Is Marijuana Addictive?

Marijuana, also known as weed, pot or bud is a psychoactive drug that comes from the cannabis plant. It is among the most commonly used drugs in the world. When a person smokes or ingests the cannabis plant, a compound known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) passes into the bloodstream and enters the brain, where it acts on cannabinoid receptors.

A close up of marijuana

What are the effects of marijuana?

The effects of marijuana vary widely, ranging from relaxation to paranoia and anxiety. Smoking, vaping or eating marijuana gives the user a feeling of euphoria or a sense of happiness and well-being that most refer to as the “high.” However, marijuana affects people differently, and some people experience negative symptoms after consumption. These effects are usually temporary. Adverse short-term effects include anxiety, memory loss and a distorted sense of time. At high enough doses, hallucinations and severe paranoia and can occur. The effects of cannabis usually last up to three hours when smoked. Edible marijuana takes longer for the body to process, and the effects have a longer duration (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

Is marijuana a gateway drug?

Smoking marijuana doesn’t necessarily lead to other substances, but it is well known that many people who struggle with substance abuse start with marijuana before moving onto other drugs. Using marijuana may spur curiosity and diminish the apprehension of experimenting with more dangerous drugs, as is often the case for those who are predisposed to addiction.

The euphoric “high” diminishes over time as the body adapts and builds tolerance, which could encourage users to experiment with other drugs to reach the same level of euphoria (National Institute on Drug Abuse). An individual’s social environment is the most critical factor when it comes to addiction. Social interactions with people who use drugs increase an individual’s chances of seeking those drugs.

Smoking a marijuana joint

Is marijuana addictive?

Not everyone who smokes marijuana will become an addict, but it is possible to become dependent on the drug, and eventually addicted to the feeling of being high. A study from Drug and Alcohol Dependence reported that 8.9% of cannabis users eventually become dependent. Another study revealed that age is a factor. People who start using marijuana between the ages of 12 to 18 years old are four to seven times more likely to develop cannabis dependence when compared to adult users (Drug and Alcohol Dependence).

Marijuana dependence occurs when an individual experiences withdrawal symptoms if they do not take the drug. Signs of dependence include decreased appetite, irritability, sleep and mood difficulties, restlessness and cravings within the first week of quitting. These symptoms can last for two weeks after the last dose.

Dependence occurs because the brain adapts to large amounts of the drug by reducing the sensitivity of endocannabinoid neurotransmitters. People who are unable to stop using marijuana despite having negative effects are categorized as dependent.

Epidemiological studies concerning substance abuse often use dependence as a proxy for addiction. Marijuana can lead to both dependence and addiction, although these two do not always occur together. For instance, a person may be physically dependent on marijuana without showing the compulsive behaviors of addiction.

Can you get addicted to weed if you only smoke it once?

Marijuana dependence and addiction occur with frequent and repeated use. Addiction is the brain’s way of adapting to actions or decisions that the individual makes. Those thoughts and decisions are then translated into actions and later into habits. It’s not likely that someone will become addicted the first time they use cannabis. However, due to its popularity and availability, forming an addiction to weed can happen quickly. Every person’s brain is different, and some users become addicted faster than others.

Getting addicted depends on an individual’s genetics, environment and many other factors. Those who consume marijuana as directed for medicinal purposes rarely become addicted. On the other hand, first-time recreational users who use to achieve a high are more likely to form a habit and eventually become addicted.

Smoking marijuana can cause lung problems

Are there any side-effects of long-term use?

Long-term marijuana effects include dependence, heart conditions and lung problems associated with smoking. While these symptoms are most common among chronic users, those with pre-existing conditions like asthma can develop negative symptoms quickly. Continued use can alter the chemical balance in the brain, specifically dopamine pathways in the brain that are part of pleasure and reward systems (National Academy of Sciences).

Science has proved that long-term exposure to marijuana can result in adverse changes in brain development. Kids and teens are especially vulnerable to the long-term psychological effects of cannabis. Using marijuana affects the way the brain develops and can have a dramatic impact on learning and memory into adulthood, even if the individual stops using. Marijuana can also worsen the symptoms of mental illnesses, like generalized anxiety disorder and schizophrenia.

An experiment conducted (rats exposed to THC before birth, soon after birth and during adolescence) revealed notable problems with learning and memory tasks later in life. The cognitive impairments in adult rats exposed to THC during adolescence are caused by alterations in the brain’s reward system.

It’s important to note some long-term side effects are often accelerated when marijuana is used together with other substances or drugs. In these cases, it may be challenging to determine exactly which side-effects are caused by marijuana.

How is marijuana addiction treated?

Marijuana use disorder is typically treated with psychotherapeutic techniques, like cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational therapy. These techniques help individuals identify behavior patterns that lead them to relapse and learn to use coping mechanisms to change these behaviors.

Some professionals are looking to medication-assisted treatment as a means of treating cannabis use disorder. So far, no medications have been approved for marijuana addiction. However, recent developments in opioid addiction medicine have saved countless lives. With continued research, medication could play a role in future treatment (Pharmacotherapy). If you want more information about how to get help for marijuana use disorder, call our helpline at [AMB_MAIN_PHONE].

A pipe used to smoke marijuana

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