Definition and Facts

Some people who use marijuana (cannabis) will develop marijuana use disorder, which becomes an addiction in severe cases.

It becomes an addiction when the users are unable to stop using marijuana even though it is causing health and social problems in their lives.

Addiction is not habitual – it’s worse. A bad habit does have negative effects, but these are negligible. You can stop the bad habit relatively easily. But addiction is very difficult to control and can be damaging, destructive, and can go beyond your control.

Marijuana use disorder or addiction is the development of problems during its use for recreation purposes. It is often associated with dependence and in severe cases with addiction.

Today it is globally accepted that marijuana addiction and withdrawal are real.

Addiction to marijuana is not as dangerous as cocaine or heroin, but its addiction is most widespread among illicit drugs. This is because of its ease of availability and the different ways it can be ingested. You can get addicted to it very easily.

About 30% of the people who use marijuana get addicted to it and these are mostly those who have started using it during the adolescent age. Such people who have been using it before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop dependence or addiction.

This addiction develops due to increased tolerance, which results in more of it being used over time to get the desired “high” effect.

If you smoke marijuana such as from a joint or pipe, you may feel the high effect within a few seconds. It peaks in about 30 minutes and may take up to 3 hours for the effect to wear off.

Ingestion of edible marijuana, such as in the form of edibles, tinctures, capsules, oils, or  “hash brownies,” you may feel the effects within 30 -60 minutes. This effect may last for several hours.

Continuing its use can lead to the person becoming addicted and physically dependent on it. The craving is so much that he feels that he needs the smoke to stay alive.

It is the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana, its main psychoactive drug, which is responsible for intoxication and addiction. Stopping its use after being addicted can lead to withdrawal symptoms.

The other main component of marijuana is CBD (cannabidiol), which is not psychoactive but can help you in relieving pain and reducing anxiety.

Rising potency – a concern

The rising potency of marijuana has increased steadily over the past few decades. This has been noticed in the lots that have been confiscated.

In the 1990s, the average THC content in confiscated marijuana samples used to be less than 4%. In 2018, it was found to be more than 15%.

This increased potency raises concerns that the impact of marijuana use could be worse today than before. This impact can be really worrisome in the young whose brains are still developing. `

This is demonstrated by the rising visits to the emergency department by people testing positive for marijuana.

Causes & risk factors for marijuana addiction

First and foremost, the increasing use of marijuana could be attributed to its ease of availability. It has been legalized in many states in the United States allowing its easy access to many including the young.

There are various causes and risk factors that can make it easy for a person to develop addiction or substance use disorder. These may include:

  • Being genetically prone
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Starting the use of marijuana at an early age
  • Easy access to the substance
  • A prevailing mental health disorder such as depression
  • Bad parental supervision
  • Frequent conflicts in the family

Symptoms and signs of marijuana addiction

Most people dependent or addicted to marijuana refuse to admit so. This is the case with addicts of other drugs too. That a person is addicted to cannabis is established by certain signs and symptoms.

There are several symptoms and signs that indicate cannabis use disorder. They vary in severity depending on the depth of the dependence and addiction. Mild, moderate, or severe cannabis addiction is diagnosed by the number of symptoms present.

Marijuana addiction is physical and mental. You, therefore, see physical and psychological symptoms.

Physical symptoms

  • Bloodshot eyes. Bloodshot eyes are the most common symptom in a person who has been smoking marijuana. The main psychoactive ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is responsible for this ocular redness. The redness of the eyes depends on the concentration of the THC. Different strains of marijuana have different concentrations of THC. If you smoke a strain with a higher strength of THC, your eyes are bound to become redder. THC reduces your blood pressure, which in turn causes your blood vessels and capillaries to dilate or expand including those of your eyes. This results in increased blood flow due to decreased vascular resistance. The increased blood flow makes the sclera (the white portion) of the eyes red.
  • Increased appetite. Aside from giving you a feeling of euphoria, cannabis is best known for its effect of increasing appetite, which is referred to as “the munchies”. When smoked or consumed, cannabis stimulates the neurobiological plexuses that control appetite, causing a temporary increase in appetite.THC, the main active ingredient of cannabis, acts on the cannabinergic system in the body and partially binds to and activates the cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1). This increases both the desire to eat and the taste of the food.

Other physical symptoms include

  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Disturbed sleep pattern
  • Impaired balance

Psychological symptoms

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Frequent loss of temper
  • Frequent errors in judgment
  • Diminished cognitive function
  • Difficulty in concentration
  • Impairment of memory

Social symptoms

  • Tendency to socially isolate and avoid meeting family and friends
  • Spending time with other cannabis addicts
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities that were once fond of
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Poor attendance at work

Effects and dangers

Getting addicted to marijuana is easy especially if you have started using it in your adolescence. One of the main reasons why you get addicted to marijuana is that it gives you a feeling of a “high”, a feeling of euphoria, a feeling of feeling nice and euphoric. Secondly, it is very easy to obtain.

Marijuana is used in many states for medical purposes – those states where its use is legalized. Its uses in medicine are mainly for treating severe pain like that associated with surgery or a broken bone.

However, getting addicted to it has adverse effects on your health. It affects your brain, heart, and lungs. Besides health issues, marijuana addiction also causes social complications.

Effects on heart

Though there are no concluding studies that indicate the ill effects of marijuana on the heart, there is a good deal of evidence that points to it.

According to the January 28 review article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC)“smoking marijuana carries many of the same cardiovascular health hazards as smoking tobacco.” 

Smoking marijuana puts an additional load on your heart. Your heart rate, which normally beats at about 70 times per minute, can jump to 120/minute for up to 3 hours till the effect of the marijuana lasts.

This additional burden along with other impurities such as tar and toxic chemicals increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. The risk increases considerably if you have a pre-existing heart problem or high blood pressure and if you are older.

Effects on blood pressure

A cannabis addict has a substantial risk of an increase in his blood pressure during periods of abrupt cannabis abstinence compared with periods of use.

Studies reveal an increase of up to 22.8 mm Hg in the systolic and 12.3 mmHg in the diastolic blood pressure.

Effects on brain

Marijuana use such as in addiction directly affects the centers of the brain that control memory, learning, coordination, and response time.

The biggest risk that marijuana addicts face is that of developing psychosis. This is associated with symptoms such as losing touch with the real world and hallucinations.

Marijuana addicts are also more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than people who have never used marijuana.

Another major risk for those who have used marijuana during their teenage years is a drop in their IQ status. This is because teens are more susceptible to marijuana’s effects on brain chemistry.

Effects on lungs

Marijuana smoke also contains toxic chemicals such as ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, tar, and carbon monoxide just as cigarette smoke does.

Regular smoking of marijuana addiction can cause chronic inflammation of the bronchial lining and the lung parenchyma, which results in wheezing, cough, and the formation of phlegm. It can worsen existing bronchial asthma.

Research is still inconclusive about marijuana smoke causing lung cancer.

Effects on the immune system

The use of marijuana as in addiction adversely affects different kinds of cells in the body, including those of the immune system. Smoking marijuana reduces the body’s ability to fight off infections caused by viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms.

Additionally, it also reduces the ability of the immune system to destroy cancer cells.

Effects of mother’s addiction on the newborn

The newborn of a mother who has smoked pot while pregnant tends to be premature and underweight.

Research is still unclear about the intricacies the child may face while growing up. Will they struggle in life, will they also get addicted to drugs, or will they face any other type of problems?

Effects on relationships

Addiction to any substance be it marijuana, alcohol, prescription drugs, gaming, or porn impacts relationships, whether in marriage or social circles in an adverse way.

As an addict, you tend to isolate yourself, do not socialize, and tend to criticize and engage in conflicts. Relationships, therefore, do not last.

What makes marijuana addiction more dangerous is that it is the most commonly grown, used, trafficked, and easily available illegal substance.

Effects on marriage

Marijuana addiction has ruined many a marriage. The addict loses interest in sex leading to a distance in intimacy.

He or she becomes less functional and nonproductive and makes false promises. Infights between the husband and wife become more frequent and there is a loss of harmony in the house.

Social effects

Research shows that people who use marijuana are more likely to have relationship problems, bad educational results, and lower output at work,  leading to a loss of satisfaction and motivation at work.

As a result, there is a feeling of anger and frustration leading to anxiety and depression, shame and guilt, or embarrassment.

Economic problems set in caused by money spent on substances, or due to loss of jobs.

Cannabis withdrawal

Marijuana or cannabis withdrawal syndrome is the diagnostic hallmark of cannabis dependence and typically occurs after stopping its regular use abruptly. It occurs in about 90% of the patients diagnosed with cannabis dependence.

The symptoms of cannabis withdrawal can be mild, moderate, or severe. If cannabis use has been prolonged and heavy, the symptoms are usually severe.

Regular use of marijuana does make one addicted to it. Those who have started using marijuana at a relatively early age are more prone to develop dependence and addiction.

Abruptly stopping the use of marijuana in an addicted person can lead to the development of withdrawal syndrome and its symptoms

Treatment for marijuana addiction

Marijuana addiction can be cured. All you need is a determination to get rid of it and follow the indicated therapies religiously.

Treatment for Marijuana addiction mainly involves the use of behavioral therapy and participation in support groups to deal with the psychological aspects of the addiction.

Behavioral therapy

Behavioral therapy may last for about 12 weeks but can vary from person to person. The following behavioral treatments have shown promise:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy or talk therapy is a form of psychotherapy that teaches you to identify what are the problems with your behavior and teaches you to correct them exercising self-control and stopping drug use. It will also treat problems that can arise due to quitting marijuana such as anxiety or trouble sleeping
  • Contingency management is another type of therapy in which you set goals of abstinence and receive rewards for achieving those goals. Similarly, you are penalized if you start using marijuana again.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy teaches you techniques on how to motivate yourself to quickly give up the substance.

Support groups

Participating in support groups is another popular way people can benefit. Marijuana Anonymous (MA) is the most specific support group for this type of addiction, which is alike Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

If MA is not available, people can join Narcotics Anonymous (NA), which is more easily available.

Presently, no medicines are approved for treating marijuana addiction, but research is very much active on this front.

Currently, the FDA has not approved any medications for the treatment of marijuana use disorder, but research is active in this area. Some options such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and tranquilizers are being studied.