How Problematic Is Marijuana Addiction?

Whether it’s called weed, pot, grass, bud, herb, or any of its numerous slang names, marijuana and its main psychoactive chemical, THC, is one of the most commonly abused drugs in the United States.

New Jersey has legalized marijuana for recreational use, but there are many persistent misunderstandings about this drug’s addictive potential. Because of this, marijuana addiction is systematically undertreated. In 2015, four million people were diagnosed with a use disorder for this drug, but only 138,000 sought treatment.

Use of Marijuana

Marijuana is the broken or ground dried flowers of the cannabis sativa plant that users usually smoke or mix into food. However, there has also been a sharp increase in the abuse of this plant’s resin, a substance with a higher THC concentration that produces more intense highs.

The short-term effects of marijuana intoxication include:

  • Feelings of happiness
  • Mild hallucinations
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Increased appetite
  • Reduced reflexes

Users generally experience significantly reduced response times and motor skills when under the effects of the drug. Nationwide, marijuana use is the cause of the second-highest number of hospital visits of any illicit substance - largely due to an increased risk of accidents. In 2011, 456,000 emergency room patient reports in the United States mentioned marijuana.

Marijuana Changes the Brain

Areas of the brain, such as the hippocampus, rely on an endocannabinoid neurotransmitter called anandamide for some of their dopamine production. However, with frequent use, the brain adapts and reduces the production of its anandamide - messengers we need for normal functioning.

At the same time, the continuous abuse of this drug seems to alter and harm this region of the brain. The hippocampus – which is responsible for memory formation and information processing - seems to shrink with prolonged heavy use. This can lead to very worrying changes in cognition, especially in young people.

Eventually, the use of marijuana produces cross-sensitivity. This means that the brain has adapted to the drug, and the groundwork has been laid for dependence and addiction to other psychoactive substances. In addition, there has been a growing body of evidence that corroborates marijuana’s status as a gateway drug, especially in long-term studies of teenage users.

Signs of Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana use disorder is a clinically diagnosed condition that describes the compulsive use of the drug even when people want to stop or when it harms a user’s life. Experts estimate that about 30% of people who use marijuana in some form have a degree of diagnosable substance use disorder.

Heavy users of the drug can go into withdrawal when they can’t access or cease using the drug. Symptoms of withdrawal from marijuana include:

  • Mood and sleep problems
  • Irritability
  • Decreased appetite
  • Cravings
  • Physical discomfort
  • Restlessness

Why Seek Marijuana Addiction Treatment?

Studies have begun to illuminate exactly how harmful long-term marijuana use can be for mental health. Eventually, THC exposure may even speed up the aging of the brain through the loss of neurons.

Studies looking at marijuana abuse disorder in adolescents found that continued use alters the connectivity and shrinks the size of areas in the brain involved in executive functioning (memory, learning, problem-solving, and impulse control).

Others have found that abuse, particularly in teenage years, is associated with significantly lower scores on IQ tests by mid-adulthood.

Two longitudinal studies have found that marijuana abuse causes cognitive impairment or loss of verbal memory functions in adults as well.

The loss of mental functioning means that people who use marijuana recreationally are likely to be functioning at a lower level even when they are not under its influence. These changes are continuous and incremental, making them harder to detect in oneself. Still, the evidence points to marijuana abuse drastically affecting our ability to achieve our potential in work, school, and relationships.

If you are worried marijuana use may be turning into an addiction, there are treatment programs that can help.

Marijuana Addiction Treatment in New Jersey

Enlightened Solutions is a licensed dual diagnosis treatment center that offers each client the tools they need to begin a sober life. We offer an effective individualized recovery program with a long-term focus rooted in the 12-step philosophy. Our treatment modalities include both talk therapy and holistic treatment practices, with the potential to continue in support groups long after you leave our center. If you would like help with marijuana addiction, reach out to us at (833) 801-5483.

marijuana and addiction

Common Misunderstandings About Marijuana and Addiction

Although marijuana is illegal in the United States at the federal level, many states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, medical use, or both. Many people regard marijuana as harmless because of its legal status in many states.

While it is true that many people use marijuana from time to time without suffering any ill effects, some people do experience harm as a result of their marijuana usage. Some users do become dependent. A report published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that in 2015, approximately “four million people in the United States met the diagnostic criteria for a marijuana use disorder,” and 138,000 sought treatment. Thirty percent of users have some degree of a marijuana use disorder, and about nine percent develop a dependency. People who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are “four to seven times more likely to have a marijuana use disorder than adults,” and approximately 17% of them develop a dependency.

Potential Effects

Although most people who occasionally use marijuana report positive effects (euphoria, relaxation, heightened sensory perception, altered sense of time), some people have less pleasant experiences and report sensations like fear, anxiety, distrust, and panic. According to the NIDA, when using large amounts of marijuana, some people experience hallucinations, delusions, and a loss of their sense of personal identity.

Today, an issue facing marijuana users is that the plant’s concentration of THC has increased compared with its potency in the 1990s. The following figures are based on an analysis of confiscated marijuana and included in the research report published by NIDA referenced in the second paragraph. In the early 1990s, the level of THC, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive effects, was less than four percent. In 2018, the level of THC was more than 15%. Marijuana plants have been bred to have increased potency.

Possibility of Dependence

Dependence on a substance means that the user will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the drug. According to the research report on marijuana released in July 2020 by NIDA, dependence can occur when large amounts of the substance are used. Large amounts of marijuana cause the brain to reduce the amount and sensitivity of its endocannabinoid neurotransmitters, part of the endocannabinoid system. People who have become dependent on marijuana and its effects may experience withdrawal symptoms that include irritability, sleep problems, decreased appetite, restlessness, cravings, and physical discomfort. Withdrawal symptoms might last up to two weeks.

As with all substance use, marijuana becomes a problem when it interferes with your daily life or if you are suffering from legal or health issues because of its use.

Problems Associated With Marijuana Use

Physical and mental problems associated with marijuana use can be divided into three categories:

  1. Acute: Present during intoxication
  2. Persistent: Lasting beyond the time when the user is intoxicated but not permanent
  3. Long-term: Cumulative effects caused by repeated, frequent use

During the acute phase (intoxication), marijuana users may experience impairment in cognitive functions, including short-term memory formation, attention, and judgment. They may also have trouble with balance and coordination, and their heart rate may increase. They may also experience anxiety, paranoia, and psychosis, although this is not common.

Persistent health issues (lasting longer than just during intoxication but not considered long-term) include impaired learning and coordination and sleep difficulties. Long-term physical and mental problems can consist of possible addiction and impairments in learning and memory loss. Impairments in learning and memory loss can lead to a potential loss of IQ; however, this is not common and is thought to be limited to people who began using marijuana heavily during adolescence and have continued to be heavy users. Also, some research summarized in the NIDA report indicated that heavy users of marijuana are at an increased risk of schizophrenia if they also have a genetic vulnerability to that disorder. Marijuana use can result in a chronic cough and bronchitis, lung hyperinflation, and may play a role in suppressing the immune system.

Treatment for Marijuana Use Disorder

Fortunately, treatment is available for people with marijuana use disorder. According to NIDA, certain types of therapies might be useful for marijuana use disorder. These are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management, and motivational enhancement therapy.

  • CBT is a form of psychotherapy that teaches people to change their unhelpful thoughts and behaviors, gain better control of their emotions, and develop coping strategies for their problems.
  • Contingency management is a therapeutic technique that monitors the desired behavior and rewards it.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy is an intervention that is intended to bring about change. It uses the person’s inner resources to bring about the desired change and stay involved with treatment.

Marijuana is widely considered to be safe and non-addictive. For some people, however, using marijuana can cause problems, including dependence and addiction. It can be challenging to admit that you have a problem with marijuana because so many external voices say it’s “perfectly safe” and “nothing to worry about.” At Enlightened Solutions, we understand that marijuana use can lead to abuse, and it is one of the addictions that we treat. We are a licensed co-occurring treatment center; we treat alcohol and drug use disorders and the mental health issues that often accompany addiction. Our treatment program is rooted in the 12-Step philosophy, and we create an individualized recovery program for each client. Our focus is on healing the whole person and not just on treating the addiction. We offer a range of treatment modalities, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), family constellation therapy, art and music therapy, yoga and meditation, acupuncture and chiropractic work, and equine-assisted therapy. We are located near the southern shore of New Jersey. If you are struggling with an addiction to marijuana, or are concerned about someone close to you, call us today at (833) 801-5483 for more information.

Marijuana Maintenance Program

Marijuana Maintenance Program

Being sober means different things to different people. However, one of the main goals in sobriety is to live life without the assistance of any substance in the body. When entering in the world of recovery, there are many areas of life that are suggested to work on within themselves. The marijuana maintenance program is the theory that a person can smoke marijuana safely without using any other mind alternating substance. This can be a controversial topic because many don’t feel marijuana is considered to be harmful in any way. What others feel, is that marijuana alters the mind, therefore, those who partake are not technically sober. There are few exceptions.

Recently the legalization of marijuana has been a hot topic. By 2017, twenty-nine states had passed laws regulating the amount users can hold. This was a huge win amongst its supporters. However,  not all users are looking to get the relief from the high. The medicinal usage is becoming more acknowledged as a form of treatment. There are benefits for those with seizure disorders such as epilepsy and this is truly progress. This along with other medically inclined benefits are solid reasons for the law to have been changed.

Often times, marijuana is compared to alcohol in the sense that it’s not a “hard drug.” In these cases, marijuana can seemingly act as a legal substance without harm, for those without addiction. There is a commonality that expresses that alcohol and marijuana are a gateway into the darker world of hard substances. This may not be true but when someone uses marijuana, the mind has been altered. When the mind is altered, those with addiction become vulnerable and numb which is what the mind wants.

The disease of addiction boils down to the urge to fill an empty void inside. When a person with addiction or alcoholism accepts this and begins to focus on the healing process, the need to numb will fade away. It takes willingness and consistency to let things go. Pain and struggles are apart of life and the only way to grow is to feel feelings. Whether or not marijuana is considered a drug, it alters the mind. The disease of addiction may as well be the disease of the mind. Reaching for any substances to escape or even relax, wont do any good. Sobriety, meditation, and healing will do more than enough.

If you are suffering from alcoholism, addiction and/or mental health, there is hope for you! Open your mind to life-changing treatment in beautiful New Jersey at Enlightened Solutions. For more information please call today: 833-801-5483.