While Marijuana may not be as life-threatening as heroin or cocaine is, developing a marijuana addiction is possible and can have immensely negative effects on the body and brain. Marijuana is one of the most popular drugs available due to easy accessibility and the various methods of ingestion. Forming an addiction to the drug can happen quite easily, even faster than some people may realize is possible. However, managing an addiction to marijuana, like any drug, is a perfectly obtainable goal to set.

Rising in popularity within the American counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, marijuana is now the most commonly abused illicit substance in the United States. The most common way the drug is used is when the dried leaves from the bushy plant are rolled into cigarettes or cigars and smoked. The result of smoking the cigarette or cigar is a relaxing, euphoric high that alters the smoker’s  senses, memory, perception of time and motor skills. Commonly known as “weed,” “pot,” and “bud,” marijuana recently became legal in parts of the United States, spurring continued political controversy around the substance. While the legality of smoking medical marijuana is now common across the United States, in Colorado, California and Washington, D.C., smoking marijuana is also recreationally permitted.

Marijuana comes from the cannabis sativa plant. and refers to the dried leaves, stems, flowers and seeds from the green, leafy plant. People abuse marijuana because it contains delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, also called THC, a chemical that produces euphoria, among other effects.

The cannabis plant is a green, leafy bush with distinct, five or seven-point leaves. In the marijuana counterculture, the image of the cannabis leaf is very popular symbology.

Dried marijuana ranges in color from green to brown, and looks similar to clumps of moss, and joints and blunts look very similar to hand-rolled cigarettes and cigars. Edible marijuana (baked in cookies, brownies, etc.) look virtually identical to regular versions of the food. For example, pot brownies look exactly the same as regular brownies, except their smell and taste differ.

Dabs, which is a common street name for marijuana, can vary depending on the kind of extract it inhibits. The liquid form is often called hash oil or honey oil and looks similar to other kinds of oils. Wax is a soft solid, similar to lip balm, and shatter is amber-colored solid. Oils are normally sold in small bottles, while wax or shatter are sometimes sold in the shape of small animals.  

Much of the marijuana in the United States is grown locally, which is one factor that contributes to marijuana addiction. But when imported into the United States, from another country, marijuana typically comes from Mexico, Canada, Colombia, Jamaica, Thailand, Nigeria, South Africa and Kazakhstan. Imported marijuana typically comes in bricks, but individuals buying the drug on the street typically buy nickel or dime bags.

Marijuana has many nicknames, which abusers and dealers often use to avoid unwanted attention from police.

  • Common street names for marijuana:

    • Mary Jane
    • Weed
    • Pot
    • Kush
    • Herb
    • Bud
    • Grass
    • Ganja
    • Hash oil
    • Wax
    • Budder
    • Shatter
    • Dabs

    Other terms related to marijuana and its abuse include:

    • Joint: A marijuana cigarette
    • Doobie: A nickname for a joint
    • Blunt: A marijuana cigar
    • Roach: The butt of a joint or blunt
    • Roach clip: A small metal clip used to hold the end of a joint or blunt so the user can smoke the entire thing without burning their hands
    • Bowl: A glass pipe for smoking marijuana
    • Bong: A water pipe for smoking marijuana
    • Head shop: A store that sells marijuana paraphernalia like bongs
    • Dime bag: A $10 bag of marijuana
    • Nickel bag: A $5 bag of marijuana
    • Dabbing: The act of smoking THC resin
    • 420: Slang for smoking marijuana
    • 4/20: April 20th, a notorious date for smoking marijuana to get high
    • K2 or Spice: Synthetic marijuana
    • Brick: A large, compacted block of marijuana

Marijuana users frequently combine the drug with other substances, especially in a party atmosphere. Some of these combinations can be dangerous, though, and cause risky interactions. Some common marijuana drug interactions include:

  • Marijuana and anticoagulants, antiplatelet or anti-inflammatory drugs: Combining marijuana with these types of drugs, including brand-names like Coumadin, Plavix, Motrin, Advil and Aleve, may increase a person’s risk of excessive bleeding. This can be especially dangerous as marijuana causes impaired motor skills and a person is more likely to hurt themselves while on the drug, which can lead to uncontrollable bleeding.
  • Marijuana and diabetes drugs or insulin: Marijuana possibly affects blood sugar levels. This is  particularly risky for diabetics taking oral medications or insulin, as hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia can be fatal. If a person has an insulin prescription and a medical marijuana prescription, they should take these drugs under the close supervision of their doctor so they may monitor blood sugar levels and adjust doses accordingly.

Marijuana and benzodiazepines, opioids and alcohol: Combining these drugs with marijuana can result in extreme drowsiness. It’s important for those using marijuana and alcohol, Ativan, Valium, codeine, phenobarbital and other similar drugs to avoid operating heavy machinery or  vehicles. In these circumstances, extreme drowsiness can cause dangerous situations.

Whether or not marijuana is an addictive drug is a controversial topic in the addiction research and healthcare communities. Scientific research shows that roughly 30 percent of people who use marijuana develop an addiction to it. The likelihood of developing a marijuana addiction increases by seven if the person began using the drug as an adolescent.

The mind-altering substance in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC. When a person smokes pot, THC passes from the lungs into the bloodstream, where it travels to the brain. The absorption process is a slow one compared to other drugs, and it often takes 30 minutes to one hour before one can feel high. The marijuana high takes effect faster if a person ingests the drug rather than smokes it.

Marijuana activates certain receptors in the brain, causing symptoms such as mood changes, impaired movement and memory, difficulty thinking, and an altered sense of time and sight.

Those who smoke or ingest marijuana may build up a tolerance to it over time, meaning they need to use more to experience the same effects. If continued, this can lead to marijuana addiction and dependence, which is a state where a person’s brain adjusts to having THC. When the chemical is removed (i.e.., someone stops smoking), the body experiences withdrawal. Marijuana addiction occurs when the body is physically dependent on marijuana and craves the drug. In this case, a person may feel as though they need marijuana to survive and will continue using the drug despite experiencing negative effects.

  • Is weed addictive?

    Scientific research shows that roughly 30 percent of people who use marijuana develop an addiction to it. The likelihood of developing a marijuana addiction increases by seven if the person began using the drug as an adolescent.

  • How long does marijuana stay in your system?

    The main chemical in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC. Although the effects of THC wear off within a few hours of ingesting marijuana, traces of the chemical can remain in the body for weeks: 30-45 days can fail a urine test, 60-75 days can fail a blood test, and up to 90 days can fail a hair follicle test. While there is no way to know exactly how long THC will stay in someone’s system for a drug test, there are different factors however that can impact how long marijuana stays in the body.

  • How do I know if someone is on marijuana?

    Because of the widely varied effects of marijuana, it can be difficult to tell if someone is using it. In general, the following are a few of the most common symptoms someone is on marijuana: red, bloodshot eyes, laughing inappropriately or uncontrollably, increased appetite including binge eating, particularly sweets, and a lack of energy or motivation. Marijuana is also a drug unlike many others in the fact that it has a very potent odor that’s hard to get rid of. Many people compare it to a skunk-like smell, and it can cling to hair, clothes, bedding, furniture and other items after smoking. As with most other drugs, there are behavioral shifts that may seem subtle or gradual at first, but as a person continues to abuse marijuana, these may become more prominent.

  • Is marijuana a gateway drug?

    Many addiction experts and doctors differ in their opinions of cannabis as a gateway drug. Studies have shown that it could be, however: those dealing with marijuana addiction are three times more likely to become addicted to heroin. Using the drug at an early age can also have damaging effects on an underdeveloped brain and can increase the risk of addiction later in life.

  • Does marijuana help anxiety or cause it?

    It’s difficult to say whether or not marijuana helps anxiety or causes it. It depends on quite a few factors. First and foremost, your mental state and the environment you’re in when using marijuana play a big role in how you react. Marijuana and anxiety can go hand-in-hand in some people, and you may not get a pleasant or relaxing experience when using it. In fact, your experience could be quite the opposite. Many people feel that marijuana can bring symptoms of anxiety or can heighten their existing anxiety, particularly if they use it in a situation that isn’t pleasant, or where they’re trying to conceal their use of the drug.

There is a common misconception that misusing marijuana has no negative physical effects, like smoking cigarettes has. There are a handful of risks that someone who is addicted to marijuana will face compared to the average cigarette smoker. Just because marijuana addiction isn’t as frequent as other addictions, this does not mean that the risks are not as dangerous. There are a number of consequences that are associated with marijuana addiction, including:

  • Risk of lung cancer
  • Decreased energy
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Mental impairment
  • Increased risk of heart attack

Another potential danger associated with marijuana addiction involves the withdrawal symptoms, which usually peak a few days after the smoking ceases. Withdrawal symptoms can include depression, excessive sweating, low appetite and anxiety to name a few. If the use of marijuana is stopped abruptly, these symptoms can come on strong and fast. The good news is that managing an addiction to marijuana is achievable with the right support, tools and resources.

While marijuana is a commonly-abused illicit drug, in recent years there has also been a significant debate in the United States about marijuana’s medical value. Between 1996 and 2017, 28 states and three territories passed comprehensive medical marijuana and cannabis programs. In those areas, doctors may prescribe marijuana for patients who many benefit from its use. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve medical marijuana as an official medicine, there are a few pill cannabinoids the agency has approved. Marijuana contains about 100 cannabinoids (which are the chemicals related to THC) that create powerful effects. According to a study by The Institute of Medicine, potential therapeutic benefits of THC and cannabinoid drugs include:

  • Pain Relief
  • Control of Nausea
  • Appetite Stimulation

The study notes there may also be medicinal benefits to smoking marijuana, such as sedation, anxiety reduction and euphoria. However, these same effects might be undesirable for other patients.

Most state laws that allow medical marijuana have very specific conditions under which a doctor may prescribe patients the drug. While the conditions for obtaining a marijuana card vary from state to state, many conditions overlap. Having a card is also important because police may still pull drivers over and penalize them for carrying the substance if they don’t have a patient ID or registration card. Some of the common illnesses doctors prescribe medical marijuana for are:

  • HIV and AIDS
  • Cancer
  • Glaucoma
  • Lou Gehrig’s Disease
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Epilepsy
  • Cachexia

The U.S. states where medical marijuana is allowed include:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Guam
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota (pending)
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Washington, D.C.

Some of these areas also allow patients from other states to travel there to receive medical marijuana. Those states are Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. In addition to allowing the sale and use of medical marijuana, a few of these states also allow recreational use of the drug. These states are Alaska, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

For more information on how you or a loved one can begin on the road to a marijuana-free life, call The Recovery Village. With an abundance of rehab centers located nationwide, our treatment teams can help you gain the skills needed to live your life without relying on any sort of substance. Our representatives are eager  to answer any questions you may have about addiction treatment and recovery. Each call is free and confidential. Start your journey to sobriety today.

marijuana smoke
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Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.