Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. Many people mistakenly believe it’s harmless. Few associate it with addiction or other serious health consequences.
But hundreds of thousands of people seek treatment for marijuana addiction each year. With repeated use, the drug changes the way the brain works.
“Over time, cannabis users begin to crave the drug,” Dr. Deborah Hasin, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, told DrugRehab.com. “If they go a day or two without using it, they can become depressed and irritable. They begin to find that using [marijuana] is taking priority over other activities that are important to them.”
Unlike alcohol and heroin, marijuana isn’t associated with overdose deaths. However, it can cause serious side effects, including paranoia and anxiety. Marijuana laced with other drugs can cause unexpected symptoms.
Like people who try alcohol, most people who use marijuana don’t become addicted. Many never experience serious health problems. But some people do get addicted to marijuana. Even though the drug may not kill these people, it can cause serious mental health and behavioral issues that disrupt their lives.
Marijuana is a drug made from parts of the cannabis plant. It’s also known as pot, weed and other street names. Marijuana contains several chemicals that affect the body in different ways. THC is the chemical in marijuana that makes people high.
The drug can be consumed in multiple forms. Traditionally, marijuana was smoked through hand-rolled paper cigarettes, cigar wraps, pipes or bongs. Other forms are used today.
Multiple forms of marijuana exist, including:
Each form of marijuana affects the body in similar ways, but the duration and strength of effects may differ depending on how the drug is used.
Marijuana is a type of drug that can cause effects similar to depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens. It’s classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration. That means it has a high potential for abuse and addiction and no medical use recognized by the federal government.
Marijuana affects parts of the brain in charge of pleasure, memory, concentration, coordination and perception of time. It overwhelms the pleasure system, making a person feel high. Memory loss caused by marijuana is also common.
Other symptoms of marijuana use include:
In high doses, marijuana can cause hallucinations, delusions and psychosis. These symptoms cause thousands of emergency department visits each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But marijuana doesn’t cause deadly overdoses.
Some people experience weed hangovers that include headache and fatigue. In general, these effects are mild compared to hangovers caused by alcohol.
People with mental health problems or mood disorders can be more susceptible to the effects of marijuana. The drug can temporarily relieve depression or anxiety. But when the high fades, the symptoms of these disorders usually worsen.
Marijuana is called a gateway drug because of its effects on the developing brain. The drug has more significant effects on the adolescent brain than the adult brain. Regular marijuana use during teenage years can make the brain more vulnerable to addiction and experimenting with other drugs later in life.
“There are suggestions that cannabis can have a longer-lasting impact on the health of adolescents given that their brains are still developing.”
Most people who regularly use marijuana develop some form of dependence. Dependence is a physical adaptation that occurs when a person repeatedly uses a drug. The brain begins to rely on the drug to function.
Some people can be dependent on marijuana but not be addicted. Marijuana addiction occurs when a person experiences problems related to the drug and is unable to quit.
Tolerance to marijuana increases as a person becomes dependent on the drug. The person needs more weed or more potent pot to achieve the same high. Tolerance is a sign of dependence, and it’s one of several criteria for drug addiction.
People who are dependent on marijuana experience cravings when marijuana leaves their bodies. The cravings caused are one example of how marijuana can be addictive. Cravings can cause physical and psychological symptoms, such as tightness in the stomach or thoughts about needing marijuana.
Marijuana withdrawal is a common obstacle for people addicted to the drug. The symptoms are not as painful or unsettling as withdrawal from many other drugs. But they can make it difficult to quit using marijuana. Withdrawal symptoms include fatigue, irritability and anxiety.
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Some people can quit smoking marijuana on their own. Unlike those with alcoholism or a heroin addiction, people addicted to weed don’t experience withdrawal symptoms that require supervised detox.
That doesn’t mean that marijuana addiction is an insignificant disease. People who are severely addicted to the drug may be unable to quit using it without help. They require marijuana addiction treatment at a professional rehab facility.
Marijuana hotlines can provide information about treatment and support services for people in recovery from marijuana addiction. During rehab, people detox from marijuana in a comfortable environment that’s free from external triggers and stressors. Rehab also includes counseling and therapy to teach people how to live without pot.
Some people try support groups before seeking rehab. Others transition to these groups for continued support after treatment. Marijuana Anonymous is a popular 12-step program for people in recovery from marijuana addiction.
Marijuana addiction is a debilitating disease. It can cause serious changes to the brain and wane a person’s mental health. Some people can stop using the drug on their own, but those who are addicted to weed should attend rehab to recover.