Marijuana Abuse & Addiction Symptoms, Signs, Causes & Effects

Marijuana abuse can rob you of your health, your dignity, and your hope for a better tomorrow. At Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center, you will reconnect with your best self, and begin to build the foundation for a more promising future.

What is Marijuana Abuse

 Learn more about marijuana addiction

Marijuana, often referred to as “pot,” “grass,” “weed,” “reefer,” or “Mary Jane” on the street is a dried mixture of the stems, seeds and flowers of the plant Cannabis sativa and has long been used as a recreational drug. Most people who abuse marijuana do so by smoking pot in hand-rolled joints (much like a cigarette but lacking a filter), others use bongs, or water pipes, and still others enjoy a “blunt,” or a cigar in which the tobacco has been replaced by marijuana. Increasing in popularity are “edibles,” or marijuana baked into foods, which reduces the amount of smoke pot users’ inhale. Marijuana smoke contains up to 70% more carcinogens than tobacco smoke.

THC is the active ingredient in marijuana and responsible for its effects. When pot is smoked, the effects are nearly instantaneous as THC rapidly passes through the lungs and into the bloodstream where it is absorbed by all organs of the body, including the brain. Edible marijuana can take longer for the effects to set in, but the effects may last up to four hours. Smoking marijuana delivers far more THC into the bloodstream than other forms of marijuana abuse.

Long-term abuse of marijuana can lead to addiction, which is a chronic condition in which an individual has trouble controlling their pot use and cannot stop no matter what the personal, social, health, or work-related consequences. Addiction to marijuana can lead to many negative effects in family life, scholastic achievement, occupational challenges, and other areas in life. The adverse effects of heavy marijuana usage do wear off days to weeks after the last dose.

An individual who is addicted to marijuana will display compulsive drug-seeking activities and abuse pot despite the harmful consequences. In addition, marijuana is often coined the “gateway drug,” as it normalizes and demystifies the concept of drug abuse. This can lead to later usage of more hardcore drugs such as heroin, cocaine, or meth.

Addiction is a chronic life-long battle for those who are addicted to marijuana. The dreams and hopes associated with a life before marijuana may fall by the wayside as an addict becomes convinced that he or she cannot function without pot. The lives of those who are addicted to marijuana revolve around the drug – obtaining it, dealing it, and maintaining the high.

Most addicts, however, are unable to see that they have a problem, which is of special concern for those addicted to marijuana. Many people who are addicted to marijuana rationalize and deny their addiction believing that they are not addicted, that there are far worse drugs available. The bottom line is that addiction is addiction, hallmarked by obsession and compulsive usage of a drug no matter the consequences and most require outside help to beat it.


Statistics on marijuana addiction

In 2010, marijuana was reported to be the most commonly abused illegal drug with over 17 million people self-reporting that they had smoked pot within the past month. It’s estimated that 9% of individuals who abuse marijuana will later become dependent; that number climbs to 1 in every 6 for individuals who begin using marijuana in their teen years.

In 2010, it was reported that marijuana accounted for 4.5 million of the estimated 7.1 million people in the United States who were dependent upon or abusing illegal drugs. In 2009, about 18% of individuals over the age of 12 entering drug detox and rehabilitation programs self-reported marijuana as their primary drug of abuse.


Causes of marijuana addiction

Addiction is a complex disease that is likely caused by a combination of factors working in tandem. Some of the factors that may influence whether or not an individual will become addicted or dependent upon marijuana include:

Genetic: Individuals who grow up with parents who are addicted to pot or other substances are more likely than their peers to succumb to addiction later in life.

Brain chemistry: THC binds to specific receptor sites in the brain called cannabinoid receptors(CBRS) which are located in high-density parts of the brain that influence memory, pleasure, thinking, concentration, sensory perception, coordination, and time perception. Individuals who are born lacking in any part of this massive network may attempt to correct the deficiency by smoking weed.

Environmental: Studies suggest that as the potency of THC in pot rises, so does the risk for addiction. Individuals who begin smoking weed during their teen years are more likely to develop a problem with marijuana addiction later in life.

Psychological: Marijuana causes intense paranoia and delusions while the user is stoned which can exacerbate psychotic behaviors. Individuals who smoke pot to cope with undiagnosed or untreated mental illnesses may experience a worsening of symptoms with repeated usage of marijuana.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring disorders and the complexity of marijuana addiction

Many people who struggle with marijuana dependence have co-occurring mental illnesses. These co-occurring disorders may include:

  • Impulse control disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of marijuana addiction

Mood symptoms:

  • Feeling “stoned” or “high”
  • Feelings of surreality
  • Pleasure
  • Sense of well-being
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Slowed speech
  • Intense hunger – “the munchies”
  • Dry mouth – “cotton mouth”
  • Impaired judgment
  • Sleepiness
  • Giggles and laughter
  • Impaired ability to sleep
  • Addiction

Physical symptoms:

  • Red eyes
  • Increased coughing
  • Increase phlegm production
  • Increased respiratory infections
  • Impaired coordination
  • Impaired reaction time
  • Blood vessels in eyes expand
  • Bronchial passages relax and enlarge
  • Tachycardia
  • Hypertension
  • Heart attack

Psychological symptoms:

  • Paranoia
  • Lessened cognitive ability
  • Decreased memory
  • Heightened sensory perception
  • Altered perception of time
  • Inability to form new memories
  • Delusions
  • Loss of sense of personal identity
  • Schizophrenia-like symptoms
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Distrust
  • Fear


Effects of marijuana addiction

  • Impaired memory
  • Impaired cognitive abilities
  • Increased (possible) risks for lung cancer
  • Psychosis
  • Worsens schizophrenia symptoms in individuals with schizophrenia
  • Personality disturbances
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Amotivational syndrome
  • Suicidal ideation


Withdrawal symptoms of marijuana addiction

Addiction to marijuana is associated with marijuana withdrawal syndrome, which is largely similar to that of nicotine withdrawal that tends to peak about one week after the last usage. Withdrawal symptoms of marijuana include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Craving marijuana
  • Aggression
  • Irritability
  • Major depression
  • Suicidal ideation

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– Mason
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  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP)
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  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)