Marijuana use has become mainstream over the years. Most people use marijuana recreationally, while others attempt to address some health problem believing the plant and its products could help. The most common method of use is smoking.
For most people, marijuana is entirely harmless, and they believe it’s different than other substances out there in terms of addiction or dependence potential. But is that true? Can you be addicted or dependent on marijuana? You’ll find answers in this post.
How Many People Use Marijuana?
The use of marijuana has increased across different age groups. But, it’s impossible not to wonder just how many people use cannabis. Numbers show that as of July 2019, the share of U.S. marijuana consumers by age group is:
- 22% of 18-29 years
- 11% of 30-49 years
- 12% of 50-64 years
- 3% of 65+ years
What we can conclude based on the data and chart above is that marijuana use is more prevalent in young adults.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is the most commonly used psychotropic drug in the United States, after alcohol. In 2018, over 11.8 million young adults reported using marijuana in the past year. Parallel to the rise of marijuana use came the widening of the gender gap among users. Studies show men use marijuana more than women do.
Marijuana use has become widespread not only among young adults but adolescents as well. Figures reveal that in 2019 there was a significant increase in the daily use of marijuana in younger school grades. Additionally, the perception an adolescent has on the risks of cannabis use has declined steadily over the last decade.
In other words, they don’t regard cannabis as a potential risk for their health and wellbeing. Some of the crucial figures about the use of marijuana among teens in 2019 include:
|School grade||Percentage of students reporting marijuana use in the past year||Percentage of students reporting marijuana use in the past month (current use)|
(6.4% reported using marijuana daily or near-daily)
With the growing popularity of vaping devices, many adolescents opted to vape THC. In fact, about 4% of 12th graders reported vaping THC on a daily basis.
As the use of marijuana is continuously on the rise, so is the number of cannabis-related medical emergencies. For example, back in 2011, about 456,000 drug-related emergency department visits were recorded in the United States, wherein marijuana use was mentioned. This was a 25% increase compared to 2009.
Now imagine the rise of emergency room visits in 10 years between 2011 and 2021! However, the exact nature of those visits is unclear. Meaning the reasons could range from higher use to increased potency and other factors.
For example, marijuana-related hospitalizations increased in Colorado hospitals, according to reports. Emergency room records from the hospital revealed a three-fold increase in marijuana cases since Colorado state became the first to allow sales of recreational cannabis in January 2014.
Nearly a third of all patients were admitted to the hospital and experienced severe symptoms. For comparison sake, an ER department in the same hospital saw an average of one patient every other day with a marijuana-caused problem in 2012. By 2016, that number climbed to two to three patients a day.
While this is not enough to swamp the ER, it puts additional stress on the overburdened healthcare system.
The above-mentioned is an example of one hospital only, but it paints a picture of the consequences of increased use of marijuana among young adults, adolescents, and adults alike.
Dangers Of Marijuana Use
While some may think of marijuana as a “soft drug” that only creates the feeling of a “high” and nothing else, the dangers of this drug are numerous. Marijuana use is associated with:
- A significant decline in IQ due to the negative effect of marijuana on the functional connectivity of the brain, especially in adolescents
- Increased risk of anxiety and depression
- Decreased performance at work or school
- Higher risk of motor vehicle accidents by a factor of about 2
- Inflammation of the large airways, increased airway resistance, lung hyperinflation, chronic bronchitis.
Is Marijuana Addictive?
A common misconception about cannabis is that it’s not addictive. The reality is different, though. Marijuana has addictive properties, and people can get dependent on it. For example, back in 1981, Bulletin on Narcotics journal published a review of evidence scientists found at that time about the addictive potential of cannabis.
Scientists found that although the addictive potential of cannabis is often compared to that of alcohol or tobacco, characteristics of cannabis tolerance are similar to those of opiate dependence.
Even though potential dependence or even addiction to marijuana may seem like a “modern subject,” as you can see, it has been discussed for decades.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is addictive and can lead to the development of what’s called marijuana (or cannabis) use disorder. Evidence shows that around 30% of people who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder. When people abuse marijuana, they may develop dependence or even addiction, meaning they can’t stop using it even if they want to.
Persons with cannabis-related problems can seek help in an inpatient marijuana treatment center in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, and avoid dangers associated with this drug.
What Is Marijuana Use Disorder?
Marijuana use disorder (MUD), also known as cannabis use disorder, is a diagnosis given for problematic marijuana use. The diagnosis for MUD was first introduced in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Why it wasn’t included earlier, you wonder? The reason why there is no mention of this specific disorder in earlier editions, e.g., DSM-I, is down to the lack of evidence.
Since then, the reliability and validity of cannabis withdrawal have been observed in preclinical, clinical, and epidemiological studies. The manual states the syndrome has a transient course after cessation of marijuana use and pharmacological specificity. Moreover, cannabis withdrawal is reported by about one-third of regular users and by 50% to 95% of heavy users.
The clinical significance of this disorder is observed through withdrawal symptoms that many users experience. The withdrawal often prompts marijuana users to take cannabis or other symptoms to relieve the symptoms. For some people, it can be difficult to quit marijuana use on their own.
Before the manual which brought light to what’s known as marijuana use disorder, the problem was classified into two disorders such as cannabis abuse and cannabis dependence.
Now, some may understand the existence of cannabis use disorder indicates it’s impossible to get addicted or dependent on marijuana. Wrong! You see, marijuana use disorder illustrates that many cannabis users can experience negative consequences associated with the use of this drug but also leaves room for dependence and addiction should they happen.
In other words, switching “abuse” to “use” doesn’t automatically mean the addictive potential of cannabis is gone. It’s still here!
How Does Marijuana Use Disorder Develop?
Marijuana is an addictive plant, and the main role here belongs to its primary psychoactive compound called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It is THC that gives a person the “high” associated with marijuana. When inhaled, THC triggers endocannabinoid receptors in the brain. With continuous and excessive use, the brain may become less sensitive to the cannabinoids in marijuana.
As a result, you need to use more marijuana to achieve the same effect. In other words, you experience tolerance which leads to dependence. Dependence may lead to addiction. Note, addiction or dependence on marijuana develops at a slower rate compared to other drugs and a person may use marijuana for years before developing an addiction to it.
Symptoms Of Marijuana Use Disorder
Even though marijuana may seem safe, the truth is cannabis users can develop physiological dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and addiction. The telltale sign a person is addicted to marijuana is the compulsive use of the drug, despite the problems and symptoms they may be experiencing.
Based on the DSM-5 manual mentioned above, many people with MUD don’t develop additional substance use disorder. That being said, some people may struggle with substance abuse such as cocaine, alcohol, opioids, and other drugs.
Before we get into the symptoms of MUD, it’s important to address signs of marijuana abuse. We can divide them into physical and psychological symptoms, which are demonstrated in the table below.
|Physical symptoms of marijuana abuse||Psychological/behavioral symptoms of marijuana abuse|
|Red eyes||The living area smells heavily of air deodorizers since the person is trying to mask marijuana use.|
|Sense of euphoria (the “high” effect)||Complaining and physical symptoms, but without mentioning marijuana use/or refusing to acknowledge that’s the problem|
|Impaired coordination||Clothes, curtains, furniture, etc. smell of cannabis|
|Amplified taste, auditory, and/or visual senses||Living or work areas may contain some items that tackle physical symptoms of marijuana abuse, e.g., eye drops or a lot of water and snack stash.|
|Increased appetite||Changing eating patterns such as eating excessively or out of regular meal/snack times|
|Problems with concentration and/or memory||Items linked with a form of marijuana use go missing, e.g., plastic bags, cotton swabs, knives, matches, lighters, rubbing alcohol, etc.|
|Heart rate faster than normal||Items linked with a form of marijuana use go missing, e.g., plastic bags, cotton swabs, knives, matches, lighters, rubbing alcohol, etc.|
|Dry mouth||Engaging in risky behaviors after using marijuana, e.g., driving under the influence. Some may engage in risky behaviors to get access to marijuana, e.g., steal to pay for it.|
|Sensation as if everything has slowed down||Being excessively secretive and socially isolated|
|Mental dullness (long-term side effect)||Displaying defensive behavior about marijuana use when asked about it|
|Sleep disturbances||Financial difficulties due to money and other assets being used to maintain marijuana abuse|
When a person who developed dependence, or even addiction, to marijuana suddenly stops using the drug or reduces intake, they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Trouble sleeping
- Using marijuana in greater amounts
- Cravings to use marijuana
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of control, i.e., using more marijuana or using it for a longer period of time than intended.
- Social impairments such as not engaging in work, hobbies, recreational, and social activities due to regular and excessive marijuana use
- Inability to stop, which is sometimes manifested in a desire to stop using cannabis but failing to do so
- Ignoring risks and dangers associated with marijuana use
- Ongoing use despite worsening an existing physical or psychological problem
- Developing tolerance, i.e., needing more and more to achieve the same effects as you used to
What we can conclude here is that cannabis use disorder has both physical and psychological components. A person may notice certain symptoms of MUD but are unaware of their severity. In other words, a person may not be aware they progressed from recreational to problematic use or even dependence and, in the worst-case scenario, addiction.
What matters here is that a person who’s experiencing the above-mentioned symptoms seeks help and support to overcome this serious but manageable problem. At the same time, if you notice these symptoms in a family member or friend, encourage them to get help and offer your full support.
It is important to mention dependence on marijuana may develop in conjunction with tolerance. When that happens, the affected person needs to use increasing amounts of cannabis to achieve the “high” effect. The presence of tolerance and dependence or withdrawal isn’t enough to classify someone’s marijuana use problem as an addiction, though.
Not every person with marijuana dependence has the compulsive need to use the drug despite symptoms and consequences. As mentioned above, addiction to marijuana (or any other substance) occurs when a person has the need to use the drug despite the consequences they’re experiencing.
Who Is More Likely To Develop A Dependence On Marijuana?
Generally speaking, some people are at a higher risk of developing dependence or addiction to marijuana.
Genes play a strong role here.
For example, the journal Psychological Medicine published a study of 4152 same-sex male and female adult twins to investigate the potential genetic aspect of cannabis use disorder and other illicit drugs. In a study sample, the scientists fit 13 genetically informative models of co-morbidity to data on experimentation, early use, repeated use of cannabis and other illicit drugs, and abuse or dependence.
Results suggested the common genetic, shared, and unique environmental factors are responsible for the link between cannabis experimentation, early use, repeated use, and abuse/dependence. Scientists concluded co-morbid cannabis and other illicit drug use and misuse are partly due to predisposition to these disorders.
The journal Addiction published a review of studies that aimed to analyze existing linkage studies of cannabis use disorder and genetic components. The review reported the heritable factors of dependence or addiction to marijuana to explain in the region of between 30% and 80% of the total variance in risk of MUD.
The most likely candidate genes for MUD are those encoding the cannabinoid receptors. The cannabinoid receptors form the binding sites for endogenous cannabinoids. At this point, two types of cannabinoid receptors have been identified in the human body: CB1 and CB2. The CB1 receptors are highly expressed in the brain, whereas CB2 receptors are present in leukocytes and largely influence immune response.
The gene encoding CB1 is CNR1, while the gene CNR2 encodes CB2 receptors. A lot more research about the link between specific genes and dependence/addiction to marijuana is necessary. For example, the extent to which CNR1 mediates reward associated with early stages of marijuana involvement, such as initiation and regular use, is largely unclear.
The link between family and marijuana use disorder goes beyond the twins. Family ties are also involved. If your family member has a marijuana-related problem, you may as well. This may not be a result of the genetic component only but due to exposure to certain behaviors.
The exposure to marijuana use is particularly pronounced in teens who decide to try and use it regularly, thinking it’s okay and perfectly safe. They live in that belief because they’re exposed to such an attitude in their environment.
When we’re talking about people who may develop marijuana use disorder, it’s important to mention their lifestyle and behaviors. Responsibility has a lot to do with the background of dependence or addiction. We can put people with jobs, families, responsibilities, and social life or support networks on one side and people who aren’t plugged in with jobs, families, and social networks on the other side. The addiction rates in the first group of people are lower than in the latter.
Individuals who don’t develop addiction have more choices, in general. Most people have a lot of choices regarding things that make them feel good. Men and women with fewer choices or may not have an abundant set of social interactions due to complicated family life, or emotional problems may be more prone to developing an addiction. That may happen because the problems they face may make it difficult to form close friendships or engage in certain activities.
Mental health is also a factor in developing addiction or dependence. Many people may start using cannabis to manage mental health problems such as anxiety. The anxiolytic and mood-enhancing effects of marijuana may attenuate anxiety and depression and could motivate those who have these problems to start using cannabis, a study from the Psychology and Addictive Behaviors confirmed. The perceived benefits of marijuana could lead to excessive and problematic use. When a person tries to stop, the effects of anxiety and depression worsen.
This is called a biological trap.
Basically, the substance is perceived as effective at first but suddenly turns on you and stops working. In the end, you still have a mental health problem that you hoped to manage with marijuana. But the need to use marijuana becomes bigger than the realization it won’t work, thus paving the way to dependence and potential addiction.
To sum up, factors that play a role in the development of cannabis use disorder include:
- Environment and support system
- Emotional health
- Mental health and wellbeing
How To Help Someone With A Marijuana Use Disorder?
A common myth about addiction is that there’s nothing you can do for a person who has it. Dependence and addiction to marijuana are not the exceptions. It’s difficult to watch someone struggle with substance abuse, but a widely present belief is that you can’t do anything about it.
The reality is different, though. While nobody can force anyone into getting help unless they want it, there’s a lot you can do to support your sibling, child, relative, or friend on their way to seek treatment.
When it comes to helping someone with an addiction, you need to have a careful approach. You should not:
- Accuse and speak negatively
- Blame the person for everything that’s been happening to them, claiming they brought it on themselves with marijuana
Instead, you should:
- Carefully express your concerns and things you’ve noticed
- Offer your full support
- Show understanding and compassion
- Speak with positivity and optimism
- Be determined, but still find common ground that would help a person feel more comfortable
- Learn as much as you can about marijuana use disorder, treatment options, and treatment programs
- Encourage a person to seek help at a residential marijuana rehab center in North Texas, but without making it look like an order
- Offer your help on their way to recovery
Marijuana Dependence Often Goes Untreated
Back in 2016, a news release on the National Institutes of Health website provided a more detailed insight into marijuana use disorder and engaging in treatment. “More detailed” because this wasn’t a well-known problem. In fact, many still believe it’s impossible to develop dependence and addiction to marijuana.
The news release described MUD as a common problem in the United States and mentioned it was often associated with other substance abuse disorders, behavioral problems, and disability. However, MUD goes largely untreated. Basically, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism carried out an analysis which found that 2.5% of adults (about six million people) experienced MUD in the past year.
At the same time, around 6.5% of adults met diagnostic criteria for MUD at some point in their lives.
For the purpose of the analysis, the researchers interviewed over 36,000 U.S. adults about alcohol use, drug use, and related psychiatric conditions. They also applied criteria from DSM-5. In this manual, marijuana dependence or abuse diagnosis required experiencing at least two symptoms (all signs of MUD described above in the article).
The severity of the disorder is categorized as mild, moderate, or severe depending on the number of symptoms. The results also showed MUD was twice as common in men as women. Younger age groups were more likely to develop cannabis use disorder compared to persons who are 45 or older. The risk of the onset of MUD peaked during adolescence and among persons in their early 20s. Remission usually occurred within three to four years.
Persons with MUD, especially those with a severe form of the disorder, may experience significant mental disability. Probably the most shocking discovery of this analysis is that only 7% of people with past-year MUD receive any marijuana-specific treatment. Less than 14% of people with lifetime MUD receive treatment for their condition.
Not only does the analysis provide important information about MUD but also emphasizes that individuals with this problem are vulnerable to mental health disorders and supports further studies on this subject. These results also show that MUD is often untreated, which probably stems from the wrong perception of the drug, where many think dependence/addiction is impossible.
However, just like it’s possible to develop addiction or dependence, it’s also possible to treat them at a long-term rehab center for marijuana abuse in Texas.
How Is Marijuana Addiction Treated?
Treatment of marijuana dependence and addiction doesn’t differ much from that of other substance abuse disorders. On average, adults who seek MUD treatment have been using cannabis for about ten years and have tried to quit more than six times, evidence shows.
The treatment of marijuana use disorder depends on whether a patient has co-morbidities. If they have MUD only, without other problems, they usually undergo therapy sessions where they adopt coping mechanisms to overcome withdrawal symptoms and leave a cannabis-free life.
In the presence of co-morbidities such as psychiatric disorders, the program requires treating the mental health problem with medications and therapy. Therapy is also focused on helping a patient overcome MUD.
What we can learn here is that therapies play an important role in the treatment of marijuana addiction. The exact course of the program depends on the treatment center. In most cases, it includes:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) – a type of psychological treatment that falls into the category of talk therapy (psychotherapy). A patient works with a therapist in a structured way and attends therapy sessions regularly. The main goal of CBT is to help a patient become aware of inaccurate and negative thoughts so they can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective manner. During CBT, patients learn strategies to identify and correct problematic behaviors to enhance self-control, stop using marijuana, and manage other problems that may co-occur with cannabis use.
- Contingency management – a behavior modification intervention that reinforces desired behaviors through incentives. It includes frequent monitoring of the target behavior and the provision or removal of tangible, positive rewards when the certain behavior is achieved or not.
- Motivational enhancement therapy (MET) – a counseling approach that helps patients resolve their ambivalence about engaging in treatment and stopping their drug use. MET is specifically designed to produce rapid, internally motivated change. In other words, MET doesn’t attempt to treat the patient. Instead, the therapy strives to mobilize a patient’s internal resources for change and engagement in treatment.
The whole process starts by scheduling the appointment at a 90-day substance use treatment center for women in DFW. The patient evaluation aims to assess the severity of addiction or dependence and symptoms a patient is experiencing. Other factors are also taken into consideration, including overall health and wellbeing before the treatment course is planned.
Marijuana Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal syndrome tends to develop when a patient goes to the detox stage. As you’re aware, detox is the first stage of the recovery process, and it is the point where a person stops taking the substance, e.g., marijuana.
Withdrawal symptoms may also happen in persons who have marijuana dependence or addiction but haven’t undergone treatment yet. These symptoms tend to occur within 24 hours, peak by day three, and may last up to two weeks:
- Anger, aggression, and irritability
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Sleep difficulties such as insomnia or disturbing dreams
- Decreased appetite and/or weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Tremors or shakiness
- Fever or chills
The severity of withdrawal depends on the severity of the addiction, amount of cannabis use, and more recent use.
What About Medications For Marijuana Addiction?
At this point, no medications have been approved by the FDA to treat marijuana addiction. Some medications have exhibited positive effects in early trials. These include sleep medications, anti-anxiety/anti-stress medications, antiepileptic drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Further research is necessary to assess the true efficacy of these medications and uncover potential treatment routes.
For now, therapy sessions are the safest and most effective approach to the treatment of marijuana addiction.
While marijuana may seem safe and harmless, it has addictive potential. People can develop dependence or addiction to marijuana. Various symptoms may occur, and a person may also experience withdrawal syndrome. However, it’s possible to treat this problem and overcome it successfully.
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction as well as the pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center’s status at the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content creation. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.