Marijuana Abuse & Addiction

Marijuana in Colorado is a hotly debated topic. Colorado is one of the states in the U.S. that currently legalizes the use of marijuana by adults aged 21 and older. According to the law that went into effect with the passing of Amendment 64 in Colorado, adults 21 and older can legally have one ounce of marijuana or THC in their possession.

Both tourists and residents of the state can purchase up to a certain amount of marijuana legally, and proponents of the legalization of marijuana feel that it was an excellent move that prevents people from being unfairly punished or imprisoned for what they feel is a harmless drug. There has been a booming business for the marijuana industry in places like Denver, Colorado Springs, and Boulder as a result, but is it as it seems?

There’s another side of the debate, and some people including lawmakers from Colorado and around the nation are discouraging further legalization of marijuana in other states. They cite an increase in traffic deaths, ER visits and calls to poison control centers as a result of the moves made in Colorado.

Regardless of what side of the political debate you’re on, as with any drug, there are potential risks that come with the use of marijuana in Colorado or anywhere else. Marijuana abuse is definitely something that can happen.

Think of it this way—alcohol is legal, but does that mean it’s risk-free?

Understanding Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana goes by many nicknames including weed, pot, herb, grass, Mary Jane and more and it refers to leaves and flowers that come from the hemp plant. People smoke marijuana by putting it pipes,  hand-rolling cigarettes, putting it in cigars or using water pipes. Marijuana can also be eaten and added to various recipes, used in teas and even added to gummy candies.

Marijuana is considered a psychoactive substance, which means it alters your brain, and that’s largely because of one certain chemical it contains which is THC.

When someone smokes marijuana, the psychoactive THC goes into the user’s lungs and then to their bloodstream. The effects of marijuana occur relatively quickly, and these effects can vary based on the individual and other factors. Usually, marijuana can create a sense of relaxation, and other elements of a marijuana high can include being hungry, having a higher level of sensory perception, and having an altered sense of time.

When people consume marijuana in food or beverages, it usually takes longer for them to feel the effects because it goes through their digestive system first.

While some people say they experience positive effects from marijuana such as relaxation, relief from anxiety and even euphoria, for some people it’s a much different experience. For example, people who use marijuana may experience a sense of panic or anxiety, and this is most likely to happen when someone uses a lot of marijuana at one time.

There is some debate as to the effect of marijuana in the long-term on the brain of the users. Some studies have shown that it has reduced cognitive functionality with long-term use, while other studies don’t see differences in the brains of marijuana users and non-users. Some of whether or not there are long-term effects might depend on how old the person was when they started using the drug, how often they used it, and how much of it they used.

A big question people have is whether or not marijuana is addictive, which we’ll discuss below.

Marijuana Addiction

Can You Get Addicted to Marijuana?

Marijuana isn’t as addictive in the traditional sense as drugs like opioids, but research seems to indicate that it is possible to become addicted to this substance.

For many people, marijuana dependence can also occur. This means that your brain has gotten so used to the presence of the drug that when you stop taking it suddenly, you may have withdrawal symptoms. Some of the signs of physical dependence to marijuana include feeling irritable or having mood or sleep problems when you stop using it.

Researchers and medical professionals have also identified marijuana use disorder, which can become an addiction.

Is Marijuana Physically Addictive?

In short, yes marijuana can be physically addictive. As was touched on above, you can develop a physical dependence to the drug, and then if you stop using it suddenly, you may experience negative side effects.

This is because your brain has gotten used to the presence of marijuana, particularly if you use it often or in large amounts. Your brain reduces how much it makes of a certain neurotransmitter called endocannabinoid as a result of the presence of marijuana, and then if you stop using the drug, your brain struggles to make up for that deficiency.

For a lot of people who use marijuana, it’s not only the chemical changes in the brain that can lead to physical or psychological addiction to the drug, but it may also be situational. This means that people become addicted to the experience of using the drug. Maybe it makes them more comfortable around people, allows them to avoid something like social anxiety, or it’s something they share with a group of friends, and they don’t want to lose that experience.

Also worth noting is the fact that people who are exposed to marijuana earlier in life tend to have less reactive reward centers when they’re adults. This can put them at a higher risk for developing other substance abuse problems and addictions in adulthood.

Marijuana Addiction Rate

At this point, you may be wondering what percent of marijuana users become addicted. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it’s believed that about 30 percent of marijuana users have some level of marijuana use disorder. People who use marijuana for the first time under the age of 18 are anywhere from four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults who begin using the drug later in life.

There are also studies that show around nine percent of people who use marijuana will develop a physical dependence, and for teens who started using the drug, that number goes up to around 17 percent.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around four million people in the U.S. met the criteria for a marijuana use disorder in 2015 and around 138,000 voluntarily sought treatment.

There is the idea in Colorado and particularly in areas like Colorado Springs, Boulder, and Denver that just because marijuana is legal that it’s safe. There are risks associated not only with addiction, but also issues such as driving while impaired, using marijuana to self-medicate serious medical issues, and the potential for marijuana use particularly in young teens to lead to other drug issues.

There are treatment options in Palmer Lake and throughout Colorado and the nation that can help people deal with potential marijuana use disorders.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.