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Common Misunderstandings About Marijuana and Addiction

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.