Marijuana Addiction and its Effects

Marijuana addiction affects millions of people across the U.S. Find out more about addiction symptoms and how to quit marijuana if you’re currently using.

Changes to marijuana laws in the United States have made it easier than ever to acquire cannabis. According to a national study conducted in the United States in 2013, there were 4.2 million people classified as dependent on or having a marijuana addiction. Daily or almost daily use of marijuana increased from 5.1 million people in 2005 to 8.1 million people in 2013. But the debate of whether or not marijuana addiction is even possible is still going strong. To further understand why marijuana can actually be addictive, we must take a look at how marijuana affects the body.

What happens when you get high?

The use of marijuana produces pleasurable feelings which include euphoria, relaxation and increased appetite. However, people who smoke or otherwise consume marijuana may also experience negative short term effects. These include anxiety, paranoia, difficulty thinking, impaired memory and poor attention. In addition, cognitive and sensorimotor abilities are affected, meaning that driving and other potentially dangerous situations put you at an increased risk of accidents. Other potential side effects from marijuana are as follows:

  • Possible cancer risks
    Laboratory research suggests that marijuana is a carcinogen, and long-term cannabis users have symptoms similar to people who smoke tobacco. However, there is not conclusive evidence of the connection between marijuana use and cancer in humans.
  • Respiratory health effects
    There is considerable evidence that smoking marijuana regularly does adversely affect the respiratory system. Symptoms include chronic bronchitis, coughing, and wheezing. These negative effects on respiratory health may play a role in disease formation, including cancer.
  • Brain processing slows
    There’s also evidence that long-term cannabis use produces varying impairment in memory, attention, and the processing of complex information. These effects are more pronounced with longer usage, and may diminish after discontinuing use.
  • Reproductive health effects
    Marijuana usage may also cause ill-effects on the reproductive system of both men and women. In animal studies, consumption of marijuana is linked to lower sperm count and lower testosterone production. In female animal subjects, disruptions to the ovulatory cycle have been found.
  • Infant risk of exposure to marijuana
    In addition, there is evidence to suggest that human children exposed to cannabis in utero may have reduced cognitive functioning including attention span and memory deficits.

    In addition to these negative effects, long-term marijuana usage also affects the brain. Studies with animals have found that marijuana affects the reward centers of the brain in much the same way tobacco, alcohol, and cocaine do.

So – Is marijuana addictive?

When deciding whether a substance is addictive or not, a number of factors are taken into consideration. Does the substance have psychological and physical effects? Do users find it difficult to discontinue use, and report failed attempts at quitting? Are there withdrawal symptoms when discontinuing use?

Marijuana does fit these criteria, and one major study found that 9% of marijuana users become dependent. Being dependent means that it is difficult for the chronic smoker to function in daily life without using marijuana. This may be due to a combination of physical and psychological dependence. And when a person is driven to get high by this dependence, it can be classified as marijuana addiction.

Who becomes the 9% affected by marijuana addiction?

One of the chief risk factors for any addiction is mental health. Whether you experience mental health problems due to acute stress (stressful job, relationship struggles, etc.) or you have a long-term mental health issue, this puts you at increased risk of addiction for all substances, including  marijuana.

Another risk factor is genetics. Studies of twins have shown a link between usage patterns of marijuana or cocaine and genes – which means that if someone in your family suffers from addiction, you may be at an increased risk for marijuana addiction.

But certainly addiction doesn’t form without the initial use of a substance. With marijuana, it starts off that smoking a joint may help take the edge off your anxious feelings, or help get your mind off your problems. But getting high is not a solution to any mental health problems, including stress, and may actually make you feel worse. As you spend more time using cannabis, you will spend less time making the changes in your life that will actually make you feel better.

How do I know if I am addicted to marijuana?

Consulting a trained clinician is the most definite way to determine whether you have a marijuana addiction, as marijuana addiction symptoms vary for each person. You may also consider the following questions useful in determining whether or not you might be addicted:

  1. Do you find it hard to go a day without using marijuana?
  2. Do you frequently use marijuana to reduce stress and relax?
  3. Do you often use marijuana to get rid of boredom?
  4. Do you miss work or school because of your usage?
  5. Do you have relationship problems related to your usage?
  6. Do you have financial problems related to your usage?
  7. Do you have negative health effects related to your usage?
  8. Have you tried to discontinue usage, and failed?
  9. Do others tell you that you have a problem, and you disagree?
  10. When you are not using marijuana, do you spend a lot time thinking about when you will next get high?

If you have answered several of these questions with a ‘yes’, you may have a marijuana addiction.

What can I do to quit marijuana?

Marijuana addiction poses particular challenges. Chief among them is the growing social acceptance of marijuana use. As a result, people around you may not understand the extent of your problem. Some people are capable of smoking marijuana regularly without developing dependence.

For those in whom marijuana does form dependence, however, it means that your brain is used to being high. And when you stop smoking, your brain has to adjust to not having the myriad of substances released by cannabis into your system – leading to withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms often include irritability, grumpiness, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and loss of appetite. While not as pronounced as the withdrawal symptoms accompanying acute alcohol or opioid use, they are nonetheless unpleasant and may make quitting difficult. For this reason, many who make the choice to give up marijuana attend an addiction treatment centre.

For best results, you may wish to consider a residential marijuana addiction treatment option. The Cabin Chiang Mai offers tailored, holistic, research-based treatments and has helped hundreds of addicts into addiction recovery. Let us know if you or a loved one is struggling with marijuana addiction or any other substance abuse problem.

About the Author

Lee Daniel Hawker-Lecesne

Lee Daniel Hawker-Lecesne

Clinical Director at The Cabin (MBPsS, British Psychological Society Number: 479469) Lee is a Registered Member of the British Psychological Society. He graduated from Anglia Ruskin University in the UK with a degree in Behavioural Science and a postgraduate clinical focus on addictions from the University of Bath. Lee is a focused and ambitious individual who has in-depth training and experience in a broad range of clinical psychological interventions in the treatment of addiction, dual diagnosis, and complex trauma.

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