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Edited & clinically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Known by many street names like grass, pot, weed, ganja, bud, and marry jane, marijuana refers to the dried stems, flowers, seeds, and leaves of the popular Cannabis sativa plant. Loaded with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a highly psychoactive component, this drug is one of the most commonly abused illicit drugs in the United States.

Typically used by smoking as a hand-rolled cigarette, this drug has been linked with a rising number of addiction cases yearly. Despite the consistent efforts to keep it under control, the numbers continue to rise, alarming the authorities to do something about the ongoing marijuana addiction crisis before it’s too late. One aspect of controlling this issue is through self-education and awareness regarding the problem, its symptoms, and how to treat it.

Marijuana Addiction Symptoms

Experts are still working on understanding how addictive marijuana is and why some people become addicted and others don’t. There are different risk factors that determine if a person is likely to fall victim to this addiction; however, their presence does not guarantee anything.

Higher Potency Factor

The potency of marijuana primarily depends on the levels of THC, its active component that makes a user high. Currently, many different formulations of marijuana are available in the market, each with a different potency due to the varying levels of THC. General surveys suggest that the weed stock of today contains more THC than the ones in the past. For example, in 1994, the confiscated weed samples contained 4% of THC, while this figure has risen to 15% in today’s stock. Hence, a person using a more potent version of marijuana is much more likely to develop an addiction at a faster rate.

Age of Beginning Drug Use

Experts believe there is an association between the age you start using marijuana and the possibility of developing an addiction. Studies have found that individuals who start smoking this drug at 14 or 15 years are much more likely to become dependent on it. This risk reduces drastically for people who start using it after this age bracket.

Frequency of Use

The frequency of marijuana use is also associated with the possibility of developing an addiction. Daily or weekly use significantly increases the risk of achieving marijuana dependence in the future. On the other hand, those who use it infrequently or abstain from it entirely for a long time between uses are at a comparatively lower risk of developing an addiction.

Genetics

Genetics is crucial in determining the risk of marijuana addiction in many people. Studies have found that if an individual’s biological parents abuse drugs or alcohol, they are automatically at a higher risk of abusing drugs, including marijuana. Experts have also found that certain people have a genetic liability with marijuana use disorder, meaning they carry certain genes that increase the risk of acquiring an addiction. However, many argue that other contributing factors, such as the surrounding, socioeconomic status, and access to marijuana, can significantly alter this risk.

Mental Health

Some studies have found that many people who abuse marijuana do so to lessen their feelings of depression or guilt. Others self-medicate to reduce the burden of an associated medical condition. Many other mental health considerations have been found in people with marijuana dependence as well, such as coping with the symptoms of ADHD, panic disorder, low self-esteem, and social anxiety.

Marijuana is one of the most commonly abused drugs in the United States that can have serious consequences on overall health and general lifestyle. Following are some signs to watch out for if you suspect yourself or someone else to be addicted to it.

Strong Cravings

Cravings are one of the most critical and significant signs of marijuana addiction. Sometimes, these urges can be so strong that they may force an individual to sacrifice other important commitments, such as work or school, to obtain and use marijuana.

Loss of Interest in Activities

An individual addicted to marijuana will prioritize its use over all other aspects of life. They may cut back on activities they previously used to enjoy and give up on hobbies they loved to nurture. Such people also struggle to maintain healthy relationships with their family members and friends and slowly tend to withdraw from their social life to devote more time to drug use. Another reason why these addicts lose interest in their usual activities and hobbies is the lack of addiction to pursue them due to consistent drug use.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Someone who has been frequently using marijuana can experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms as soon as they stop using it. These symptoms are usually mild, peak within one week of the last dose, and subside after two weeks. Some common marijuana withdrawal symptoms include decreased appetite, restlessness, irritability, and trouble sleeping.

Increased Tolerance

People who have been using marijuana for a long time may develop tolerance to it. This tolerance appears as a need to take progressively higher doses of the drug to experience the same high. This happens as their body and brain become used to weed and undergo desensitization, requiring higher doses to get activated.

Continued Use Despite Negative Consequences

Marijuana addiction can have several negative consequences on a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health. Some of these consequences include:

  • Paranoia
  • High risk of psychosis
  • Impaired memory
  • Impairment of motor skills
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Failure to fulfil work-related commitments
  • Dropping out of school

While many people are able to acknowledge these effects, they still find it impossible to cut back on their use.

As soon as a person smokes weed or marijuana, its primary component, i.e., THC rapidly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream, from where it quickly reaches the brain and other organs. The rate of absorption and distribution of THC is much slower when someone injects marijuana through food or drink. Regardless of consumption mode, THC ultimately reaches the brain, where it attaches itself to specific cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are an essential part of a neural communication network responsible development and normal functioning of the brain and are most abundantly found in areas responsible for thinking, memory, pleasure, and time perception. When marijuana over-activates this system, it turns on all these areas to produce a “high” along with the following effects:

  • Altered mood and perceptions
  • Difficulty with thinking
  • Difficulty recollecting memories
  • Poor problem-solving skills
  • Impaired coordination
  • Disrupted learning
  • Decreased appetite

Research also proves that using marijuana frequently also enhances the number and severity of problems in daily life. Heavy users also report experiencing lower life satisfaction along with poorer mental and physical health. They usually perform poorly in their respective careers or academics and frequently encounter more relationship problems than their non-using peers. Finally, the use of weed is also linked with a higher possibility of dropping out of school. It is also associated with increased absences, accidents, tardiness, and workplace job turnover.

Experts have recorded a sharp increase in the number of people seeking help for addiction to marijuana. As per research, the number of children in active treatment for marijuana dependence has also increased by a whopping 142% since 1992. As with most people with an underlying addiction, those who use and abuse marijuana only seek help when their drug use becomes problematic enough to disturb their daily life. Others who enter a treatment program do so due to the constant pressure from their family, friends, employers, school, or the juistice system.

Fortunately, there are different treatment programs to treat weed addiction and prevent it in the future. These programs typically include one or more of the following therapies:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

During cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a therapist works with the patient to address all underlying negative thoughts or behaviors that might be contributing to the addiction. Moreover, the therapist and the client collaborate to develop healthy coping mechanisms to replace these behaviors.

Contingency Management

Many clinics and rehabilitation centers use contingency management to promote positive behaviors in marijuana abusers by using rewards. For example, those who test negative for the drug may get material prizes or money for their good behavior.

Motivational Enhancement therapy

This type of therapy targets the internal beliefs and attitudes of a person. A therapist works with a client to create statements reflecting why they wish to stop using marijuana, followed by creating an action plan to finally quit.

Apart from seeking professional help, most marijuana users may also benefit from certain lifestyle adjustments such as the ones mentioned below.

Changing your social environment

It can become challenging to quit using marijuana, especially if you live in a community where everyone abuses it. Hence, changing your social environment and company and developing new bonds with people who do not rely on this drug for daily functioning can contribute to the recovery.

Focus on the reason to quit

Keep reminding yourself of the very reason you started seeking help. Whether it was the negative impact on your relationships or issues at the workplace, make a list of all reasons and put it somewhere where you can clearly see them every day to keep yourself motivated.

Adopt new hobbies

Quitting marijuana will most likely give you enough free time to try out some new hobbies or activities. These activities will help you keep busy, distract your mind from cravings, and boost your mood.

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