Marijuana, also known as cannabis, is one of the most common and one of the most widely used drugs in the world. It can be smoked or ingested to induce a relaxing high. Though seen as a “natural” or “organic” drug, marijuana can still be very harmful and may lead to risky behaviors, including the use of other dangerous substances.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

Of those who use marijuana, 1 in 11 will struggle with addiction or marijuana use disorder, a physical and psychological dependence on the drug. Marijuana can act as a stimulant, providing a brief burst of energy and confidence. It can also act as a depressant, which makes it a top choice for those struggling with anxiety.

Marijuana users struggling with mental illnesses or other issues may rely on the drug for calmness, temporarily escaping from their problems, which only leaves them to resurface later. However, once the brain has developed a tolerance to the drug, someone using the drug will have to use stronger versions or higher doses of marijuana to achieve the same high. This leads to a dependence that could result in addiction or overdose.

Though cannabis may provide temporary relief and calm, continued use can result in a number of side effects and may worsen symptoms of mental illness. Some of the most common side effects from frequent marijuana use include:

  • Mood changes
  • Impaired cognitive abilities
  • Cardiac complications
  • Fertility issues
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Disorganized thoughts
  • Suicidal thoughts

Can Marijuana Use Lead to Other Substances?

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.

Marijuana contains THC — scientifically known as tetrahydrocannabinol — a chemical that produces the drug’s euphoric effects. When users inhale or consume this chemical, the THC travels straight to brain and influences how brain receptors communicate with the body and signal motor functions. Further exposure to THC also triggers cross-sensitization, the brain’s enhanced response to other drugs. In essence, using marijuana heightens the feelings, effects, and responses to other substances, which can lend support to the idea of marijuana being a gateway to using other harmful substances.

However, research shows some inconsistencies: though early age exposure to marijuana may increase the likelihood of drug abuse, many marijuana users do not go on to use or abuse harder drugs. Cross-sensitization also applies to alcohol and nicotine, not marijuana alone. This finding indicates there may be a correlation between marijuana use and substance abuse, but there is no definite causation.

Addiction Treatment

Frequent use of any drug, specifically marijuana, can have damaging effects on the mind and body. If you are worried your marijuana use has become excessive or if you are experiencing withdrawal from quitting the drug, resources are available to help guide you to proper treatment. The Recovery Village’s team of medical professionals can lead you through individualized treatment plans and offer professional support. Don’t wait another day to begin living a healthier life.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.