Marijuana Addiction and Abuse

More than 4 million Americans are reported to have a dependence on marijuana. It is the most commonly abused illicit substance.

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Understanding Marijuana

Marijuana is a drug acquired from the cannabis plant.

Marijuana is a drug acquired from the cannabis plant. The plant is typically dried out, ground up and smoked (in paper like a cigarette or in a pipe like tobacco). Marijuana also comes in the form of “edibles.” Edibles are foods, such as baked goods and candies, that contain the the active ingredient in Marijuana, Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, and produce the same effects as smoking it.

Some people consume a resin-like substance concentrated from the plant that produces a far more intense high. This substance, often referred to as “dabs,” may be a viscous liquid, a wax-like substance or a hard, crystallized material similar to hard candy that is typically vaporized and inhaled. Other names for dabs include wax, budder and shatter. Dabs are made in several ways, most commonly with butane or isopropyl alcohol, both of which can be very dangerous.

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Marijuana is legal in some states and illegal in others. In some states, only medical use is legal, while some others have also legalized recreational marijuana. Medically, marijuana is used for stress and pain relief and to increase appetite. Recreationally, marijuana is used for its calming effects and to achieve the notorious “high.” Street names for marijuana include: pot, dope, ganja, grass, mary jane, reefer and weed.

Marijuana has a long history of legislation for and against its use. Fueled by mixed feelings and misinformation, confusion about the existence and risks of marijuana addiction is still around today. However, it is widely accepted that both marijuana addiction and withdrawal are real.

Marijuana Effects and Abuse

Marijuana is a psychoactive drug that alters perception. Marijuana contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the chemical compound that causes the drug’s effects. The effects of marijuana may be different for everyone and depend on how it is consumed. Smoking marijuana produces a faster, shorter-lived high than taking it orally. The effects of dabs can be immediate and last for hours due to their concentrated amounts of THC.

The effects of marijuana include:

  • Feelings of happiness
  • Mild hallucinations
  • Increased appetite
  • Reduced anxiety

While there is virtually no risk of overdosing, marijuana comprises the second highest rates (after cocaine) of emergency room visits caused by abusing an illicit substance. These hospital visits are mostly attributed to accidents that occurred when individuals were intoxicated.

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Increasing THC Content in Marijuana

The THC content of marijuana has increased as much as 300 percent since the 1960s, which affects marijuana abuse and tolerance. The higher doses of THC in today’s marijuana can contribute to increased intoxication-related risks and an increased risk of dependence.

Addiction to Marijuana

Marijuana addiction can be clinically diagnosed and has a negative impact on the person’s life. People can develop a psychological dependence on marijuana in the same way other addictions develop.

When an individual uses marjiuana, cannabinoid receptors in the brain are activated by a neurotransmitter called Anandamide. THC mimics and blocks the actions natural neurotransmitters like Anandamide, to the point where the body no longer produces sufficient Anandamide on its own. The user’s brain gets reprogrammed to need marijuana just to feel normal. When the user stops bringing more THC into the body, they often experience withdrawal symptoms because of the resulting lack of Anandamide. Wanting to quit using marijuana, but being unable to do so, is a strong indication of an addiction.

There are also risks of using marijuana that can affect someone’s personal life. These risks can manifest into more immediate consequences such as:

  • Legal complications
  • Falling behind in school
  • Having problems at work
  • An impaired ability to learn and remember things

If you have continued to use marijuana despite the negative consequences, you may have an addiction. Check out the symptoms and warning signs of marijuana addiction.

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Marijuana and Other Drugs

Marijuana has long been recognized as a gateway drug because experimentation with it often leads to use of harder drugs like cocaine. The perception of marijuana as a gateway drug is most often related to teenage marijuana use because teens are more likely to experiment with other drugs. As marijuana abuse continues to rise in the United States, teenagers are smoking more than ever. Teens who smoke marijuana are at a higher risk of developing an addiction — to marijuana or something harder — later in life.

Marijuana Abuse Statistics

2.3

million new users

Daily marijuana use among Americans increased by 2.3 million people from 2006 to 2012.

18%

drug of choice

Marijuana was the main drug of choice for 18% of people who entered rehabilitation programs in 2009.

14.8

percent choose rehab

Approximately 14.8 percent of those who entered rehabilitation programs for marijuana did so of their own accord.

Treating a Marijuana Addiction

Some people who have been using marijuana frequently over a long period of time struggle to stop using on their own. Just like any other addiction, asking for help is the most effective way to quit. Treatment options include inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, support groups, and therapy. All individuals seeking or considering treatment should meet with a substance abuse professional for an evaluation to determine the level of care that best meets their medical and psychological needs. Get in touch with a treatment provider to learn more.

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