According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana addiction (or marijuana use disorder) is found in up to 30 percent of those who use this psychoactive drug. Those who initially use marijuana at an early age are several times more likely to develop a subsequent addiction. Marijuana dependence also occurs, which is when one experiences withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the drug.
Marijuana withdrawal symptoms include irritability, mood swings, insomnia, restlessness, cravings, and poor appetite. This withdrawal occurs because the brain downregulates (decreases) the level of natural cannabinoids (marijuana) that are produced by the body.
When a person is unable to stop smoking or ingesting marijuana even though they are suffering negative consequences, such as poor mental or physical health, poor work or school performance, financial, legal, relationship or other problems, they are in full-blown marijuana addiction. It seems that about 10 – 20 percent of those who use marijuana will eventually become addicted.
One of the recent problems with the incidence of marijuana addiction is that marijuana has been selectively cultivated to increase its amount of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which much like cigarettes high in nicotine, can more easily lead to addiction. Now that THC oils are being produced legally and illegally, the potency of inhaled or ingested THC is of even more concern.
Another recent development in the propulsion of marijuana addiction is that e-cigarettes and vaping has become much more common place. In actual fact, it is impossible to know exactly what one is smoking in e-cigarettes, especially if the liquid/oil/wax used is odorless or relatively odorless. Therefore, there are those who can covertly smoke THC – the active ingredient in marijuana – in pubic, at work, and around his/her family. The odor of THC can be masked by the heavily flavored additives that are used to present a pleasant taste to the user.
Finally, Marinol – or dronabinol – is a synthetic (manmade) form of THC and is available by prescription in the United States, Canada and New Zealand. The primary prescription indication for Marinol is antiemesis (anti-vomiting) for those who have various disorders that provoke continual nausea and vomiting, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and other disorders and to treat anorexia (poor appetite) in those with similar disorders. This medication has also been used off-label for disorders such as multiple sclerosis, various chronic pain disorders, fibromyalgia and others. Purportedly, the “high” that comes after the ingestion of Marinol is not as strong as it is when using inhaled THC or marijuana. Yet, some do find that they are unable to stop using Marinaol once they begin. Marinol addiction is treated in the same way as marijuana addiction and THC addiction.
It is important to remember that legality, in and of itself, does not relate to the term addiction. One can be addicted to food, sex, pornography, alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, and DXM. None of these substances or behaviors are illegal in the U.S. in most jurisdictions. There are those who roll the dice and choose to smoke or ingest marijuana, or used THC, but never become addicted. And then, there are those who rapidly develop an unsustainable craving to continuously use this psychoactive drug.
The effects of smoking marijuana, according to NIDA, are:
- Altered senses
- Altered sense of time
- Mood changes, including depression
- Impaired body movement
- Difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
- Impaired memory
Other symptoms of marijuana use are:
- Uncontrollable, hysterical and inappropriate laughter
- Increased appetite and hunger
- Calmness or anxiety
- Sleep pattern changes, insomnia or hypersomnolence
Marijuana addiction is a serious psychiatric disorder that warrants prompt medical attention. Typically, treatment will occur in a drug rehab, but may also require treatment by medical providers for medical problems that have been ignored or that have been created by heavy marijuana use, such as breathing problems, heart problems and increased heart rate, testicular cancer, decreased immune system response, and others.
The characteristic signs and symptoms of marijuana addiction include:
- Tolerance to marijuana and withdrawal upon the cessation of its use
- Spending extended periods using marijuana, growing marijuana, or obtaining marijuana
- The inability to stop using marijuana when attempted and the inability to cut down on the use of marijuana when desired
- Decreased time spent with family or on leisure activates
- Continuation of use, despite consequences, such as work, relationship, emotional, financial, or legal problems
- Partaking in marijuana use to manage moods, such as depression, anxiety, jealousy or anger
- Forgoing activities so that one can use marijuana
- Inability to manage normal life responsibilities
- The inability to relax when not using marijuana
Sometimes, those who are addicted to marijuana also abuse other substances and may develop a co-addiction to other substances. For example, one may suffer from a marijuana addiction and alcohol addiction, PCP addiction, cocaine addiction and others. For this reason, once those who are addicted to marijuana enter a residential drug rehab, it is paramount that the rehab staff carefully evaluate the marijuana addict for other addictions and coexisting mental health disorders.
If you or a loved one find that an unstoppable force, such as marijuana or THC, has hijacked your or your loved one’s life, there are drug treatment options available. Unless there is a co-addiction that requires specialized inpatient drug rehab care, typically those with a marijuana addiction can be initially treated in a residential drug rehab, forgoing the inpatient drug detox process altogether.
This doesn’t mean that the marijuana addict won’t experience withdrawal symptoms, but the typical withdrawal symptoms are not so medically dangerous as to require formal treatment in an inpatient drug detox setting. Marijuana detox can be carried out at the residential level, with psychiatric, medical, social and emotional support. The signs and symptoms of marijuana withdrawal should not be downplayed, as they are very uncomfortable and can be prolonged. Treatment in a residential drug rehab should prove beneficial in managing marijuana withdrawal symptoms.