The question whether marijuana is truly addictive has been asked with increasing frequency and especially among young people which is leading to more adolescents in treatment for marijuana addiction. Marijuana is the most used illicit drug in the United States due to both its accessibility and affordability. Twenty states, including Washington DC, have enacted laws allowing the use of medicinal marijuana. With trends showing more lenient attitudes towards marijuana in both legal and societal contexts, people may not realize that marijuana can be extremely addictive and have substantial impacts on those who use the drug.
Why People Think You Can’t Get Addicted to marijuana
Those who believe that you can’t get addicted to marijuana will point to several factors that bolster their viewpoint. For example, marijuana users do not develop strong physical dependence to the drug in comparison to others such as heroin or cocaine. Unlike drugs like cocaine, heroin or alcohol, a marijuana user cannot have a fatal overdose because the drug in itself is non-toxic. Studies also show that most users of marijuana are casual users and seemingly don’t develop chronic long-term use and abuse patterns.
Marijuana has been found in some cases to be an ideal medicine for several diseases and illnesses. Among those maladies that marijuana has shown to improve quality of life include certain forms of cancer and HIV infections. The use of medicinal marijuana for depression and forms of obsession and compulsive disorders have also been seen. Because of these medicinal benefits, people’s focus may have shifted somewhat from a paradigm in which marijuana is viewed as illegal and addictive and towards a paradigm in which marijuana is seen as beneficial.
Why Marijuana IS Addictive and Needs to Have Serious Rehabilitation Considerations
The definition of what addiction is can be called into question regarding marijuana use. The common definition used by professionals derives from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Addiction is defined as the compulsive use of a substance despite the ongoing negative consequences, which may lead to tolerance or withdrawal symptoms when the use of the substance is stopped. While the effects of marijuana in an addiction framework may not be explicit in an outward physical sense, the drug does have significant impacts in regards to psychological addiction in which the craving for the drug can be more detrimental than the physical manifestations.
THC is the main chemical component of marijuana and once it enters the bloodstream it quickly interacts with certain structures of the brain. Two brain areas of interest are the hippocampus where memory formation occurs and the cerebellum where motor movement is controlled. Because marijuana affects the hippocampus there can be an impairment of new memory formation and there is the possibility that memories that do form can revolve around the use of the drug.
Another consideration is supplementary compounds found in marijuana. Besides THC, there are up to 150 different metabolites that are found in marijuana. While THC it itself can pass through the body in a matter of hours, THC and some of the metabolites found in marijuana can stay in the fatty tissues and organs like the liver and testes for days. Because of the longer period, these compounds stay in the system users can go several days without smoking marijuana and not feel withdrawal symptoms. However, if one abstains from further use withdrawal symptoms can be seen.
Signs of Marijuana Abuse & Addiction
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient, binds to cannabinoid (CB) receptors, throughout the nervous system and other parts of the body. CB receptors are found in high concentrations in areas of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thought, concentration, sensory and time perception, appetite, pain and movement coordination.
Marijuana’s has the following effects on those who use it:
- Impaired short-term memory. Use of marijuana use can make cause impair one’s ability to learn and retain information, particularly complex tasks.
- Slowed reaction time and impaired motor coordination. Using marijuana can hinder athletic performance, interfere with driving skills and increase the risk of injuries.
- Altered judgment and decision-making, leading to risky sexual behaviors and increased chance of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
- Increased heart rate. Marijuana use can cause the heart rate to rise by 20% to 100%, which may increase the risk of heart attack, especially in otherwise vulnerable individuals.
- Altered mood. Marijuana can induce euphoria or calmness, or in high doses, it can cause anxiety and paranoia.
Long-term use of marijuana can lead to marijuana addiction. Signs of being addicted to marijuana include:
- Diminished performance in school and work.
- Decreased satisfaction with life.
- Respiratory problems such as a chronic cough, bronchitis, etc.
- Risk of psychosis in vulnerable individuals.
- Cognitive impairment that endures even when one is not immediately under the influence of marijuana.
With long-term use, users can exhibit classic addictive behavior symptoms like the loss of control of use and obtaining larger quantities of the drug and the expenditure of both time and money in order to acquire the drug. Marijuana is also the commonly used drug among polydrug (defined as the concurrent use of one or more drugs) users and is linked to mental health issues and those with undiagnosed pre-existing mood disorders. If an individual is treated for polydrug use, marijuana use often gets overlooked in the treatment protocols.
If you or a loved one is struggling with marijuana abuse or the abuse of any other drug, consider getting quality treatment from one of South Florida’s best addiction treatment facilities. Call the Palm Beach Institute today for a free consultation to find out how we can help you or your loved one.