Marijuana is one of the most commonly used drugs in the world. Smoking weed is often romanticized, shown in the media as fun and lighthearted. This drug is thought of as non-addictive and non-dangerous to many. It’s even being legalized in different states around the U.S. as we speak. Marijuana has the reputation of being “natural” because it’s a plant and many people believe that it cannot harm them. But the reality is it’s a harmful substance that can become addictive in some cases. It’s important to know the facts on marijuana addiction, its risks, and how you can overcome it.
Does marijuana addiction exist?
Yes, marijuana addiction does exist, and there are even recovery groups just for marijuana addicts. Marijuana use is on the rise. It was reported in 2012 that 7.6 million people in the U.S. are using marijuana every day, or nearly every day, a significant increase from 5.1 million in 2007. Among people who are addicted to marijuana, it’s most prevalent in 18-25-year-olds. An increase in users is also thought to be occurring because of legalization and decriminalization of marijuana in several states including Colorado, Washington, and Alaska. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) says that using marijuana at a young age is especially dangerous. This is because their brains are still developing. The NCADD also pointed out that a study has shown people who become addicted to marijuana can lose an average of six IQ points by adulthood. They noted that brain imaging of regular marijuana users shows significant changes in their brain structure, especially among teenagers.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 30 percent of marijuana users may have some degree of marijuana use disorder. Marijuana use disorder is associated with dependence, meaning their body is dependent on the drug and will experience withdrawal when not taking the drug. Dependence occurs when the brain requires more of the drug to get the high sensation that the user craves, and this sensation is then required to function. A marijuana use disorder then becomes an addiction when the user cannot stop using even though the drug interferes negatively with most aspects of their life.
If you are concerned with your marijuana use or the marijuana use of a loved one, here are a few questions offered by Marijuana Anonymous that might help to determine if you’re on the road to addiction:
- Has smoking pot stopped being fun?
- Do you ever get high alone?
- Do you smoke weed to cope with your feelings?
- Do you plan your life around marijuana use?
- Is it hard for you to imagine a life with marijuana?
- Has your use of marijuana caused problems with memory, concentration, or motivation?
- When your stash is nearly empty, do you feel anxious or worried about how to get more?
Negative health risks of marijuana addiction
Just like any other addiction, there are many negative health risks associated with marijuana addiction. Ingesting marijuana affects many organs in the body, including your immune system and the nervous system. Smoking pot can increase your heart rate by as much as two times for up to three hours. It can also irritate the lungs. Other immediate physical effects of marijuana use include:
- Red eyes and dilated pupils.
- Increased appetite.
- Dry mouth.
- Slowed reaction time.
- Shallow breathing.
Research shows poorer cognitive abilities in users, including memory capability, math, and verbal skills. Other studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and higher rates of anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. Marijuana use can also lead to respiratory illness, impaired cognition, hallucinations or delusions.
Can you go through marijuana withdrawal?
If you are addicted to marijuana, you are at risk for marijuana withdrawal. This may occur when you stop using. Research says that because withdrawal symptoms have been reported with marijuana cessation, this signals that marijuana addiction does exist. Marijuana withdrawal symptoms include:
These symptoms start one day after the last use, peak 2 to 3 days after use, and stop within 1 or 2 weeks.
Marijuana is the third most common substance for people who are entering drug and alcohol treatment, behind alcohol and opioids. People with a marijuana addiction often have a co-occurring disorder. They may also have some other psychiatric disorder or use another substance such as alcohol or cocaine. Currently, there are no medications approved to treat marijuana dependence. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, 12-step meetings like Marijuana Anonymous, and traditional inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment centers have all shown promise in treating marijuana addiction.
Now you know that marijuana isn’t the innocent plant in the ground that you might have thought it was. It’s not completely harmless. It’s a drug that you can become addicted to, and it can cause you to suffer from severe health consequences.
Fortunately, there is hope and recovery is available. Addiction treatment can provide you with the therapy and life skills you need to live a life without marijuana. You deserve a life beyond your wildest dreams, start living it today.
Written by: Kelly Fitzgerald