Marijuana Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Risks, and Treatment Resources
Marijuana is among the most commonly used illegal drugs in the United States. While it might seem relatively harmless compared to other drugs, it can still be addictive and dangerous. If you suspect a loved one has a marijuana addiction, learn more about the signs, symptoms, risks, and what you can do to help them get treatment.
What Is Marijuana?
Marijuana is a plant that is commonly smoked for recreational purposes. More than 48 million people used it in 2019. It is a Schedule I substance, meaning it has no medical use according to the DEA. It is federally illegal, though some states have legalized it. Common street names include grass, weed, Mary Jane, dope, and pot.
Side Effects of Marijuana
The active ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for its psychoactive effects. Common side effects of marijuana use include panic attacks, paranoia, anxiety, confusion, sedation, breathing problems, and dry mouth. Some may also experience more severe effects, such as psychotic symptoms, heart changes, and an increased risk of lung cancer when used for long periods.
How is Marijuana Taken?
Marijuana is a dried leaf commonly ground up and smoked. There are also edibles that are taken orally. Smoking the drug causes an instant high, while taking it orally may take up to an hour for the effects to begin.
Marijuana Quick Reference
Depressant, stimulant, hallucinogen
Commercial & Street Names
Dope, pot, grass, Mary Jane
Statistics on Marijuana Use, Misuse, and Addiction
Around 52 million people used marijuana in 2021. Marijuana is often used recreationally, but despite its Schedule I status, it is often used for medicinal purposes like relieving chronic pain. Because marijuana is legalized on the state level in several states and generally thought of as harmless, many people who use it don’t realize the potential adverse effects. While marijuana is not as addictive as opioids and other drugs, it still has the risk of dependence and addiction.
Effects of Marijuana Abuse
The THC in marijuana produces psychoactive effects, but different strains of marijuana can have unique properties. Indica strains are often relaxing and may cause drowsiness or dizziness, while sativa strains are more energizing and can increase the heart rate or cause anxiety. Hybrid strains (a blend of sativa and indica) may mix these effects.
Keep in mind that these categories aren’t always consistent, nor are the strains themselves. In addition, the effects can vary by user, sometimes creating opposite reactions to those intended. For example, a strain may be known for increasing alertness, but it can make a particular individual drowsy.
Can You Overdose on Marijuana?
No one has ever died from overdosing on marijuana alone. However, some people have died from mixing marijuana with other illicit drugs or alcohol. There are also indirect deaths from behaviors under the influence of marijuana, such as driving.
While overdosing on marijuana may not be a concern, it can still make people sick when taken in large quantities.
Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Overdose
Mixing marijuana with alcohol or other depressant drugs may cause an overdose. This slows the heart and breathing and may cause a person to pass out. People who mix marijuana and other drugs may also experience nausea, dizziness, and fatigue.
What to Do If You Suspect Someone Is Overdosing on Marijuana
While rare, a marijuana overdose is still possible. If you suspect someone is experiencing a marijuana overdose, call 911. Stay with the person until emergency medical services arrive. If they are unconscious, roll them on their side to ensure they don’t choke if they vomit.
Dangers of Long-Term Marijuana Use
Marijuana carries risks with long-term use. Smoking marijuana can cause lung cancer, just like smoking cigarettes. Psychotic disorders like schizophrenia may be caused by the long-term use of marijuana. This may be more likely among those already vulnerable to developing the condition.
Marijuana Addiction and Abuse
While marijuana is not as addictive as certain hard drugs, it can still cause habitual dependence and addiction. Once a person gets used to using marijuana all the time, it may be hard to stop without help. Eventually, marijuana interferes with day-to-day life and may disrupt work, school, or family.
Signs of Addiction to Marijuana
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), marijuana addiction is known as marijuana use disorder or cannabis use disorder, which includes the following signs:
- Trying to quit marijuana unsuccessfully
- Using more marijuana than intended
- Experiencing intense cravings for marijuana
- Spending an exorbitant amount of time obtaining or using marijuana
- Using marijuana despite problems at work, home, or school
- Continuing to use marijuana despite health or relationship problems
- Using marijuana in high-risk situations like driving
- Needing to use more and more marijuana to get the same effects
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping marijuana use
Marijuana Addiction and Mental Health
Long-term, frequent marijuana use can cause mental health effects like anxiety, paranoia, and disorientation. People who use marijuana are more likely to develop temporary psychosis, hallucinations, and severe paranoia, which could progress into long-lasting mental disorders like schizophrenia. Marijuana use has also been linked to depression, social anxiety, and suicidal thoughts or actions.
Marijuana Addiction Treatment
Marijuana addiction can be treated successfully with similar treatments to other substance use disorders. Treatment is always individualized and may include a range of different therapies according to your needs.
Marijuana Addiction Treatment Levels of Care
Addiction treatment often involves a continuum of care, which ensures that people get treatment that aligns with their needs at that point in time. Typically, addiction treatment transitions from intensive, structured environments into more flexible environments as you gain control over your addiction.
Medical detox is often the first step in the addiction treatment process. Though marijuana withdrawal is not life threatening, it can be intense and uncomfortable to the point of prompting relapse. Experiencing withdrawal in a detox program ensures that you are as safe and comfortable as possible while the drug exits your system.
After detox, you may enter inpatient or residential rehab programs or outpatient rehab programs. The former is a hospital or residential environment with 24/7 care and supervision from a comprehensive care team. Inpatient treatment is ideal for people who need to remove themselves from external triggers and environments to support recovery.
Outpatient treatment programs are a little more flexible. You don’t have to stay overnight at the facility. Instead, you attend treatment sessions during the day and work around your responsibilities to work, school, or family. In the evening, you can return home to spend time with family and sleep in your own bed.
Therapies Used in Marijuana Addiction Treatment
Evidence-based therapies are essential in treating marijuana addiction. Regardless of the level of care, these therapies may include behavioral therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or motivational enhancement therapy. These treatment options are highly effective at identifying unhelpful behavioral patterns and relapse triggers and developing strategies to overcome them.
Co-occurring disorders are the presence of one or more substance use disorders and mental health disorders that occur simultaneously. In many cases, people with co-occurring disorders use substances like marijuana to self-medicate other conditions, such as anxiety or depression.
Common co-occurring disorders with marijuana include:
- Borderline personality disorder
- Impulse control disorder
- Drug-induced psychosis
Marijuana Detox and Withdrawal Management
Detoxing on your own can be extremely uncomfortable, or even dangerous in rare cases. Medical detox provides a safe place and a full medical team to monitor your health and manage your symptoms to keep you as comfortable as possible until withdrawal is complete.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Marijuana Addictive?
Marijuana can be addictive, though it causes a habitual addiction or dependence rather than a purely physical addiction as with harsher drugs. A habitual addiction can still be harmful and difficult to stop, especially for those with co-occurring disorders.
What Does Marijuana Do to the Brain?
Marijuana use directly affects the brain’s function, including the parts of the brain responsible for memory, learning, attention, emotional regulation, reaction time, and coordination.
What Does Marijuana Do to the Brain?
Most people use marijuana recreationally, but it can be used for medicinal purposes like relieving pain or combating anxiety. Though more research is needed, many states recognize marijuana as a medicinal drug. In some cases, marijuana may be used to induce euphoria and escape unpleasant thoughts or emotions.
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