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Article Summary

A Guide To Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana, or cannabis, ranks among the most abused of all drugs. However, the gap between the myths surrounding this substance and the latest science about it has been growing.

In some cases, people think that marijuana is safe because some states have legalized it. That said, the human body cannot tell the difference between legal and illegal drugs. What it does know are the effects created by any drug - whether prescription grade, OTC, or illicit.

In the same way, information about marijuana, its effects, and addiction is quite limited. This has mostly been due to the widespread controversy about whether this substance can cause an addiction.

Although marijuana is beneficial while used as a medical prescription, it also causes certain adverse effects - particularly among those who abuse it. If you use it over the long haul, you will also suffer from tolerance, dependence, and eventual addiction.

Marijuana: A Gateway Drug

Otherwise referred to as Mary Jane, ganja, bud, grass, pot, herb, and weed, marijuana is a mixture of the dried and shredded leaves and the flowers of the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa).

The most commonly used form of marijuana is as hand-rolled cigarettes, commonly referred to as joints. However, some people use water pipes (or bongs), marijuana cigars (blunts made by replacing the tobacco inside a cigar in part or in full with the drug), as well as water pipes (bongs).

Others use the substance to brew tea. In some instances, marijuana is also mixed into such foods as candies, cookies, and brownies (edibles) especially when it is consumed for medical reasons.

Stronger forms of herb include sinsemilla (created using the specially-tended female plant) and concentrated resins with high doses of the active ingredients of the drug, including hard amber-like shatter, waxy budder, and honey-like has oil. All these resins have recently become popular among marijuana users who take it up medically or recreationally.

The main mind-altering or psychoactive chemical in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). It is also responsible for almost all of the intoxicating effects caused by the drug. THC can be found within the buds of the female plant, as well as the resin that is produced by cannabis leaves. Additionally, Cannabis sativa contains over 500 other chemicals, as well as 100 cannabinoids - chemicals that are related to THC chemically.

Some researchers suggest that the use of marijuana often precedes the use of other illicit and licit substances, as well as addiction to these other substances. Data gathered from the NESAURD (National Epidemiological Study of Alcohol Use and Related Disorders), for instance, found that adults who use marijuana are more likely than non-users to abuse alcohol within the first three years after they start taking the drug.

Similarly, the study found that those were abusing both marijuana and alcohol at the onset were usually more likely to suffer from worse alcohol use disorders in the future. In the same way, the use of this substance has also been linked to a variety of substance use disorders, including but not limited to addiction to nicotine.

It is for these reasons, and many others, that marijuana is often referred to as the penultimate gateway drug. In fact, early exposure to the drug among adolescents has been shown to decrease the reaction of the reward centers in the brain that produce dopamine - which the teens continue suffering into their adulthood.

That said, not everyone who uses marijuana goes on to use other harder substances. Similarly, cross-sensitization doesn't only apply to this substance. Nicotine and alcohol are now known to prime the brain to respond faster to other substances. Like marijuana, these two substances are often used by people before they progress to other more harmful drugs.

Ways Of Using Marijuana

There are many ways in which marijuana is used. Primarily, most people smoke joints (marijuana cigarettes), or add it to a water pipe (bong) or a dry pipe and smoke it. Others mix it with food or brew weed tea - these latter two are referred to as edibles.

Since marijuana is a gateway drug, as we saw earlier, users sometimes lace blunts and joints with other powerful drugs - such as phencyclidine (PCP) or crack cocaine, making it even easier for them to start suffering a variety of drug use and dependence disorders.

When you inhale the smoke from a pipe or a joint, you will start feeling the effects of marijuana in a couple of minutes. The immediate sensations include lessened balance and coordination, increased heart rate, and a dreamy and unreal state of mind, and will peak in 30 minutes or less.

The short term effects of marijuana will wear off in around 2 to 3 hours, although they might last longer depending on the amount of weed you took, the THC potency, as well as whether or not you mixed other drugs into the joint/blunt.

Many users will inhale more smoke and hold it in longer than they would if they were smoking a cigarette. As such, marijuana tends to have a severe impact on lung health and wellness.

Apart from the discomfort of chest colds and sore throats, smoking a joint will expose you to cancer-causing chemicals - sometimes to the same level as if you had smoked 4 to 5 cigarette sticks.

Long term marijuana use will often cause mental ineptitude, poor memory, as well as a variety of brain abnormalities related to decision making, motivation, and emotion.

Edibles

As mentioned above, an edible is any food item that has been infused with the oils from marijuana or made using marijuana as a primary ingredient. Edibles are often used as alternatives to marijuana cigarettes or vaporized weed. They come in the form of candies, cookies, brownies, chocolates, suckers, fruit and animal-shaped gummies, as well as beverages.

The amount of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) varies in different edible weed products. As a result, you will have a hard time controlling the amount of THC you consume.

In homemade edibles, the THC amount will vary even more. At some point, you might be caught off-guard after you realize that the edible you took is more potent and has longer lasting effects than if you had simply smoked a blunt or a joint.

Edibles: Risks And Overdose

If you are new to edibles, you are highly likely to overeat it - a common mistake experienced by many newbies. Although consuming edibles is often better than smoking weed, they can also prove to be body-focused and potent.

In the same way, edibles tend to lead to disaster, especially if you are not careful about how you take them. For instance, if you eat an entire brownie, you will feel normal for about a hour. However, after the hour passes, the hallucinations and paranoia will kick in.

The main risk with taking an edible is that you might consume too much - which is hardly ever pleasant. Since it is difficult to determine the amount of weed you want in your system, the chances are high that an edible might lead to an overdose.

The signs of an overdose from edibles include hallucinations, lack of proper coordination, and paranoia. If you go overboard, the best thing would be to seek immediate medical attention. Although the effects might subside in a couple of hours, the doctors will usually keep you calm, hydrated, and well fed.

Marijuana Dangers

With so much publicity in favor of medical marijuana and increased debates on the decriminalization of the drug, it might difficult for many people to remember that herb can be damaging, is addictive, and causes a variety of harmful effects.

To this end, it might be the case that these clamors, publicity, and debates could harm the future of many children and teenagers, especially when there are fewer mentions of the dangers that marijuana poses.

Although most of these dangers hardly ever made it into mainstream news, some harmful and severe effects are now associated with regular, more frequent marijuana abuse.

To this end, the use of weed and addiction to it are quite pronounced among the young in America. In fact, young people under the age of 21 years comprise 45% of the total segment of the population that checks into rehabilitation facilities and programs for marijuana addiction. This shows how important it is to understand the risks of using weed, instead of allowing them to accept all decriminalization calls and campaigns.

Immediately after using marijuana, the dangers you will experience include the distortion of the perceptions of time and space. The drug will also impair your coordination. All of these effects contribute significantly to the user's harm by increasing their risk of getting involved in traffic and other accidents.

Among students, it would be important to note that weed makes it difficult for the user to think and solve problems. Additionally, it impairs learning and memory - difficulties that are likely to last for over 4 weeks after you use the drug.

On the other hand, high doses and chronic use has been shown to correlate with greater incidence of schizophrenia and psychosis. This is particularly significant on account of the increase in the potency of the drug over the past 2 decades.

Although the average potency has gone up from 3% THC some decades ago, the drug now comes with a THC potency of 9%. Some samples of the drug have also been found to contain as much as 25% of this intoxicating ingredient.

Not surprisingly, heavy users and abusers often suffer damage in their cognitive ability, career or work status, and social life. They also have a difficult time achieving their goals or concentrating on or succeeding at school work.

Unfortunately, those who have been fighting for the medicalization, decriminalization, and legalization of marijuana never make these dangers clear to the young to empower them to make fully-informed choices.

Marijuana Effects

Most people use marijuana because of the intoxicating effects it produces. These effects include, but are not limited to:

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

Marijuana Health Effects

In terms of health, marijuana causes effects which can be classified into the sociological, psychological, and physical spheres. Consider the following:

a) Mental Effects

When you use marijuana, your mind may be affected in the following ways:

  • Acute psychotic reactions
  • Anxiety that worsens or refuses to go away when you smoke pot
  • Depression or being in a depressed state
  • Schizophrenia and feeling like people are out to get you
  • Social intolerance
b) Effects on the Heart

When you take marijuana, you may suffer the following effects to your heart health and wellness:

  • Higher risk of heart attack
  • Higher risk of suffering cardiovascular vulnerabilities
  • Increased heart rate
c) Effects on the Lungs

Marijuana may also affect your lungs in the following ways:

  • Carcinogenic toxins, which create lung cancer
  • Increased exposure to a variety of diseases
  • Heightened risk of contracting pneumonia
  • Increased risk of suffering frequent colds
d) Effects on Life
  • Lack of motivation
  • Mental impairment
  • Physical impairment
  • Poor social life
  • Reduced cognitive abilities

Apart from the negative and apparently-positive intoxicating effects marijuana causes, its abuse has also been linked to a variety of negative effects. This is particularly so among those who have been using the drug over the long haul.

Marijuana Crime

Marijuana crime mostly takes the form of illicit use, as well as illegal selling and distribution. According to several researchers, marijuana arrests now account for close to half of all the drug arrests made in the US.

From 2001 to 2010, 88% of the 8.2 million arrests related to marijuana were simply for possessing the drug. Across the country, the data on arrest reveals a consistently disturbing trend: significant racial bias. In fact, African Americans were found to be 3.73 times more likely (than Caucasians) to be arrested because of the drug.

In most states, those caught with any amount of marijuana can be arrested, fined, taken to jail, and even given a permanent record in the criminal system. Today, the police make close to 700,000 arrests annually for a variety of cannabis violations. Of all these, almost 90% are for possession.

Interestingly, marijuana prohibition has also been found to fund violence in the country and abroad. Every year, America spends close to $34 billion on weed. Where the drug is illegal, the profits fund US gangs and Mexican cartels. However, in states such as Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado - where it is sold and used legally - the businesses founded on and surrounding cannabis use create employment and pay millions in the form of taxes.

As with alcohol, marijuana prohibition has removed legitimate companies from the industry. This has allowed violent criminal enterprises to take over exclusive control over the market.

The profits from the marijuana trade results in countless bribes, which leads to corruption in thousands of justice agencies and police departments. Similarly, the money laundering resulting from this trade ends up corrupting the financial industry.

However, the worst form of crime related to marijuana surrounds the fact that cannabis distributors cannot enforce contracts or settle disputes legally. This means that those on opposing sides have to fight it out. So it is not surprising that Mexican cartel battles in the US often claim ten thousands of lives every year, and that is added to the thousands who get killed in US gang turf wars.

Marijuana Legalization

Even with its many adverse effects and opportunities for dependence and addiction, marijuana is currently legalized in the District of Columbia and 25 states for medical use and relief.

Some states also allow the restricted use of prescription-only medical marijuana. These include Wyoming, Wisconsin, Virginia, Utah, South Carolina, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Iowa, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama.

Interestingly, as if to support the fact that marijuana can be dangerous, the FDA has not approved the use of marijuana - whether for medical or for recreational purposes. This is because there isn't enough or adequate research to prove that marijuana benefits outweigh the harm.

However, the FDA has approved human-made cannabinoids medications for the treatment of vomiting and nausea after chemotherapy. These include nabilone (Cesamet) and dronabinol (Marinol). The body also approved Syndros, which is dronabinol in liquid form.

Medicalization

Last but not least, marijuana is sometimes used for medical purposes in those states and districts where it is legal. In this case, the drug is used for treating the symptoms of various illnesses.

The marijuana plant has chemicals that might prove useful in treating a wide variety of symptoms, illnesses, and conditions. It is because of this fact that many people keep clamoring for its legalization.

In many cases, doctors prescribe medical marijuana for the treatment of:

  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Muscle spasms
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Mental health conditions, including PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and schizophrenia
  • Glaucoma
  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia
  • Crohn's disease
  • Cancer
  • Cachexia (wasting syndrome)
  • Appetite loss
  • Alzheimer's disease

Although it is yet to be proved that weed helps these conditions, there are exceptions to this rule. The greatest evidence lies in the ability of marijuana to effectively reduce vomiting, nausea, and chronic pain following chemotherapy, as well as stiff and tight muscles (spasticity) from MS.

Overall, however, the FDA has not legalized the drug. This is because it requires carefully conducted clinical trials and studies done on hundreds to thousands of people to determine the risks and benefits of any potential medication. Since researchers are yet to conduct enough trials of such a scale, the FDA approval for marijuana is still pending.

Marijuana Addiction/Abuse

The use of this drug often leads to the development of problematic use - otherwise referred to as marijuana use disorder. This disorder usually takes the form of a serious addiction where the case is severe.

Recent data has suggested that 30% of those who use the drug have some degree of MUD (marijuana use disorder). Additionally, people who start using weed before they reach the age of majority (18 years) are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop this disorder than their adult counterparts.

In most cases, marijuana disorders are associated with dependence. This means that if you are affected, you will experience serious withdrawal symptoms whenever you decide not to or can't take the drug.

As a direct result, those who use marijuana on a regular basis will often report restlessness, cravings, decreased appetites, and sleep and mood difficulties, among other symptoms when they quit using the drug.

Marijuana dependence, on the other hand, will occur when your brain adapts to larger amounts of weed. This will happen because the substance will reduce the production of dopamine as well as sensitivity to the endocannabinoid neurotransmitters.

The disorder will eventually sink into addiction after you start having a hard time stopping your use of the drug. This will happen even after you realize that marijuana has interfered with and spoiled most of the good aspects of your former, non-addicted life.

At the moment, estimates of the total number of people who are addicted to this drug remain controversial. This could be because epidemiological studies of the abuse of this substance often rely on dependence as the proxy for addition - although some people are dependent on marijuana and not addicted to it.

Among these studies, it was found that 9% of all marijuana users will eventually become depending on it. With time, this number will rise to around 17% among those who start using weed in their teens.

Some of the common signs of marijuana addiction include, but are not limited to:

  • Spending most of your time getting high
  • Tolerance to the drug, where you need to smoke more of it to achieve the same desired effects you used to enjoy when you started out on marijuana
  • Withdrawal symptoms when you do not smoke
  • Smoking more weed than you had intended
  • Inability to cut down or control your use
  • Changing your activities because you start focusing more time on weed
  • Smoking the drug continuously even after you notice the disastrous effects it causes on your life
  • Using marijuana to relax and eventually becoming dependent on it whenever you need to relax

Withdrawal Effects

Some have argued that because marijuana comes with no severe withdrawal symptoms - at least not in the same way as heroin and alcohol - it cannot be addictive. However, this line of thinking is erroneous.

For starters, the marijuana that is available on the market today is close to 2 times as strong as the weed that was being sold 20 years ago. As a direct result, it becomes harder for regular users and addicts to withdraw from it.

Secondly, when you stop using weed, you are going to experience some withdrawal effects. This is particularly so if you are a chronic user. These effects include, but are not limited to:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Desire to continue using the drug
  • Fluctuating emotions
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nightmares
  • Depression

The symptoms we've listed above can be weaker or stronger depending on how much weed you have been smoking and using, how long you have been using the drug, as well as your own unique mental and physical constitution. After, some people tend to be more sensitive to drugs, and often get higher even after taking a little.

The Cannabis and Health Hazards report notes that you will trigger the withdrawal effects listed above when you start taking 1 to 2 high-quality joints a day for anywhere between 11 and 21 days.

A better measure of marijuana addiction lies in whether the drug causes harm to you after you use it. However, if you feel so compelled to continue using the drug and the cravings you feel are so intense, then it is likely that you will continue smoking weed even with its harmful effects.

Additionally, NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) reports that heavy use and abuse of marijuana is associated with the following issues:

  • Worsening physical and mental health
  • Relationship problems
  • A high likelihood of abandoning goals and dropping out of school
  • Lower grades
  • Reduced academic success
  • Increased absence from work or school
  • More claims for workers' compensation
  • Lower career success in comparison to non-using peers

Once you stop thinking about the damage the drug has been causing in your life and start focusing on getting to your next stoning session, then you will have crossed the Rubicon into addiction.

Marijuana Addiction Treatment

There are several treatments designed to deal with marijuana addiction. Most of these treatments also work well for people who are not addicted but have decided that the time has come for you to stop smoking weed.

Overcoming addiction and fighting your cravings for pot might be more difficult than you had anticipated. Since you are in a rut and you probably feel depressed and anxious, things might not go easy.

Luckily, marijuana addiction treatment will ensure that you overcome your addiction, streamline your life, and start thinking about a more positive future free of weed and its various effects.

The options here include:

a) Inpatient Rehabilitation

Inpatient rehab mostly works for those who pair their marijuana addiction with co-occurring psychological problems and mental illnesses. These facilities also cater to people who are also addicted to alcohol or any other substance over and beyond their affinity for weed.

b) Outpatient Rehabilitation

Outpatient rehab is the most common form of treatment for those who are hooked on weed. The facility you work with will provide a program through which you can attend semi-weekly, weekly, or daily sessions.

The treatment includes therapy and counseling to help you learn how to avoid any situation that might cause you to smoke or use weed. With time, you will be able to overcome your addiction due to the rehabilitation process you underwent.

c) Behavioral Therapy

Most marijuana users and addicts take up the habit because they are looking for something to boost their mood or they feel bored with their lives. Through behavioral therapy, you will learn how to fight and overcome your addiction by making drastic changes in your behavior.

With time, you will adopt more positive habits and behaviors to discover and understand your purpose, rekindle your old interests, and live a lifestyle of productivity. These behavioral modifications will ensure that you are less likely to depend on marijuana to give your life meaning.

d) Cognitive Therapy

In this type of treatment, you will learn how to think in different ways - to such an extent that you will eliminate marijuana from both your life and your thought processes.

e) Community Reinforcement

Many marijuana addicts have a hard time feeling happy or good without turning to the drug. This is because of the chemical changes weed causes in the brain, making you think that you are happy smoking or using it in other ways.

Through a community reinforcement program, you will receive rewards when you meet the recovery goals that are set by your team. For instance, you will decide not to smoke pot for a given period, say a month, and start making more meaningful commitments and trying to make them happen.

f) Support Groups

Groups such as Marijuana Anonymous can help you focus on a recovery model, like the 12 step recovery model. The model you will work with through your support group will outline the steps you should take from your fully fledged addiction to complete sobriety.

That said, there is no medical treatment designed to help marijuana addicts. However, NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) has been researching on some options. For instance, you can go to a professional detoxification facility to find the support and safety you need to get cannabis out of your system before you check into rehab and start on therapy.

Today, treatment for weed dependence and abuse is similar to the type of treatment doctors, medical practitioners, and addiction specialists provide for other addictive drugs and substances.

The medical staff at the addiction facility you are in will ensure that you do not hurt yourself. They might even use sedative medications in case of severe panic attacks and periods of anxiety.

After detox, you will go to an outpatient or inpatient rehab facility - the choice will depend on your specific needs and requirements, as well as the condition you find yourself in.

Both these types of treatment will provide you with the education and counseling you need to readjust your lifestyle so that it is free of marijuana and all other drugs you might be susceptible or addicted to.

At the end of the journey, you will work with peer recovery organizations and aftercare programs to receive the support you need so that you do not relapse back to marijuana use, abuse, dependence, and addiction.

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