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Article Summary

A Guide To Marijuana Addiction

If you are addicted to marijuana, the first step you should take on the road to full recovery is accepting and understanding that you have a serious problem with the drug. Sometimes, however, it may be hard to stay objective especially if you are trying to gauge your own level of marijuana abuse.

Use this guide to help you make the decision and start looking for the right solutions:

Understanding Marijuana

Marijuana is an all-encompassing term that refers to the flowers, extracts, and leaves of Cannabis sativa, a plant that is closely related to several species of hemp. In the United States - as elsewhere on the globe - this is one of the most commonly abused drugs. It is also known by a variety of names, including hash, grass, weed, pot, Mary Jane, ganja, bud, herb, and cannabis.

Marijuana appears in the form of a mixture of green and grey leaves and buds. Some people smoke it in hand rolled cigarettes (called joints) or through water pipes (bongs), pipes, or simply in blunts rolled in typical cigarette wraps. The drug can also be brewed and drunk as tea.

When it is sold and used for medicinal purposes, it is often mixed into a variety of foods known as edibles, including candies, cakes, cookies, and brownies. On the other hand, some users take it through vaporizers.

Today, there are stronger forms of the drug, which may include sinsemilla (that is made from specially grown female plants) as well as concentrated resins with especially high doses of the active ingredients in marijuana (including hard amber-like shatter, waxy budder, and honey-like hash oil). These resins are popular both for recreational and medical consumption.

The main mind altering (or psychoactive) chemical in the drug is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). This chemical is responsible for the intoxicating effects of marijuana, which most users seek. The chemical is primarily found in the resin that is produced by the buds and leaves (particularly of the female Cannabis sativa plant). Additionally, this plant contains over 500 other chemicals, including more than 100 cannabinoids, compounds that are related chemically to THC.

Marijuana Uses

The potential medical properties of marijuana - as well as of its components - have formed part of research, heated debates, and tons of speculation for decades now. THC, in and of itself, has proven medical uses and benefits but only in certain formulations.

This is why the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved a couple of medications based on THC. These include nabilone (Cesame) and dronabinol (Marinol), which are prescribed as pills for treating nausea among patients who are undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. The drugs are also used to stimulate appetite among patients suffering as a result of the wasting syndrome caused by AIDS.

Additionally, many other medications based on marijuana have been approved while others are still undergoing clinical trial pending approval by the FDA. Sativex (Nabiximols), for instance, is sold as a mouth spray in Canada, the UK, and some European countries for the treatment of the neuropathic pain and spasticity that might accompany multiple sclerosis.

This drug combines TCH with CBD (cannabidiol), another chemical occurring in marijuana. However, CBD lacks most of the rewarding properties contained in TCH. Anecdotal reports show that Nabiximols might hold some promise for treating conditions like seizure disorders.

In the United States, Epidiolex (a liquid medication based on CBD) is being tested for the treatment of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, two severe forms of childhood epilepsy.

In general, researchers consider medicines like that - those that use purified chemicals based on or derived from those in Cannabis sativa - to hold greater therapeutic promise than using the marijuana plant in its entirety or some of its crude extracts.

However, developing drugs from botanicals like the marijuana plant is quite challenging. This is because most botanicals tend to contain hundreds of active and unknown chemicals, making it difficult to develop products with consistent and accurate doses of such chemicals.

Further, using marijuana medicinally poses additional problems, including but not limited to the reported adverse health effects of regular smoking as well as the cognitive impairment that THC sometimes induces. Still, more states are now legalizing the dispensation of marijuana (and its extracts) for the treatment of a wide variety of medical conditions.

The other concern with medical marijuana is that very little is yet known about how the drug might impact people in the long term - particularly those with age- and/or health-related vulnerabilities. These include individuals with AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and many other neurodegenerative diseases.

As a direct result, further research is needed to determine whether patients with poor health as a result of disease (or its treatment, such as through chemotherapy) face greater risk of suffering adverse health consequences and outcomes because of using marijuana.

Recently, NIDA funded two studies to explore the relationship between the adverse outcomes arising from prescription opioids and the legalization of marijuana. The first study found that there was an association between the legalization of medical marijuana and a concurrent reduction in the number of deaths arising from overdosing on opioid pain relievers.

However, since this study was based on population, it did not establish a definitive causal relationship or provide real evidence for the changes in the behavior of the pain patients.

The second study showed that when access to dispensaries selling medical marijuana was legally protected, it was associated with fewer opioid prescriptions. Additional results included lower self-reporting on the non-medical use of prescription opioids, lower admissions for disorders related to prescription opioid use, as well as a reduction in the number of deaths arising from prescription opioid overdoses. Most notably, the reduction in overdose deaths was only present in states that had dispensaries and not just laws related to medical marijuana while states with active dispensaries had greater death rates.

Even so, research is still limited on the effects of marijuana on prescription opioid use among pain patients. However, available data suggests that using cannabis medicinally might reduce the opioid doses required to deal with pain.

Though none of these studies are definitive, they cumulatively suggest that medical marijuana products may have a role in reducing the use of opioids needed to control pain. More research is needed to investigate this possibility.

Marijuana Effects

Apart from both negative and positive intoxicating effects, abusing marijuana might also negatively impact on your mental and physical health. This is particularly true for people who use the drug over a long time period. Some of these long term detrimental effects might include, but are not limited to:

a) Cardiovascular Risk

Ingesting marijuana will increase your heart rate for a couple of hours. This could potentially increase your risk of suffering a stroke or a heart attack. The drug could also aggravate any pre-existing heart conditions particularly if you abuse it over the long term or if you are older (among whom it may increase the risk of a serious cardiovascular event).

b) Child Development

If you use marijuana while pregnant, it might affect the development of your baby's brain. This type of use is now linked to a variety of behavioral abnormalities in babies.

c) Mental Health Effects

Using marijuana over the long term may decrease your performance on tasks related to memory. It may also cause a significant decrease in interest and motivation for everyday activities. The drug is additionally intensify the symptoms of schizophrenia among users.

d) Psychological Dependence

Like with other drugs of abuse, people who take marijuana over the long haul may develop severe dependence on it. This is clear in the way some users need to use it to cope with their everyday tasks. Others experience intense anxiety and cravings when they do not have the drug.

e) Respiratory Problems

The smoke from marijuana has most of the same lung-damaging and irritating properties of tobacco smoke. As a long term user, therefore, you may develop chronic coughing as well as increase your risk of contracting a lung infection.

Evidence from studies on humans as well as animal research shows that exposure to marijuana during the development phase may cause long term (or potentially permanent) adverse changes inside the brain. A recent study, for instance, showed that rats that were exposed to the THC component in marijuana before birth, during adolescence, and soon after birth showed major problems with certain memory and learning tasks later in their lives.

However, imaging studies on the impact of marijuana on the structure of the human brain show conflicting results. Still, some studies suggest that using marijuana regularly during the teenage years is now associated with altering connectivity as well as reduced volume in certain regions of the brain - particularly those associated with impulse control, learning, and memory.

Two longitudinal studies also showed that abusing marijuana may lead to the functional impairment of cognitive abilities. However, the duration and/or duration of the impairment seems to depend on the age at which the user first started taking drug as well as how long as how much they used.

Marijuana Side Effects

If you are intoxicated on marijuana, you may display the following effects:

  • Altered time
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Euphoria
  • Impaired memory
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased heart rate
  • Paranoia
  • Relaxation
  • Slowed reflexes

Marijuana Addictive Qualities

Abusing marijuana - particularly in the long term - may lead to the development of marijuana abuse disorder. This problematic use typically takes on the form of severe addiction in some cases.

Recent data now suggests that as many as 30 percent of everyone who takes marijuana might have some degree of addiction. Additional studies show that people who start using the drug before they reach 18 years of age are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop it than those who only begin after this age.

That said, marijuana use disorder is now associated with severe dependence where the individual experiences withdrawal when they do not take the drug. Those who use it frequently, therefore, may report such withdrawal symptoms as restlessness, cravings, decreased appetite, sleep and mood difficulties, irritability, and physical discomfort. Most of these symptoms peak a few days to a week after quitting but may last for close to two weeks.

Dependence on marijuana occurs when the user's brain adapts to having large amounts of THC in the system. The brain also reduces its sensitivity to and production of endocannabinoid neurotransmitters.

Eventually, the marijuana use disorder may develop into an addiction. At this point, the affected individual will not be able to stop using the drug even if it start interfering with many aspects of their lives.

However, population estimates of people who may be addicted to marijuana are still controversial. This could, in part, be most epidemiological studies on substance and alcohol abuse often take dependence to be a proxy for full addiction - although some people can be dependent and not addicted at the same time. Among these studies are those that suggest that 9% of all marijuana users are dependent on it - although 17% of those who start abusing it in their teens will become dependent.

Additionally, a 2015 study found that 4 million Americans meet the diagnostic and medical criteria for marijuana use disorders while only about 138,000 among them actively sought treatment and rehabilitation for these problems.

What is more, it is clear that the potency of marijuana - as shown in confiscated batches - has been increasing steadily over the past few years. In the early 90s, for instance, the THC content (on average) in confiscated samples of marijuana was at around 3.8%. By 2014, the potency had increased to 12.2%.

These studies and trends continue raising concerns about the consequences of regular marijuana use and abuse, which may eventually become worse in the future particularly among those who start on the drug and among the young.

Although researches are yet to fully understand the extent of the consequences of marijuana on the brain and body, it is clear that marijuana is quite addictive, it causes dependence, and might not be suited for human consumption.

Marijuana Overdose

Although the following are not necessarily the symptoms of a marijuana overdose, they are clearly the signs of overconsumption. These symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Escalated heart rate
  • Hallucinations
  • Headache
  • Pale skin
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoid thoughts

If you start experiencing these signs and symptoms, you should never ignore them under any circumstances. Just because they are as a result of taking marijuana does not mean that you should not seek help.

In most cases, treating cannabis intoxication is usually a waiting game. Since psychosis and paranoia may occur in some extreme cases, therefore, you may want to sooth and reassure the affected individual, as well as try to make them as comfortable as possible until emergency medical assistance arrives.

Marijuana Withdrawal

NIDA reports that using marijuana in the long term comes with a high potential for addiction. In some cases, a first time user may not immediately become addicted to the drug. Even occasional users who only smoke the drug recreationally from time to time might not develop addiction.

However, those who take it over the long term - particularly on a daily basis - might end up suffering many harmful effects. When these people abruptly stop using marijuana, they may display the following symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Poor appetite

Even as these marijuana withdrawal symptoms continue progressing, they may peak around the 3rd or 4th consecutive day you do not take the drug. In about one week or two, however, most of these symptoms (if not all) may have dissipated and you can easily return to your normal state of mind and body.

However, some of the symptoms of regular marijuana abuse may last longer than that. This is because these symptoms are psychological or mental in scope and may require some form of counseling or treatment to fully overcome.

Marijuana Dangers

Marijuana poses many dangers for its users. These dangers include, but are not limited to:

a) Brain Abnormalities

Research shows that significant brain abnormalities were found among 18-25 year olds who took the drug at least once per week. These abnormalities were seen in the parts of the brain responsible for reward and emotion.

This may suggest that even taking marijuana part time or casually might increase the risk of developing another addition. It might also affect your ability to deal with certain emotions, or even to feel them at all.

b) Neurotoxicity

Additionally, this drug is neurotoxic, particularly to pubescent brains. One study has 1000 participants who started using the drug in their teens. It then compared the participants' IQ at the ages of 13 and 38.

The results showed that IQ normally either increases slightly or remains relatively stable. However, for these users, the IQ declined by an average of 6 points. Additionally, even those who stopped abusing marijuana were not able to fully restore their IQ to the original score. As such, it is highly likely that the drug could be neurotoxic especially to the teen brain.

c) Depression

Research also shows that people who take marijuana are 4 times as likely as those who do not use it to develop depression. A recent study followed 1920 people for 16 years and showed that the marijuana users among them were 4 times as likely as the rest to become depressed.

A separate study followed 1601 students aged between 14 and 15 for 7 years. At the end of the study, it found that close to 60% of all the students had taken the drug before they hit 20 while 7% of them had become regular (daily) users. Among the young women in the group who used it daily after the 7 years had 5 times greater risk of developing depression.

d) Psychosis

It has also been found that marijuana nearly triples the risk of developing psychosis among users. A study conducted for 3 years and followed over 4,000 people free of the condition. At the conclusion of the study, the marijuana smokers in the group were found to have 3 times the likelihood of developing such psychotic symptoms as manic depression as the non-smokers.

e) Other Mental Effects

Using marijuana may affect your brain in the following ways:

  • Acute psychotic reactions
  • Anxiety that doesn't dissipate
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Social intolerance

f) Cardiovascular Effects

  • Higher risk of suffering a heart attack
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased risk of a variety of cardiovascular vulnerabilities

g) Effects on the Lungs

  • Carcinogenic toxins may cause or aggravate lung cancer
  • Increased exposure to other lung diseases
  • Increased risk of acquiring pneumonia
  • Increased risk of suffering a cold

h) Effects on Life:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Mental impairment
  • Physical impairment
  • Poor social life
  • Reduced cognitive abilities

Signs And Symptoms Of Marijuana Abuse

One of the first steps to overcoming your addiction to and dependence on marijuana is understanding the signs and symptoms of your addiction. This could potentially help you determine just how severe your problem is.

In most cases, addiction occurs when you abuse marijuana concurrently with another intoxicating and mind-altering substance - such as other drugs and alcohol. However, this might not always be the case.

Still, the U.S. National Library of Medicine reports that marijuana dependence is quite common, and more so than dependence on most other drugs. This could be as a result of the fact that so many abuse marijuana.

Some of the common signs and symptoms of addiction to marijuana, to this end, include:

a) Tolerance and Withdrawal

Marijuana is just like any other drug in the sense that using it regularly could cause you to become tolerant to it. This means that you will need to start taking more of the drug to achieve the same effects. When this happens, you will be said to be building tolerance.

In case you start experiencing withdrawal symptoms, therefore, you will know that you are addicted to the drug. Some of these symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, irritability, and loss of appetite.

b) Using More of the Drug Than You Intended

Initially, you might start out thinking that you will only take some hits. However, you may end up smoking several joints by the time you are done. If this describes you, then you might be addicted to marijuana.

c) Inability to Stop or Cut Down

If you are unable to stop using marijuana or cut down on it, it is highly likely that you are already addicted. You might even try to stop abusing the drug but have a hard time doing so. In this case, you are going to need help to quit and recover fully.

d) Time Spent on Weed

Once you are addicted to marijuana, you will spend most of your time looking for, acquiring, using, and getting over the effects of the drug.

e) Reduced Pleasurable Activity

In the same way, if you have been slowly depleting your schedule of all recreational and physical activities so that you can hang out with other people to get high on marijuana, then you may already be addicted to it.

f) Continued Use

Another sign that you are addicted will be clear when you continue taking marijuana despite the problems it has been causing in your life. For instance, it might change your conduct at school/work/home.

g) Using Marijuana as an Escape

On the other hand, if you use weed to escape from your problems, you may already be addicted. This is particularly the case when you start feeling like you need the drug and that it is the only way to handle problems, poor performance, and relationship issues.

h) Using It for Relaxation and More

Addiction might also have set in if you are already using marijuana to relax, enjoy yourself, or be more creative.

i) Choices

This will also be the case when you start choosing activities and relationships based on whether or not they will allow you to continue getting high on marijuana. If you find that you are always thinking about the events you should attend and the people you should spend your time with based on whether you will be able to take marijuana, then this is a clear addiction red flag.

j) Ignoring Responsibility

If you start failing to attending to your daily responsibilities as you used to so that you can get high, then it might mean that you are psychologically addicted to the THC in marijuana.

k) Others

  • An intense need to continue use weed regularly, either once a day or several times daily
  • Anxiety
  • Cutting back on social activities, hobbies, and work to be able to take marijuana
  • Difficulties with problem solving and thinking
  • Distorted perceptions
  • Dry mouth
  • Fear
  • Hoarding the drug
  • Hunger (which is commonly referred to as the munchies)
  • Impaired coordination
  • Intense Cravings for weed
  • Loss of control
  • Ongoing problems with memory and learning
  • Paranoia
  • Persistent mucus-filled cough
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor memory
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Red, blurry, and bloodshot eyes
  • Slow reaction time
  • Spending money that had another designated use to get weed
  • Spending most of your time using marijuana
  • Taking risks while high or under the influence of marijuana
  • Tolerance for marijuana, causing you to take higher doses
  • Trying unsuccessfully to stop using the drug

If you use marijuana, you may start claiming that the drug is relatively harmless and that it does not affect you in any bad way - even stating that you are using it legally. However, in such a case, it only means that it might be difficult for you to realize just how dangerous the drug really is.

Still, you should remember that you are not wrong, bad, or weak just because you are addicted to marijuana. However, you should still seek treatment and get the help you need to be able to get on the path to full recovery.

Treatment For Marijuana Addiction

As mentioned above, using marijuana - particularly in the long term - could potentially evolve through use, tolerance, dependence, and ultimately end in addiction. Whether you combine the drug with other addictive and intoxicating substances or not, keep in mind that addiction of any kind is serious.

Once you decide to stop using the drug, you will have to undergo detox. This might come with some unpleasant and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. However, once you get over these, you will finally be able to undergo treatment and rehabilitation.

Treating marijuana dependence and addiction is similar to how other addiction are treatment. Although you cannot take any medications to make the process easier for you, checking into a professional detox and rehab facility will provide you with the safe and supportive environment that could potentially help you eliminate the drug and all its traces from your system and get started on the road to full recovery.

The medical staff at the treatment facility, for instance, can help you ensure that you do not hurt yourself. In the same way, they may administer sedative medications in case your panic attacks and anxiety reach severe and dangerous proportions.

As we mentioned earlier, drug rehab is the best follow-up step after you are done with your marijuana detox. Rehab is provided in both outpatient and inpatient settings, and both treatment types will offer you the education and counseling you need to lead a lifestyle free of drugs like marijuana and others. This is particularly essential since marijuana has come to be none as a gateway drug that often leads to other substance use disorders.

Last but not least, you may have to take advantage of peer recovery and aftercare programs. The support provided in these environments will empower you to avoid any relapses in the future.

Overall, marijuana use, abuse, and addiction are all terrible - particularly because it can be so hard to stop taking the drug. However, as long as you take the right steps and get the right kind of help, you should be able to recovery and find long term sobriety from the drug.

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