Last Updated July 23, 2020

What is Marijuana Addiction?

Marijuana addiction is the loss of control over the behavior of using marijuana. Those with a marijuana addiction will find that they use marijuana even though they would like to cut back or stop, or even if it is creating some kind of negative effect. People with a marijuana addiction will find it difficult or impossible to control their actions and will find that their life begins to center more and more around their use of marijuana.

The Science of Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana addiction is considered by the medical community to be a disease that is caused by chemical changes and rewiring in the brain. The brain, in its healthy state, releases chemicals called endorphins in response to certain activities. Endorphins create the sensation of pleasure and are released by the brain to reinforce a specific behavior. This neurological process is called the reward pathway, because the brain is rewarding you with a pleasurable sensation to ensure that a particular action is repeated.

Endorphins are released naturally in response to activities that enhance your chances of survival, prospering, or reproducing. Completing a difficult task, having sex, or eating something that is high in energy are all examples of activities that would be beneficial and rewarded by the brain with endorphins.

The addictive ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC, like other recreational drugs, releases endorphins in the brain by stimulating chemicals in the brain instead of allowing the brain to release these chemicals naturally. This chemical release of endorphins makes a stronger pleasurable sensation than would normally be possible; this sensation is known as a high. Unfortunately, this large release of endorphins strongly activates the reward pathway, telling the brain that this is an action that should definitely be repeated. This leads to a repeating cycle of using marijuana and reinforcing the need to use again through the reward pathway. Over time, the changes will progress beyond a simple chemical change, and the brain will rewire itself to seek out and use marijuana.

Types of Marijuana

Marijuana used to simply refer to the dried leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds of the Cannabis plant. In recent years, as marijuana use has become more common and even legal in some locations at the state level, different types of marijuana have become common. The three main types of marijuana are:

  • Natural marijuana – This is marijuana that occurs naturally and is typically smoked or injected. Natural marijuana has become stronger in recent years as selective breeding of Cannabis plants has allowed growers to produce higher concentrations of THC. The strongest forms of natural marijuana have about 20% HTC.
  • Synthetic cannabinoids – While technically not marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids are often considered in the context of marijuana. Synthetic cannabinoids are chemicals that are made in a lab-type setting and are designed to mimic THC in marijuana. Synthetic cannabinoids vary in their potency, but are often stronger than natural marijuana. They are also considered more dangerous than natural marijuana due to the inconsistent way they are made and the chemicals that may be present as a byproduct of their creation.
  • Marijuana concentrates – Marijuana concentrates are natural marijuana that has been refined to concentrate the THC, making a much more potent effect. Marijuana concentrates may be refereed to as “dab”, and using it may be called “dabbing”. The effects using marijuana concentrates has on your health can be more severe, and traces of chemicals used during the concentration process can be dangerous or even deadly.

All types have essentially the same kind of effects, but vary in potency and risk of use. Less is known about synthetic cannabinoids and marijuana concentrates, making the risks not fully understood.

Marijuana Addiction Statistics

Marijuana addiction has become a common problem in the United States. Marijuana addiction statistics show:

  • 30% of people who use marijuana have a form of marijuana use disorder
  • Starting marijuana before 18 years of age increases the chance of developing an addiction by four to seven times
  • In 2015, 4.0 million people were medically considered to have a marijuana use disorder
  • Only 3.5% of people with marijuana use disorder seek treatment

Symptoms of Marijuana Addiction

There are two main types of effects that can be caused by a marijuana addiction. These effects can be physical or psychosocial. Marijuana addiction can lead to the development of tolerance and dependence.

Tolerance and Dependence

Tolerance occurs when the brain adjusts it’s response to marijuana. The brain realizes that it is being artificially affected by marijuana and adjusts its response to marijuana to be less intense over time. This means that the longer marijuana is used, the less responsive the brain will be to its effects. This pushes people to use larger and larger doses to achieve the same high. People who are developing tolerance may also start to use more dangerous forms of marijuana or may move on to stronger street drugs to achieve the same high.

Dependence occurs when the body adjusts its normal function to include the presence of marijuana. This occurs over time and makes the body require some marijuana in the bloodstream to function normally. Dependence is what causes withdrawal symptoms. If marijuana use is stopped, the body is unable to function normally at first and must readjust to function without marijuana being present. 

Physical Effects of Marijuana Addiction 

There are several physical effects that marijuana can cause as it changes normal chemical signaling in the brain. Some of the side effects of marijuana use include:

  • Short-term memory problems
  • Lung irritation
  • Increased phlegm
  • Weakened immune system
  • Increase in heart rate
  • Increased appetite and thirst
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Impaired judgment
  • Delayed reactions
  • Difficulty staying focused
  • Decreased energy
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucination

The physical effects of marijuana may vary based on the person who is using it, the strength of the marijuana, and the type of marijuana being used. Marijuana may also have secondary effects, such as an increased risk of injury that occurs from delayed reactions and impaired judgment. 

Psychosocial Effects of Marijuana Addiction

Psychosocial effects refers to the effects that marijuana addiction has on your mental health and interactions with others. Marijuana use may worsen anxiety and depression, however, most of the psychosocial effects of marijuana addiction are more related to the effects of being addicted rather than using marijuana specifically. Some psychosocial effects of addiction include a sense of guilt that causes people to become more withdrawn and secretive to avoid others finding out about the addiction. This leads to decreased quality of relationships and isolation, and will ultimately decrease socialization with others. Marijuana, specifically, can cause paranoia, further encouraging isolation. Using marijuana can be expensive and may lead to health problems that further increase financial strains, leading to financial problems. Using marijuana may also create legal problems, as marijuana use is illegal in most states.

Signs of Marijuana Addiction

Ultimately a marijuana addiction must be diagnosed by a doctor, and you cannot say for sure that someone has an addiction by yourself. There are, however, indicators that can lead you to have a good idea if a marijuana addiction exists by yourself.

If you think that you personally may have a marijuana addiction, the key thing to determine is if you still have control over your marijuana use behaviors. If you are having negative effects from your marijuana use and are still continuing to use, or if you want to stop but are finding it difficult, then you may have a marijuana addiction Someone with an addiction may tell themselves that they can quit if they want to, but that they simply do not want to. If you are finding yourself thinking this, then you should also consider that you may have an addiction.

If you believe someone you know may have a marijuana addiction, then it may be more difficult to tell. People who have developed an addiction tend to be more secretive and withdrawn, hiding their addiction and making it harder to tell if an addiction is present. Typically the psychosocial signs of addiction will be more detectable. If someone has become more withdrawn or isolated they may have developed an addiction. They start making excuses about why they cannot participate in activities with others and may suddenly have poorer performance in work or school. If someone is high on marijuana, they may laugh inappropriately, behave strangely, and have difficulty holding a normal conversation. 

Marijuana Addiction Treatment 

The first and most important step in marijuana addiction treatment is for the person with the addiction to realize that they have an addiction and that they need to stop marijuana use. Without this step, treatment is less likely to be successful.

Once someone has realized their need for treatment, the first part of treatment will be detox. Detox involves stopping marijuana use and allowing the body to rid itself of marijuana that is still in the bloodstream. Withdrawal symptoms will likely occur during this part of treatment.

Once detox is complete, treatment will focus on learning ways to cope without marijuana and overcoming marijuana addiction behaviors. Essentially, the goal of this step is to rewire the brain and ensure that relapse does not occur. One common form of therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of therapy that involves understanding the subconscious thoughts that affect our behaviors and gaining control over these subconscious thoughts.

Inpatient Rehab

Marijuana addiction treatment can involve inpatient rehab. Inpatient rehab involves checking into a rehab facility, typically for a month, and having addiction treatment in a controlled environment. This provides 24 hour professional support that can help to reduce withdrawal symptoms and provide intensive therapies. 

Outpatient Rehab

Outpatient rehab allows people to receive marijuana addiction treatment while still maintaining their normal lives. This would include doctor visits and visiting therapy sessions. Outpatient treatment may be a good treatment option for those who have a more mild addiction and are seeking treatment for the first time. Outpatient treatment is also often used as a follow up for inpatient treatment to make the chances of successful rehab even greater.

Recovery from Marijuana Addiction 

It may seem daunting trying to find the right marijuana addiction treatment program. There are several important factors to consider based on your circumstances, including: 

  • Cost – Addiction treatment can be expensive, and knowing your coverage and what the financial implications of treatment are will be important. The good news is that there are many resources that can help make treatment affordable.
  • Location – A goal of addiction treatment is to get you out of your normal environment. Finding a rehab center that is accessible but outside of your hometown can be helpful.
  • Reputation – Knowing the reputation of potential treatment centers is important. You can look up reviews and success rates from treatment centers you are considering.

Transformations Treatment Center

Transformations Treatment Center, located in sunny Delray Beach, Florida, has a strong reputation of providing outstanding, caring treatment for those fighting marijuana addiction. Our expert team is dedicated to your success and will help you to navigate the cost and complexities of seeking addiction treatment. Reach out today to learn more about what we can do for you.

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