Weed Addiction

What is Marijuana Dependence?

Within the past few decades, a growing tide of cultural and legal movements have reframed how we as a society view marijuana, its potential benefits, and its possible risks. Increasing societal acceptance and shifts in medico-legal status means that marijuana is increasingly part of the cultural mainstream, and that more people than ever are smoking regularly. With an expanding population of marijuana users, however, comes its darker companion—marijuana addiction.

What is Marijuana Addiction?

Simply put, marijuana addiction describes a pattern of marijuana use that has negative impacts on an individual’s ability to function in daily life. While most people start out using marijuana occasionally, in some, it can become a habit that spirals out of control. Despite its reputation for being relatively safe, there are real risks associated with both short term and chronic marijuana use, including cannabis use disorder, withdrawal, and long-term effects on mood and cognition. With continued use, the list of possible health consequences from marijuana use grows longer.

Whether you are totally unfamiliar with marijuana, or whether you’re a daily smoker, if you are visiting us for the first time, welcome. If you think you know all about marijuana—or even if you don’t—perhaps it’s time to learn about health consequences associated with addiction, how to recognize it, and ways you can get help.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

Marijuana can be addictive. Although marijuana use may be common, it doesn’t come without risks. If you are a daily or near-daily user, or if you have used regularly for months to years, you are not alone—as marijuana use has become more common, chronic use has increased as well. Like brushing your teeth or making a cup of coffee, it becomes part of your daily routine. You might feel a need to smoke at a predictable hour or associate certain activities with the sensation of being high, be it watching television or falling asleep.

If you use every day, chances are high that you feel uncomfortable when you stop smoking, and that using makes those unpleasant feeling go away. After a long period of marijuana use, your withdrawal symptoms may cause so much discomfort that you are motivated to use marijuana just to prevent them from occurring at all. If you’re experiencing this frustrating cycle of withdrawal and dependence, it may be worth learning more about cannabis use disorder.

Types of Marijuana Use

Chronic Use (Daily or Near-Daily Use)

If you are a daily or near-daily user, or if you have used regularly for months to years, you are not alone—as marijuana use has become more common, chronic use has increased as well. Like brushing your teeth or making a cup of coffee, it becomes part of your daily routine. You might feel a need to smoke at a predictable hour or associate certain activities with the sensation of being high, be it watching television or falling asleep.

If you use every day, chances are high that you feel uncomfrotable when you stop smoking, and that using makes those unpleasant feeling go away. After a long period of marijuana use, your withdrawal symptoms may be cause so much discomfort that you are motivated to use marijuana just to prevent them from occurring at all. If you’re experiencing this frustrating cycle of withdrawal and dependence, it may be worth learning more about cannabis use disorder.

Not only does chronic marijuana influence your behavior, it can have lasting consequences on your mood and state of mind. People who use marijuana every day or almost every day may be at increased risk for depressive symptoms or anxiety disorders (Keith et al. Am J Addict, 2015).

Occasional Heavy Use (Binge Use)

Just as it can be easy to binge on a bag of potato chips or your favorite TV series, it can be easy to go a little overboard with marijuana. Heavy use in individuals who don’t use often means that they have less tolerance and are more likely to experience intense effects. Sometimes, binge-use is an intentional attempt to totally disconnect from reality. Alternatively, binging can occur when less experienced users unintentionally use too much, either because they’re already a little high, or because the first—or second—dose has yet to really kick in.

Occasional Use

Occasional marijuana use is defined as less than once a week. Most people who use marijuana will fall into this category. Settings for occasional marijuana use are typically in the context of social gatherings like parties, concerts, or perhaps just hanging out with a few close friends. Occasional users can therefore also be called opportunistic users, meaning that they typically feel no desire to use outside of these specific contexts, and do not seek out marijuana for themselves.

Warning Signs

Recognizing the red flags for marijuana addiction isn’t easy. Nobody is perfect, and the challenging task of reflecting on your own thoughts and patterns of behavior is just a part of human nature.

Some warning signs that you may be addicted to marijuana include cravings, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms.

Cravings for marijuana are common when you have been using marijuana for a long period. Your body has come to expect the presence of marijuana in your system, and using marijuana alters your brain circuitry so that, each time you use, you get a little less effect. Cravings can be both predictable—whether it’s a certain time of day, situation, or social context—but can also strike without warning, making them dangerous.

Tolerance describes a physiological reaction that your body mounts to a constant stimulus. When our bodies are continuously or repeatedly exposed to a signal—marijuana—the natural response is to tone down the response—aka, the strength of marijuana’s effects. It’s meant to be a protective mechanism, but, in the case of marijuana and other substances, it means that with continued use, you need to use more in order to achieve the same effects.

Finally, withdrawal symptoms are essentially your body’s reaction to the absence of marijuana. In our entire section devoted to withdrawal, we dive into the biology of why withdrawal happens, how it evolves over time, and what you can expect. Things like irritability, anxiety, decreased appetite, restlessness, and sleep disturbances are not only common, but can be a major source of discomfort and disruption in your daily life (Zehra et al, J Neuroimmune Pharmacol, 2018). That being said, recognizing these red flags may be a sign that you have a bigger problem at hand, and can put you on the path to recovery.

Reasons People Use Marijuana

There is no right or wrong answer as to why people use marijuana. Some use it for the enjoyment of its characteristic high, or to gain a temporary view of the world through a different lens.

Others find that it relieves their aches and pains, or that smoking takes the edge off of their anxiety. Teenagers and young adults may commonly use marijuana to fit in with their peers, or to experiment (Lee et al, Addict Behav, 2007).

Some may use marijuana to enhance their sense of creativity or spirituality. In fact, the role of marijuana in promoting reflection dates back thousands of years. There is a fascinating history of marijuana use in the context of ancient religious ceremonies. Bhang, for example, is an edible preparation of cannabis that is believed to cleanse sins (Balhara and Mathur, Lung India, 2014; Gumbiner, Psychology Today, 2011). In a similar vein, you may find yourself using it to stimulate reflection, contemplation, or to get your creative juices flowing.

In select scenarios, marijuana can be helpful for medical reasons. Conditions like cancer-related pain, extreme nausea, and multiple sclerosis have been shown to derive symptomatic relief from medical marijuana. While less common, it is also possible to be prescribed certain formulations of medical marijuana for treatment of severe epilepsy, although this particular form of marijuana, however, is different from what you may buy on the street, and does not have psychoactive effects (Samanta, Pediatr Neurol, 2019).

Issues from Excessive Marijuana Use

Going overboard with marijuana  carries a number of potential health adverse effects that hit on many organ systems. First off, marijuana can be a potent appetite stimulant and it should be no surprise that you are more likely to overeat when you are high, which may cause discomfort and stomach upset. Through its action on the cardiovascular system, you may experience uncomfortable heart racing, wheezing, or even chest pain (Sidney, J Clin Pharmacol, 2002). What’s more, it can cause significant coordination impairment, which may affect your ability to drive and which increases your risk of getting injured.

In addition to causing a host of physical effects, excessive intake can also lead to problems with thinking and mood. Impairment of short-term memory while you’re under the influence makes it hard for you to learn and retain new information. In addition to altering your senses and your perception of the world, excessive short-term use can cloud your judgment, and can blunt your ability to think through complex decisions. In high doses, short-term use can also lead to debilitating anxiety, paranoia, and even psychosis (Volkow, N Engl J Med, 2014).

For a more detailed summary of both the short-term and long-term complications of marijuana, jump to our section on the effects of marijuana.

How to Get Help

Addiction can exert a vice-like grip on your entire life. Feeling like you don’t have control negatively impacts your social interactions as well as your ability to think, work, and regulate your emotions. Physical symptoms of marijuana addiction are real and can be unpleasant. Reversing these changes requires not just recognizing that you have a condition, but also making an effective strategy to quit.

If you’re trying to get help for marijuana addiction, don’t despair. Treatment options for marijuana addiction are safe, manageable, and effective. Just by being here, you’re already making progress.

Addiction is a serious condition that impacts your mood, your thoughts, your behaviors, and even your physical health. It touches the lives of those you love and who love you. Breaking the cycle of addiction will be both challenging and rewarding as you begin to regain those aspects of your life you had sacrificed in order to use.

Long after you’ve successfully stopped using, healing from your marijuana addiction will still be an active process, and a lifelong challenge. If you choose the road to addiction recovery, we’re here to help.

Treatment Options

Treatment for marijuana addiction isn’t just about having the willpower to stop, or ‘flipping a switch.’ More than just having the motivation, it involves breaking a cycle of mental and physical dependence. It is a process that takes will, time, and effort. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re trying to find out exactly what that process entails. Or perhaps you’ve tried to cut down in the past, but relapsed after a few days, or weeks.

Exploring treatment options for marijuana addiction might seem daunting at first, but luckily, they are safe, manageable, and effective. The most proven strategies for marijuana addiction include counseling and behavioral therapy. You can choose between designing your own treatment plan, pursing outpatient treatment, or seeking a dedicated treatment facility. Depending on the severity of your addiction and other health conditions you may have, you may require more intensive treatment. There are additionally a handful of prescribed medications which may help promote abstinence and reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Jump to our section on treatment for marijuana addiction and cannabis use disorder to learn more.

Risk Factors for Marijuana Abuse and Addiction

Many people will experiment with marijuana at some point in their lifetimes, but not everyone develops addiction. There are a host of personal, biologic, and environmental factors that dictate your individual predisposition to marijuana addiction.

When it comes to predicting who is at risk, we know some things for certain. Risk factors for marijuana use and addiction include:

  • Age: Earlier age of first use is associated with increased risk for addiction (also known as cannabis use disorder). One third of U.S. young adults aged 18 to 25 years old reported using marijuana at least once in the past year (Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, 2017).
  • Gender: Men are twice as likely as women to have used marijuana (11.3% compared to 6.7%, respectively) within the past year, and also twice as likely to develop cannabis use disorder (4.2 versus 1.7%, respectively) (Hasin, JAMA Psychiatry, 2015).
  • Race/Ethnicity: Marijuana use more common in people of mixed race (17.7%), black/African American persons (11.1%), and Native Americans (13.6%) compared with the overall non-Hispanic population in the United States (9.1%) (Hasin, JAMA Psychiatry, 2015).
  • Social Isolation: Single, never-married individuals are more likely to develop cannabis use disorder than married individuals, as are people who live in cities (Hasin, Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse, 2019).
  • State-specific Policy: Depending on your state’s laws surrounding medical marijuana, you may be at higher risk for cannabis use disorder. States that instated early medical marijuana laws have higher rates of overall non-medical marijuana use and cannabis use disorder compared to states where medical marijuana is not legalized (Hasin, JAMA Psychiatry, 2017; Cerda, Drug Alcohol Depend, 2012).

Beyond factors like age and gender, risk for addiction is influenced by your use of other substances like alcohol or cigarettes, your income level, and your geographic region. While the degree of risk conferred by each of these factors alone is small, they can add up. Ultimately, though, the biggest risk factor for developing addiction is how much you consume. Depending on what type of marijuana user you are (using often, binging on occasion, or both), your cumulative exposure to marijuana feeds your likelihood of developing cannabis use disorder.