Is Marijuana Addictive? – Most of those who use marijuana do not develop a dependence on the drug. Likewise, most people will not lose control of their use. They will use it in amounts and for durations that they originally intended.
However, some will go on to exhibit all the classic symptoms of an actual addiction in association with chronic marijuana use. Clearly, marijuana use is not generally life-threatening or nearly as dangerous as the use of heroin or cocaine. But developing an addiction to marijuana is possible and can have adverse effects on a person’s health and well-being.
What You Need to Know
Marijuana is unquestionably one of the most popular drugs available due to easy accessibility. In recent years, it’s become even more accessible because of new state laws legalizing medical or recreational use. For this reason, it may be easier for some to develop an addiction.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that about 30% of marijuana users will develop problematic use, also known as marijuana use disorder. People who begin using marijuana before they reach the age of 18 are up to 7 times more likely to develop a use disorder compared with those who wait until after they are adults to use.
Higher Potency Factor
NIDA also reports that the higher potency marijuana that can be found today may be another factor linked to the increasing number of people who develop a problem. Cannabis seized by law enforcement today contains an average of more than 9% THC compared to 3.7% in that which was confiscated in the 1990s. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that is responsible for its effects.
Marijuana that is ingested in products that are produced from marijuana extract can contain anywhere from 50%-80% THC. In fact, researchers have been investigating whether these higher potency versions are the reason for an increase in emergency room visits related to marijuana use.
Most early research into marijuana revealed that marijuana use rarely produced tolerance or withdrawal symptoms. However, marijuana that is available today is more potent than that of even a few years ago, containing much higher levels of THC. For this reason, more research into this trend is desperately needed.
Marijuana Abuse vs. Dependence
There is a significant difference between marijuana abuse and dependence. Marijuana abuse is not characterized by some specified amount of use. Some people use marijuana responsibly and suffer no adverse consequences. What’s more, in areas where marijuana is illegal, any and all use is technically considered abuse.
For all intents and purposes, marijuana abuse is probably akin to problematic use, which means that a person is using it in ways that cause problems in life. These problems can include relationship conflicts and underperformance at work or at school.
Dependence is a bit different. Dependence, clinically speaking, involves a strong chemical component that increases in severity over time. A person who is chemically dependent on a drug will necessarily exhibit signs of withdrawal when they attempt to quit.
Marijuana’s ability to produce dependence has been under debate. Regardless, many chronic, excessive users do report withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using. Also, there is a psycho-emotional component of dependence in which a user can become emotionally attached to drug use, and fear what life would be like it without it.
Classic Addictive Behavior
Just as with other drug abuse problems or dependencies, people who continue to use marijuana despite adverse consequences, by definition, have a marijuana use disorder.
Someone who becomes dependent or addicted to marijuana may exhibit many of the typical behavioral symptoms of addiction. These may include the following:
- Having a loss of control of substance use
- Needing to use increasingly larger amounts
- Spending considerable time thinking about using
- Using in dangerous situations such as driving
- Using in cases where it is socially inappropriate to do so
- Denying allegations from others than there is a problem
- Will continue to use despite financial or legal issues
- Will become agitated/irritable if they cannot use
Is Marijuana Addictive?: Withdrawal Symptoms
Recent research has shown that tolerance to THC can develop and withdrawal symptoms will occur in some users. Studies of chronic and excessive marijuana users who stop using show that some will encounter the following withdrawal symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive salivation
- Decreased pulse rate
- Mood swings
- Aggressive behavior
Is Marijuana Addictive?: Risks
There is a common misconception that marijuana use will not result in adverse physical effects. But just because marijuana addiction isn’t as prevalent or severe as many other addictions, this does not mean that the risks are negligible. Several undesirable consequences have been linked to marijuana abuse, including the following:
- Decreased energy
- Lack of motivation
- Increased heart rate
- Mental impairments
- Increased risk of lung problems
- Increased risk of heart attack
Marijuana and Schizophrenia
The relationship between marijuana use and schizophrenia is one that’s been researched and discussed for decades. We now know that marijuana can raise the risk of a person experiencing psychosis in both the short and long term. Fortunately, this risk is low. However, the risk of psychosis occurring alongside marijuana is higher for those who are genetically predisposed—namely, a person who has a family history of psychotic disorders.
As it currently stands, research suggests that cannabis use may increase long-term psychiatric effects in certain susceptible people. This effect could manifest as more severe symptoms of schizophrenia in someone who has the disorder. Or, as a catalyst for psychotic symptoms in a person who already has an underlying mental illness. Moreover, scientists believe that in people who are already vulnerable to schizophrenia and begin using marijuana in adolescence may unintentionally instigate this condition.
Marijuana affects the user’s endocannabinoid system, which is a vital area of the brain that’s also associated with schizophrenia. The endocannabinoid system controls many of the functions we use, including cognition, sleep, emotion, and reward processing. It appears that there could be deficiencies in this area in those with schizophrenia and that they could have increased levels of endocannabinoid receptors.
People with schizophrenia may also be more likely to use substances as a means to self-medicate. Some studies have shown that nearly half of those with schizophrenia also have a co-occurring marijuana use disorder. A fact that, in light of research findings, appears to make the progression of their condition worse.
Regardless of whether marijuana has become more addictive or not in recent years, the fact is that the number of people seeking professional treatment for marijuana has increased significantly. As with most potentially addictive substances, people who abuse marijuana often decide to seek help when their drug use becomes problematic due to increasing adverse consequences.
Harmony Recovery Center is an accredited, specialized addiction treatment facility located in the heart of Charlotte, North Carolina. Our facility is designed to be both comforting and supportive of the recovery process.
All of our clinical and medical services, from intake and assessment to discharge, are delivered at our treatment center. We offer comprehensive programs in both partial hospitalization and outpatient formats. Our services include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Individual and family counseling
- Group support
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Health and wellness programs
- Aftercare planning
If you have been trying to quit using marijuana or other harmful substances, contact us today! We can help you break free from the cycle of addiction for life!