to develop in roughly 9% of all people who experiment with the drug; or as many as 25-50% of people who use the drug every day.
- Potential alterations in brain development, especially when used in adolescence.
- An increased likelihood of dropping out of school.
- Cognitive impairment. People who started using as teenagers may display lower IQ scores.
- Poor memory.
- Respiratory issues such as large airway inflammation and symptoms of chronic bronchitis.
- Increased risk of psychoses or a worsened course of psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia.
- Problems with child development both during and after pregnancy.
- The development of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, with unpleasant symptoms of severe vomiting, nausea, and dehydration, which may require medical attention.
Is Marijuana Dangerous?
Marijuana and other cannabis products can be dangerous for some people. Some of the associated dangers may be increased with excessive use of an increasingly potent THC product. Some of the more severe or otherwise problematic developments include:5,6
- Paranoia and psychosis.
- The risk of problems for pregnant women who use, such as low birth weight in newborns and brain and behavioral problems in babies.
- Cardiovascular risks such as myocardial infarction (heart attack), stroke, and transient ischemic attacks (TIA), particularly in older people and those with pre-existing heart conditions.
- Chronic bronchitis and other respiratory issues.
- Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, which can be life-threatening.
- The risk of serious injury or death of yourself or others if you use while driving or operating machinery.
- The development of multiple addictive behaviors, as marijuana is considered by some professionals to be a gateway drug to other, more serious drugs of abuse (although this is still an ongoing area of debate among researchers).
Developing compulsive patterns of use common to addiction is one of the most serious dangers of marijuana abuse. Left unmanaged, addiction can cause harm to yourself and your loved ones, as it can cause your life to quickly spiral out of control. People who are addicted to marijuana may find themselves powerless over their use of the drug and continue to use despite the negative physical, psychological, and social consequences of doing so.7 Addiction may be of particular risk in people who start using during adolescence, as this group may be 2-4 times more likely to develop cannabis dependence (or addiction, according to diagnostic criteria from the DSM-IV—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition) within two years of first use.5
Additionally, it is important to be aware that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has alerted the public to the specific dangers of vaping with products containing THC. Due to numerous reports of serious lung diseases and several deaths related to the use of these products, consumers are strongly advised to avoid using vaping products purchased on the street.6
Marijuana Abuse Symptoms
Marijuana abuse symptoms are often present in those struggling with marijuana addiction, a chronic, relapsing disease characterized by specific physical and behavioral symptoms that reinforce the cycle of abuse. Once you are addicted, it can be very difficult to stop using on your own. People who are addicted often develop a significant amount of physiological dependence to the drug, so they come to “need” it to feel and function normally. Without the substance, a person with marijuana dependence can experience uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal.
Someone who is addicted to marijuana may be said to have a cannabis use disorder, which is diagnosed according to several signs, symptoms, and behavioral changes associated with marijuana use as outlined by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition..7,10 As part of several of these diagnostic criteria, problematic marijuana use may manifest as characteristic mental and physical health issues, certain types of behavioral changes, or some combination of the two.
Physical Symptoms of Marijuana Addiction
Potential physical manifestations of marijuana addiction may include:8,10
- Frequently bloodshot eyes.
- Appetite changes leading to weight gain or weight loss.
- Deterioration of physical appearance.
- Strange or unusual smells on a person’s breath, body, or clothes.
- Withdrawal symptoms when you stop using, such as insomnia, restlessness, stomach pain, appetite loss, shakiness, sweatiness, fever, chills, or headache.
Behavioral Symptoms of Marijuana Addiction
Potential behavioral changes associated with marijuana addiction may include:7,8,9,10
- Lying about marijuana use or engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors.
- Increasing the amount of marijuana you use or the frequency with which it is used.
- Decrease in motivation for school, work, or recreational activities.
- Experiencing financial or legal problems due to marijuana use.
- Experiencing social problems because of marijuana use.
- Spending a lot of time trying to obtain the drug, including trying to obtain it through illegal sources.
- Experiencing anxiety without weed, or panic, depression, or manic behavior if you do not have marijuana. You might feel general irritability, restlessness, or more worried than usual.
Are You Struggling with Marijuana Addiction?
As you read these symptoms, do you recognize one or more in yourself or a loved one? Do you want to look for help, but are unsure of where to start?
If you answered yes to either one of these questions, you should consider treatment for yourself or your loved one.
American Addiction Centers Can Help
As the leading addiction treatment provider in the United States, American Addiction Centers focuses on not only treating the addiction itself, but the causes that led to its development. At American Addiction Centers, treatment is specialized to meet the needs of each person.
Our Treatment Program
Our treatment model focuses on identifying any existing mental illnesses or mental health issues that may stimulate the need to cope with issues by the use of marijuana.
Our treatment facilities then focus on providing an initial support system for those attending treatment and teach them healthier ways to cope with their marijuana addiction.
We offer a full continuum of care that encompasses the primary types of treatment all the way from detox for those initially struggling to aftercare options like sober living, counseling sessions, and support groups for those simply maintaining their recovery
To learn more about how American Addiction Centers can help, you can call our free helpline 24/7 to speak to an admissions navigator.
Still Unsure About Seeking Treatment?
If you are still unsure about how treatment works, how to ask for help, or how to get treatment, consider the following guides: