The Elements of Marijuana Addiction

The Elements of Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana, the dried green flowers of cannabis plants, contains the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and other organs. The body produces natural chemicals that normally act on these receptors, but marijuana-derived phytocannabinoids produce more potent effects including euphoric highs. With extended marijuana use, the body decreases natural cannabinoid production and becomes dependent on the drug, while changes to dopaminergic pathways in the brain can lead to addiction.

Marijuana Addiction and Dependence

Several clinical studies highlight the extent of marijuana addiction and dependence, including the following:

  • The Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology journal in 1994 found that 9% of marijuana users develop physical dependence
  • The 2003 book Cannabis Use and Dependence found that 20% to 30% of users consume marijuana on a weekly basis
  • Withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, tension, irritability and mood changes, per a 28-day study published by Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology in 2000
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) stated in 2012 that marijuana withdrawal syndrome has similar symptoms to nicotine withdrawal
  • Marijuana was involved in more drug-related medical emergencies in 2011 than heroin, amphetamines, LSD and MDMA combined, per the Drug Abuse Warning Network

Whether smoked or consumed through edibles, marijuana activates areas of the brain associated with pleasure, memory and sensory perception. Certain individuals have genetic and environmental vulnerabilities that make them more susceptible to addiction, which in turn can lead to obsessive use, unhealthy behaviors and other impairments, including the following:

  • Decreases in motivation regarding most other activities and responsibilities
  • Increases in unhealthy behaviors like binge eating, lethargy and stagnation
  • Lifestyle changes that can affect finances, safety and physical and mental health
  • Increased risk of financial and legal problems or serious accidents
  • Exacerbation of co-occurring mental disorders like depressions and anxiety

Cannabis proponents are sometimes defensive when addiction is discussed, but saying marijuana can be addictive is not meant to pass judgment on the drug either way. Prescription pain relievers, stimulants and anti-anxiety medications also have addiction potential and can serve as gateway drugs to illicit substances like cocaine and heroin. The point is that people who take any drug – be it Ritalin or marijuana for recreational or medicinal reasons – are exposed to a certain level of risk, including addiction. As with any illicit or medicinal drug, an addiction can lead to damaging behavior, and pursuing a recovery should become an immediate priority.

Marijuana Addiction Treatment

The 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 7% of the US population aged 12 and older are regular marijuana users, and the drug is second only to alcohol as the most common substance listed in addiction treatment admissions. If a marijuana addiction does develop, treatment centers can help with several potential services, including the following:

  • Development of a personalized treatment plan that addresses specific needs
  • Assistance with mood-related withdrawal symptoms during detoxification
  • Integrated treatment for co-occurring mental health and personality disorders
  • Behavioral therapies that target maladaptive and self-defeating thought patterns
  • Motivational therapies that help patients establish personal motivations to recover
  • Coping strategies for cues that trigger marijuana cravings and negative mood shifts

Everyone who uses marijuana does not develop an addiction, but the ones who do benefit significantly from rehabilitation treatment. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to discuss addiction signs, treatments and facilities, and we can even check health insurance plans for rehab benefits. Addiction to any substance is a serious matter so please call our toll-free helpline now.