Marijuana addiction is widely misunderstood, especially in an age where Marijuana is becoming more and more accepted for legal usage not only medically but also recreationally.

Marijuana is one of the most popular drugs in the world today, spawning entire cultures and genres of entertainment that are dedicated to using and celebrating it.

Despite the acclaim and growing acceptance, it can still be a very addicting, damaging and dangerous drug.


About marijuana

Marijuana is a mixture of the leaves of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. It is usually smoked, but it can also be mixed into food (like cookies) and beverages (like tea). There are over 400 chemicals present in marijuana. One of them – delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC – is what gives marijuana its psychotropic properties, and it can be the source behind the addictiveness of the drug.


THC (and, by extension, marijuana) works by stimulating the brain to release dopamine, a natural hormone that the brain normally releases whenever you do something good. Because humans are essentially pleasure-seeking creatures, your brain wants to remember what those good moments felt like; so, by releasing dopamine when you have fun, it creates that association.

But, instead of letting the brain reabsorb the dopamine as it normally should, THC keeps the dopamine active in the brain, thereby forcibly creating an association with the act of smokingmarijuana. Now, instead of simply enjoying an activity on its own merits, the pleasure derived from the activity becomes inextricably linked to the smoking of marijuana. Because marijuana is not as explosively addictive as harder drugs, a user feels emboldened to keep smoking, oblivious to the increasing dependence he is sowing in his own brain.

The relative mildness of marijuana compared to other drugs is a driving factor behind its global popularity. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 7.3 percent of the American population over the age of 12 – 18.9 million people – used marijuana within the previous month of answering the survey. CBS News reports that these figures show a slight increase from the 2011 survey, which the SAMHSA director said represented “real people, families and communities dealing with the devastating consequences” of marijuana abuse and addiction problems.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime published their 2012 World Drug Report that said anywhere from 119 million to 224 million of adults in the world smoked marijuana. In 2013, a Gallup poll reported that 58 percent of the American population favored the legalization of marijuana; unsurprising, perhaps, given that around 3.6 million Americans smoke or otherwise consume marijuana every day, according to The New York Times).

The American Psychological Association quotes the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse as saying too many people are uninformed about marijuana, even as society in general grows more tolerant of the drug.

In 2010, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration published a report that said 9 percent of the people who smoke marijuana will eventually develop an addiction to it. They may be unable to feel pleasure or relaxation through other means. They may attempt to hide their marijuana usage, and resort to theft or deception to sustain their habit. They may become uninterested in hobbies and social activities, instead spending their time smoking marijuana. Their professional and academic performance may suffer. Most tellingly, any attempt to stop using marijuana results in painful withdrawal symptoms that compel the user to keep smoking marijuana, even as the rest of his life burns around him.

Part of the addictiveness of marijuana comes from what a paper in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings calls its insidiousness. Unlike cocaine, which triggers an immediate addictive effect that serves as a red flag, there is a very, very small chance of developing an addiction with the first hit of marijuana. However, as stated above, that is a double-edged sword; many smokers feel that they can safely continue using marijuana since they “survived” their first couple of hits.

Various studies have been done over the years to determine the effect marijuana has on the brain.

In a report entitled “Marijuana Users Have Abnormal Brain Structure and Poor Memory,” Northwest University cites a report done by its medical school that showed the parts of the brain that store memory literally “shrink and collapse inward” after early and prolonged marijuana use.

Two more recent marijuana studies conducted in led Psychology Today to state that marijuana is addictive, and that it causes a “real, visible change in the brain’s reward system” in a 2015 article. Continuing, the article states that marijuana is dangerous, and that “the younger you start or the more you use over time, the more dangerous it is to your brain.” These strong statements were the result of a review of studies performed by the Journal of Neuroscience (Cannabis Use Is Quantitatively Associated with Nucleus Accumbens and Amygdala Abnormalities in Young Adult Recreational Users) and Nature’s Neuropsychopharmacology (Long-Term Effects of Cannabis on Brain Structure).

With many drugs, when attempting to quit users experience withdrawal symptoms. But what about marijuana? Is marijuana withdrawal a real thing?

According to the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (commonly called the DSM) the answer would be no. Recent research suggests otherwise, however. A recent Australian study reported that when high-user marijuana users were asked to stop taking the drug that real symptoms arose. Their nature isn’t of the life-threatening, kind, but withdrawal symptoms nonetheless.

Akin to the effects of those quitting tobacco, participants reported an increase in irritability, difficulty sleeping, and other symptoms that effected their work and personal lives. Broader studies suggest the following common marijuana withdrawal symptoms:

    • Anxiety
    • Changes in Eating
    • Changes in Sleeping
    • Depression
    • Irritability
    • Restlessness
    • Abdominal Pain
    • Chills
    • Fever
    • Headache
    • Shakiness
    • Sweatiness

Signs of a marijuana addiction

If you suspect that a loved one is addicted to marijuana, first look for telltale signs and behavior of marijuana use.

Smoking marijuana causes the eyes of the user to take on a reddish tint, as a result of capillaries in the pupils dilating. Furthermore, marijuana causes the brain to release – and retain – excessive amounts of dopamine. Dopamine itself causes pupils to dilate, which is why they get bigger when we’re excited, per an article entitled, “Action of Dopamine on the Human Iris” in the British Medical Journal.

Marijuana is famous – or infamous – for its effects on the senses. Users feel excessively hungry because THC (as the most active chemical compound in marijuana) increases the sensitivity to how food smells and tastes. Smithsonian Magazine says this is why marijuana is prescribed to cancer patients, who lose their appetite as a result of the chemotherapy they receive for treatment.

Since marijuana is a relaxant, a user may be very happy being unproductive and lethargic. They may even have difficulty coordinating their thoughts, speech, or movement. For that reason, someone who is high on marijuana is not safe to drive or use heavy machinery.

If someone is acting strangely paranoid or anxious, this may also be a sign that they have been using marijuana. As stated above, THC increases a person’s sensitivity to the scent and taste of food, but THC also heightens lots of other senses. So, if a user naturally harbors paranoid or anxious thoughts, the presence of THC in their brain makes them overreact to those thoughts. In July 2014, the University of Oxford reported that its own researchers found cannabis “definitively” causes short-term paranoia in users.

One of the clearest indicators that a loved one may be using marijuana is if they exhibit withdrawal symptoms. These effects present themselves if the user has gotten used to marijuana, and then either tries to self-detox (cleanse themselves of the drug), or simply does not have marijuana on hand to smoke.

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Loss of Appetite

How to get a loved one into rehab

Because marijuana is not viewed in the same light as harder drugs like cocaine and heroin, someone with a marijuana addiction may resist the idea that they have a problem, and that they should seek help for their problem. Having a conversation with someone like that can be frustrating and demoralizing.

If your friend or family member reacts with hostility whenever the subject of their marijuana usage is broached, it may be necessary to seek outside help from a professional interventionist. A professional interventionist is someone who is trained in the psychology of addiction and the dynamics of group therapy. They know how to facilitate open, honest, and caring communication between the addict and the people who have been harmed as a result of her marijuana habit.

Support group meeting

In the event that the situation with your loved one has deteriorated to the point where you need to intervene in his life, a professional interventionist will work closely with you and the other people who have been affected by the addiction. This will entail presenting the details of how the marijuana usage has changed his behavior in negative ways, in the form of a letter that is read out loud during the addiction. Once everybody has had their say, they will present the addict with a treatment option that they have researched before the intervention. And they make it clear that if the addict refuses to take the offer of help, they will enact appropriate consequences (such as breaking off contact, making the addict move out of the house, cutting off financial support, etc.).

An intervention is the family’s way of putting all their cards on the table. The addict has no more room to deny that her marijuana usage is not a problem when all the dirty laundry is laid bare, and she will be made to understand that continued abuse of marijuana will have consequences. If she seeks treatment, it will result in the continued companionship and goodwill of family and friends.

Treatment and therapy options

Marijuana addiction doesn’t always require detoxification, which WebMD describes as “a period of medically supervised … withdrawal.” Since weaning off marijuana can cause the effects listed above (depression, anxiety, nausea, etc.) for those with severe addictions, it is often advisable for the detox process to be monitored by trained health care personnel. They may administer carefully prescribed anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants to help reduce the effects of withdrawal on the patient, and to ensure that the transition to the next stage of treatment is as smooth as possible.

While in therapy, a psychologist will help the patient recognize the thoughts and behaviors that led them to their addiction, and teach them new and healthier ways of thinking and acting. This kind of therapy is known as cognitive behavioral therapy, where a patient will also learn skills to maintain their newfound sobriety in the face of the stressors and temptations of daily life outside the controlled environment of the treatment center.

Getting marijuana addiction treatment

There’s nothing pleasant about watching someone you know and love losing a battle with addiction. There’s nothing pleasant about admitting you have a problem, that you’ve made some bad decisions, that you’re in over your head, and that you need help. But that admission is what gets the process of healing started. At The Recovery Village, we know that addiction – whether yours or that of someone you know – can be scary, but we know that treatment can change your life. We are standing by to show you how this can be a reality. Call us today.

Marijuana Addiction Treatment was last modified: December 5th, 2016 by The Recovery Village