Although marijuana is often perceived as being relatively harmless and non-habit forming, research has shown that long-term use of marijuana can result in physical dependence.
Dependence on marijuana may be severe enough to interfere with social and professional aspects of an individual’s life, resulting in cannabis addiction. Although addiction to marijuana has been generally associated as a problem for young people, legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use is expected to result in an increase in the cases of marijuana addiction due for people in all stages of life.
How is Marijuana Abused?
Marijuana, or cannabis, consists of dried parts of the plant Cannabis sativa including its leaves and flowers. It is commonly consumed through smoking or vaporizing. Oils extracted from the marijuana plant can also be incorporated into food. Besides being eaten, marijuana can also be brewed into a tea. There are also other forms of marijuana such as hash and dabs, which are concentrated forms of the planta resin obtained from the marijuana plant. These are generally inhaled but hash may also be eaten.
Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Abuse
Marijuana abuse involves the use of cannabis for recreational purposes, generally at high doses, which results in health and social problems. Many of the signs of marijuana abuse are easily recognizable.
Some of the physical signs of marijuana abuse include:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Breathing problems
- Increased appetite
- Redness of eyes
- Impaired motor coordination
Long-term use of the drug can lead to physical dependence. This physical dependence may become severe enough to interfere with social and occupational activities, resulting in cannabis addiction.
Some of the behavioral signs of marijuana use include:
- Impaired cognitive abilities — an inability to focus, impaired judgment and short-term memory deficits
- Lack of motivation
- Increased anxiety and restlessness
- Panic attacks
- Social withdrawal
Side Effects of Marijuana Abuse
The side effects of marijuana abuse depend on the dosage, previous experience with the drug, the method of intake and the strain of cannabis.
Short-term Side Effects
Some of the short term effects of marijuana use include:
- Dryness of mouth
- Impaired cognitive abilities — deficits in attention, decision-making, short-term memory, and difficulty learning and remembering new information
- Deficits in motor coordination — motor deficits along with impaired cognitive abilities can increase the risk of vehicular accidents
- At high doses, marijuana can cause psychosis and paranoia
- Increased heart rate, which can increase the chances of cardiovascular problems such as arrhythmias and infarctions
One of the main long-term effects use of cannabis use is dependence on the drug and addiction. Addiction can create problems with one’s social and work life and can adversely impact interpersonal relationships. Other long-term effects of marijuana abuse include:
- Respiratory problems including chronic cough, bronchitis and increased risk of lung infections.
- Deficits in cognitive abilities.
- Reduced short-term memory.
- Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases including arrhythmias, myocardial infarctions and stroke.
- The development of psychotic symptoms, especially in individuals with genes that make them susceptible to such disorders. Marijuana use can also result in the worsening of symptoms of schizophrenia.
- Increased risk of depression and anxiety disorders. Chronic use is also associated with a higher risk of other comorbid disorders including substance use disorders and certain mood and personality disorders.
- Poor grades and greater rates of dropping out.
- Addiction, with negative outcomes such as low income, unemployment and lower life satisfaction.
Side Effects of Polysubstance Abuse
Marijuana used with alcohol results in higher consumption of both substances and increases the chances of overdose. Concomitant use of marijuana and alcohol can increase the chances of side effects such as anxiety, panic, nausea, vomiting and paranoia. The combination of alcohol and marijuana results in greater impairment of judgment and driving abilities than either drug used alone.
Co-use of opiates and marijuana should also be avoided. Co-use may mask the effects of the other drug and can lead to overdose.
Marijuana Addiction Symptoms
Some of the symptoms of marijuana addiction include:
- Inability to control the amount of marijuana intake over a long period of time
- Inability to reduce use despite significant efforts
- Failure to fulfill obligations at home or work
- Neglect of social, occupational and family activities due to marijuana use
Effects of Marijuana Addiction
Marijuana addiction has an adverse effect on one’s work and home life. Marijuana abuse disorder is associated with respiratory diseases, increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and adverse social and occupational outcomes.
Causes of Marijuana Addiction
People may begin using marijuana to fit in with a peer group or to cope with psychological stress and emotional problems. Regular use over a long period of time will usually result in dependence and addiction. Like most drug use disorders, besides social and environmental factors, certain genes are associated with a higher risk for developing marijuana or cannabis addiction.
Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms
Long-term or heavy use of marijuana can lead to dependence on the drug. Stopping drug use can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Despite the perception of marijuana being safe, studies in humans and animals show that long-term use results in dependence. Such withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Drug cravings
- Decreased appetite
- Stomach pain
- Muscle pain
Marijuana Addiction Facts and Statistics
About 1.5% of the population was reported to suffer from marijuana use disorder in 2016 and around 9% of all people who use marijuana are likely to develop an addiction to the drug. This percentage is higher in adolescents with 17% being at risk of developing an addiction.
Some facts on marijuana or cannabis use in the population from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health include:
- Prevalence in Men: Approximately 17.3% of the adult male population in the United States used marijuana over the duration of a year (2016), with 51.6% reporting to have used marijuana at least once in their lifetime.
- Prevalence in Women: Approximately 11.2% of the adult female population was reported to have used marijuana in the previous year with 42.7% reporting to have used marijuana at least once in their lifetime.
- According to a 2014 report based on admission to substance abuse treatment facilities, both men and women over the age of 25 have similar rates of admission for the treatment of marijuana abuse disorder; however, younger females below the age of 25 (12-24 years) had lower rates of admission relative to their male counterparts.
- Teen Abuse: Approximately 15.9% of teenagers had used marijuana once over the previous year in 2016. According to a different statistic on teen marijuana abuse, around 35% (grades 9-12) of high school students had used marijuana at least once in their lifetime.
- Senior Abuse: 3.3% of adults over the age of 65 had used marijuana over a period of 12 months in 2016, with 23.4% having used the drug at least once in their lifetime.
Marijuana Abuse and Treatment Trends in South Florida
Marijuana use in Florida was lower than the national level, according to the NSDUH 2016 survey. The survey showed that 7.65% of individuals over the age of 12 had used marijuana in the month prior to the survey, relative to the national level of 8.6%. Cannabinoids were present in 19.2% of all drug-related deaths and were responsible for eight deaths in 2016, according to a Florida Medical Examiners Commission report.
At the regional level, use rates for high school students actually declined over the period between 2006–2016, with 12.9% of high school students using marijuana in the southern region (13.8% in 2006) in 2016. Around 18.2% of high school students used marijuana in Broward County in 2016, an increase since 2006.
Although there are no reports of fatalities due to marijuana overdose, high doses of marijuana can cause an overdose and result in psychosis and cardiac toxicities. The chances of overdose are higher due to newer strains of cannabis that have a higher concentration of THC and a lower concentration of CBD. CBD counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC, making it less potent. However, newer strains of cannabis have a higher concentration of THC, making them more potent and more likely to cause an overdose.
The use of cannabis concentrates such as “dabs” may also increase the risk of overdose. The preparation of these concentrates involves using a solvent like butane to extract cannabinoids like THC, which is the chemical that is responsible for the psychoactive properties of the drug. These cannabis concentrates are generally inhaled and have significant adverse effects due to the high concentrations of THC, including cardiovascular toxicities and psychosis. Other symptoms of using dabs include hypertension, hyperthermia, fever and seizure-like activity.
Besides marijuana, laboratory-synthesized chemical compounds that bind to cannabinoid receptors are also used for recreational purposes. These synthetic cannabinoids also referred to as “synthetic marijuana” and tend to be more potent than natural marijuana and can contain harmful chemicals. Synthetic cannabinoids are more potent with a higher chance of inducing toxic effects including cardiovascular toxicities, psychosis, organ damage and death.
How to Help Someone Addicted to Marijuana
Marijuana addiction can negatively impact all aspects of the individual’s life, including their social, professional and family life. Approaching a loved one about their substance abuse problem can be difficult and may often be met with a defensive or angry response. It is essential to remain calm and be compassionate about their problem and approach them at a different time.
It’s a good idea to approach your loved one with specific examples of how their addiction has had negative consequences on the people surrounding them and that their drug use is actually a problem. One should remain supportive without blaming or accusing the individual of their behavior and be constructive by approaching them with treatment options for their marijuana abuse.
Marijuana Addiction Treatment Options
Treatment for marijuana addiction generally involves non-pharmacological interventions based on psychosocial approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy. There is very little research on the pharmacological treatment of marijuana dependence, with most medications showing little promise. Oral tetrahydrocannabinol has been shown to be effective for treating many of the withdrawal symptoms. Some of the options for the treatment of marijuana addiction include:
The first step towards treatment of marijuana addiction involves detoxifying the body. This involves stopping the use of marijuana and may result in adverse withdrawal symptoms. Enrolling in detox for cannabis or marijuana use involves behavioral therapy and medications to help the individual cope with the withdrawal symptoms under professional medical supervision.
Residential or inpatient rehab involves residence at a treatment clinic and involves 24-hour care. Residential rehab allows for intensive treatment in a structured environment that is generally necessary for addressing severe addiction. Inpatient treatment involves individual and group therapy sessions, support groups and various activities.
Outpatient rehab for marijuana addiction generally involves visiting a treatment clinic a few times each week and allows the individual to continue with their job or education. Outpatient rehab is generally suitable for mild to moderate addiction and is less expensive.
Dependence on marijuana is associated with a higher risk of mood disorders and substance abuse disorders. Dual diagnosis involves co-treatment of marijuana use disorder and co-occurring mental health or substance abuse disorder. Simultaneous treatment of such concomitant disorders is more effective than treatment of a single disorder at a time.
Key Points: Understanding Marijuana Abuse
Marijuana is often considered to be a safe drug; however, chronic marijuana use is associated with both short- and long-term effects, including cannabis addiction. Some of the key points to remember regarding marijuana abuse include:
- Marijuana is consumed by smoking, inhaling or orally ingesting the drug.
- Short-term side effects of marijuana use include cognitive impairment, impaired motor coordination, increased heart rate, hallucinations and paranoia at higher doses.
- Although marijuana has been traditionally associated with a low risk of overdose, it is possible to overdose on marijuana.
- Overdose can cause cardiovascular toxicities, psychosis and even death.
- Long-term use of marijuana can cause dependence that may be severe enough to interfere with social and occupational activities.
- Long-term use can also cause cognitive impairment, increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, cause breathing problems and increase the risk of mood and substance use disorders.
- Treatment for marijuana addiction involves detox followed by treatment at a rehab center. Treatment generally involves behavioral therapies and there are no medications to treat marijuana addiction.
The Recovery Village at Palm Beach at Baptist Health specializes in the treatment of substance abuse disorders and co-occurring mental disorders. Treatment for substance abuse disorders is tailored to the needs of each individual and is provided by clinical and medical staff with expertise in the treatment of such conditions. If you or someone you know suffers from marijuana addiction, contact The Recovery Village at Palm Beach at Baptist Health to begin your path to recovery.
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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.