Marijuana Addiction: Is it Possible to Become Addicted to Marijuana?

Marijuana – also known as pot, weed, dope, and a variety of other terms – is a potent drug that has recently come under much scrutiny by researchers, medical professionals,addiction counselors, and government bodies regarding its regulation and legalization. Often termed a “gateway drug”, marijuana is a mind-altering substance that has a significant effect on the brain’s ability to function optimally. The main active ingredient in marijuana is THC, however, the drug also contains up to 400 other chemicals. The regulation and use of marijuana is controversial, and currently an ongoing debate in the healthcare field largely because of marijuana’s addictive properties. There exists a large group of people who hold the belief that marijuana is not an addictive drug, like heroin or cocaine for instance. However, the use of marijuana has increased significantly over the last few decades, and correlated with that increase, health care professionals (including addiction counselors) are treating more and more patients for marijuana addiction problems in rehabilitation facilities.

An addiction to marijuana is easily overlooked nowadays. This is, in part, due to the belief which a significant number of individuals hold, that marijuana is not an addictive substance. While researchers and government officials continue to battle with one another about the legalization of the drug, healthcare professionals are dealing with a rapid increase in patients seeking treatment for what they claim to be an addiction to marijuana. So, is it possible to become addicted to marijuana? This is a question that is asked frequently but never seems to be answered clearly. In my opinion, marijuana is a potent drug which alters one’s state of consciousness and awareness. It hinders one’s ability to perform basic tasks and slows a person’s reaction time (this is one of the reasons why it is not advisable to drive a vehicle while high on marijuana). Furthermore, the sheer potency of the drug has increased significantly over the years as different strains are bred and different chemicals are utilized to make the plant more intoxicating. This increases the drug’s addictive potential, since the effects (or “high”) it produces in the user are intensified as each strain becomes more powerful with an ever-increasing THC content.

The Physical Effects of Marijuana:

Marijuana increases a person’s heart rate by up to 50%. This can be dangerous to persons who have heart conditions or a poor blood supply to the heart. Marijuana also contains more tar and carcinogenic chemicals than regular tobacco smoke does. This means that it is more dangerous to smoke marijuana than it is to smoke a cigarette. In addition to this, most users inhale a marijuana cigarette more deeply than they would a regular cigarette, which exposes the lungs to the smoke and chemicals for a longer period of time, thereby increasing the risk of certain types of cancer. Smoking marijuana has also been linked to bronchitis and the worsening of asthma symptoms. While no one has even died from a marijuana overdose before, taking too much of the drug can produce something called a “toxic psychosis”, whereby the user experiences hallucinations and becomes very paranoid and anxious. Recent studies also suggest that teenagers who use the drug heavily and who have a predisposition to a mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, can induce these psychotic illnesses by smoking marijuana. Prolonged use of the drug has also been linked to short-term memory problems, attention difficulties, and hindering the ability to acquire knowledge and learn new things. As previously mentioned, marijuana impairs a person’s coordination and impedes his/her reaction time, making driving or using heavy machinery quite dangerous.

The Mental Effects of Marijuana:

Using this drug can make the user paranoid and anxious. When experiencing a high from marijuana, the user may believe that others are conspiring against them, or that people are out to get them. Hallucinations are also possible when using this drug, which is considered to be both a hallucinogen and a depressant. Like alcohol and other drugs, marijuana also impairs one’s ability to make sound judgment, leading some users to make poor decisions which they will later regret.

Now that we know a bit more about how marijuana negatively affects the body and mind, let’s look at some signs and symptoms of marijuana abuse and addiction:

  • Initially: speaking quickly and loudly with bursts of laughter
  • Later: becoming very lethargic and sleepy
  • Inability to concentrate or focus
  • Difficulty remembering things during conversations
  • Inflammation/redness in whites of the eyes
  • Increased appetite and cravings for specific (usually sweet) foods
  • Possession of marijuana paraphernalia (i.e. rolling papers, bongs, pipes, etc.)
  • Inability to stop thinking about the drug when not using it
  • Saving money in order to purchase the drug or paraphernalia to use the drug with
  • Feeling as though you cannot function without being high
  • Looking forward to your next “hit”
  • Hiding your behavior from family and friends (being secretive about your use of the drug)

So How Do We Know Marijuana is Addictive?

Like other addictions, marijuana addictions are usually accompanied by withdrawal symptoms when the individual ceases using it. Withdrawal symptoms depend on how long the person was taking the drug and in what quantity. Some examples include stomach pain, increased anxiety and irritability, aggression, decreased appetite, and sleep disturbances. People who have sought out treatment for their marijuana addiction report feeling “out of control” and unable to stop using the drug by themselves. They use the drug multiple times per day to get high, and feel “incomplete” or lacking in some way when they are not high. Additionally, these people report feeling anxious when they are running low on the drug and find themselves obsessing about ways in which to obtain and use the drug. Although this is debatable, it has been said that marijuana produces not just a psychological addiction (as the symptoms above would indicate), but also a powerful physical addiction. A physical craving for the drug has been reported by some users, and researchers have claimed that like other drugs, the body adapts to the regular usage of marijuana and develops a tolerance to the drug. This means that in order to achieve the same, desired “high” feeling, the user will have to increase his/her dose each time.

An addiction of any kind is serious and requires treatment from a professional addiction counselor in order to fully recover. If you are in the San Diego area and are seeking treatment for your marijuana addiction, please give me a call today. A marijuana addiction can take a heavy toll on your life and may negatively impact your livelihood, including your ability to work and be involved in relationships with others. Together we can overcome your addiction and figure out healthier ways to deal with any issues you may be having that are contributing to your use of marijuana.

Copyright ©2012 Jan Rakoff. All Rights Reserved.

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