Marijuana Addiction & Abuse in Colorado

Written by Erica Weiman

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD

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Last Updated - 12/21/2022

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Updated 12/21/2022

Although Colorado has legalized marijuana for both medical and recreational use, the drug remains a Schedule I controlled substance at the federal level, meaning it has potential for abuse, addiction and dependence. Marijuana has become more potent over the past several decades, which may increase the risk of both side effects and addiction. Fortunately, help is available if you or a loved one struggles with marijuana abuse.

Colorado Marijuana Laws

Colorado first moved toward legalizing marijuana in the year 2000, when medical marijuana became legal. The state continued to expand marijuana laws, legalizing recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older in 2012 and establishing marijuana lounges in 2019.

Medical Marijuana in Colorado

Medical marijuana is legal in Colorado for anyone with a qualifying medical condition. A person must apply to obtain a special registry card that must be renewed annually in order to be prescribed medical marijuana by a doctor. Qualifying conditions include:

  • Any condition for which opioids may be used
  • Autism
  • Excess weight loss
  • Cancer
  • Glaucoma
  • Muscle spasms
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Pain

Recreational Marijuana in Colorado

Any adult aged 21 years or older in Colorado may obtain recreational marijuana from a state-licensed marijuana dispensary. Marijuana delivery is allowed in Colorado; however, you may not bring marijuana to an airport.

Possession of Marijuana in Colorado

Possession of fewer than two ounces of marijuana is a petty offense in Colorado and is not subject to jail time or a fine. However, possession of more than two to six ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor that carries a fine and may lead to prison time. Having more than 12 ounces of marijuana is a felony that can lead to one to two years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division

Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division is a division of Colorado’s Department of Revenue. The division regulates Colorado’s marijuana laws and regulates medical marijuana production, distribution, testing and sales.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

Marijuana is the third most common addictive substance in America after alcohol and tobacco. Overall, about 30% of marijuana users will develop a cannabis use disorder, with the risk increasing if the person was under the age of 18 when they started the drug.

Someone with a marijuana use disorder continues to use the drug even if they have experienced negative consequences to their physical, mental, social, legal or financial well-being. As with other substances, marijuana addiction can be challenging to overcome without help.

Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?

The answer to this question is complicated. Most people who use marijuana do not develop substance use disorders or go on to use other substances, but those who use other substances often begin with either marijuana, alcohol or tobacco. Research also suggests that exposing your brain to marijuana early in life may predispose you to become addicted to other substances later on.

Marijuana Addiction Symptoms

When a person begins to struggle with a marijuana use disorder, they often show certain signs or symptoms. These can include:

  • Using more marijuana than intended, or over a longer period than intended
  • Previous unsuccessful efforts to cut down on marijuana use
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using or recovering from marijuana use
  • Marijuana cravings
  • Marijuana use interferes with commitments at work, school or home
  • Continuing to use marijuana despite problems caused or worsened by the drug
  • Giving up or cutting back on activities because of marijuana
  • Using marijuana in situations in which it is hazardous to do so
  • Needing increasing amounts of marijuana to achieve the same effect as before
  • Having withdrawal symptoms if marijuana use stops

Marijuana Side Effects

Like all substances, marijuana can cause side effects. However, the exact side effects can depend on the person. Nonetheless, side effects often encompass both physical and psychological, or emotional, side effects.

Due to wide variation in marijuana potency, the side effects of marijuana can be unpredictable even if the person uses it regularly. This is especially true of marijuana that has not been vetted or tested by Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division.

Side effects of marijuana include:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Blood pressure fluctuations
  • Facial flushing
  • Dry mouth
  • Tremor
  • Coordination problems
  • Increased appetite
  • Sedation
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Euphoria
  • Disinhibition
  • Relaxation
  • Enhanced sensory perception
  • Increased imagination
  • Time distortion
  • Impaired judgment
  • Emotional changes
  • Short-term memory loss

Chronic marijuana use can cause health problems, including serious, chronic lung conditions like emphysema and asthma. Reduced cognition and worsening mental health problems, including schizophrenia, are also possible health consequences of long-term marijuana use.

Marijuana Withdrawal

Regular marijuana use can lead to physical dependence, a situation where your body and brain expect the presence of the drug for you to function normally. When the drug is suddenly stopped, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Overall, around a third of regular marijuana users experience withdrawal symptoms at some point during their lives.

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms often follow a generic timeline, although some specifics may vary depending on the person. Generally, symptoms start one to three days after the last marijuana use. Symptoms peak within the first week and can last for up to two weeks. However, some symptoms, like sleep disturbances, can last up to a month in some cases.

Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

Marijuana withdrawal can cause many different withdrawal symptoms. These can vary depending on the person and include:

  • Mood changes, like irritability, anger, aggression, anxiety or depression
  • Problems sleeping, including disturbing dreams
  • Decreased appetite or weight loss
  • Restlessness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Shakiness
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache

How Long Does Marijuana Stay in Your System?

Marijuana can be found in your system for hours, days or weeks, depending on the frequency of use and what is being tested. Drug tests do not test for marijuana itself, but rather for breakdown products like THC carboxylase, which last longer in the body. Common marijuana tests include:

  • Urine: If marijuana is used once weekly, traces can be found in urine for up to 10 days. However, with more chronic use, marijuana can be detected longer. For example, with daily use, marijuana can be found in urine for up to 30 days after the last use.
  • Hair: Marijuana can be found in hair for up to three months. However, the person generally must have been using marijuana for at least several weeks for the drug to appear in a hair sample.
  • Saliva: Marijuana can be detected in saliva tests for up to 24 hours after the last use.
  • Blood: Marijuana can be found for several hours in a blood sample after the last use.

Marijuana Detox

Stopping marijuana “cold-turkey” can lead to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including cravings that can be difficult to resist. For this reason, successfully stopping marijuana can require medical assistance, including detox and rehab.

Quitting marijuana in an inpatient detox setting can cleanse your system of the drug. In medical detox, you stay in an inpatient detox unit under round-the-clock medical care from doctors and nurses. This helps prepare you for rehab, which is key to staying off the drug long-term. Although no drugs are FDA-approved for marijuana withdrawal, successful treatment strategies to help you quit marijuana include therapy and motivational counseling.

Marijuana Addiction Treatment

After marijuana detox, rehab begins to help you stay off the drug over the long term. Rehab can take place in either inpatient or outpatient settings. In inpatient rehab, you live on-site, so you can focus on your recovery without distractions.

Outpatient rehab often follows inpatient rehab, or may replace it in cases of mild addiction. In outpatient rehab, you live off-site at home or in a sober living environment and continue rehab through either face-to-face or teletherapy treatment.


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PsychDB. “Cannabis Withdrawal.” March 29, 2021. Accessed January 18, 2022.

U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). “Drugs of Abuse.” April 2020. Accessed January 18, 2022.

PsychDB. “Cannabis Use Disorder.” December 25, 2021. Accessed January 18, 2022.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Marijuana: What We Know.”  October 2021. Accessed October 7, 2022.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Marijuana DrugFacts.” DrugFacts, December 2019. Accessed January 18, 2022.

Ghost Management Group, LLC. “Colorado.” Weedmaps, January 20, 2021. Accessed January 18, 2022.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “Colorado Laws and Penalties.” Accessed January 18, 2022.

ElSohly, MA; Mehmedic, Z; et al. “Changes in Cannabis Potency over the Las[…]in the United States.” Biological Psychiatry, April 1, 2016. Accessed January 26, 2022.


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