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Is marijuana addictive?
The use of marijuana can become problematic for some people who develop what is known as marijuana use disorder. In extreme cases of marijuana use disorder, it can be classified as an addiction. A recent study has lead some researchers to believe roughly 30% of marijuana users experience symptoms of marijuana use disorder to one degree or another *(1). Marijuana users who start smoking before the age of 18 are about four to seven times more susceptible to developing marijuana use disorder later in life than an adult*(2). Dependence is an indicator that a marijuana user is experiencing marijuana use disorder. Dependence is defined as experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when not taking a controlled substance. Those who smoke marijuana on a regular basis may report such symptoms as irritability, mood swings, sleeping issues, cravings, and other uncomfortable changes* (3,4). These particular symptoms manifest themselves usually within one week of stopping marijuana use with peak intensity being reached at the end of the week and lasting for up to two weeks after that. The way dependence develops in the case of marijuana is when the brain changes its chemistry to adapt to high amounts of marijuana, which alters the sensitivity of certain neurotransmitters, in this case, endocannabinoid transmitters*(5,6). Marijuana use disorder can evolve into an addiction if the user finds themselves needing the drug in order to function in everyday life or the use of the drug is otherwise interfering with their life. An exact tally of how many people are experiencing marijuana use disorder to the degree that they are addicted is unclear at this time. This is partly due to marijuana use being studied from an epidemiological standpoint, it doesn’t necessarily take into account those who are merely experiencing symptoms of marijuana use disorder rather than full-on addiction. Said studies indicate that anywhere from 9% to roughly 17% could become dependent on marijuana*(7,8), one of the biggest contributing factors being the age at which smokers started using*(9,10). In 2015, approximately 4 million people in the United States could be classified as having a marijuana use disorder*(11). Of the 4 million, 138,000 voluntarily sought rehabilitation*(12).
The potency of marijuana has been on the rise for many years, based on samples confiscated by law enforcement*(13). For example, in the 1990s, the average THC content in marijuana was about 3.8%. In 2014, the number spiked to 12.2%. There are extracts currently on the market that boast between 50 to 80% THC. The fact that there is this much potency on the market is a big concern for health officials and law enforcement alike. Having more potent marijuana and marijuana-related products is particularly problematic when it comes to people under the age of 18 because their brains are still in development. Researchers have not yet determined all of the effects and consequences to the body and mind when exposed to high levels of THC. Nor whether increased potencies have a direct cause in marijuana-related medical emergencies, although it would seem logical. On a similar note, it’s not yet clear how the use of marijuana has adjusted according to the rise in potency. Some studies indicate that those who have experience in using marijuana will tend to use less if the product is more potent, or they may attempt to inhale less*.(14,15)
Weed Addiction vs. Dependence
Dependence and addiction are along the same lines when it comes to marijuana use and abuse.
However, there are some differences that distinguish the two. Dependence means that the user is physically reliant on the drug to function in everyday life without problematic symptoms. Addiction is a chronic condition that involves compulsive and intense urges to take the drug despite the fact that the user knows the negative consequences its use causes in their life.
Marijuana use can cause dependence and addiction, but they both don’t happen to every user. A user can be physically dependent on marijuana, but not display compulsive behaviors connected with addiction.
How Marijuana Use Can Cause Addiction
Marijuana use can eventually develop into an addiction in a similar way that other controlled substances do. Marijuana stimulates the brain’s pleasure and reward centers.
When someone smokes pot, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) releases dopamine in the brain which causes euphoria. This can create a pattern of pleasure which is remembered by the brain and can trigger a desire to repeat the activity that gave it pleasure, effectively making the user want more.
The Mayo Clinic released a study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3538401/) that indicates one in ten marijuana users could eventually fall victim to addiction. This number is closer to about six in ten for those who start smoking pot before they reach the age of 18. However, it’s important to note that users who begin smoking after the age of 25 are highly unlikely to develop an addiction to marijuana.
Signs of Weed Addiction
Marijuana addiction certainly doesn’t happen overnight. There are certain signs that develop that can indicate a user may have a problem. Some of the more common symptoms of marijuana addiction include:
– The inability to quit using marijuana when asked to stop.
– Negative effects on relationships and daily lives due to marijuana use.
– The continued use of marijuana despite negative effects on one’s personal life and health.
Those who are addicted to marijuana are usually physically dependent on the drug. Because of this, they can develop a higher tolerance and may need to smoke more marijuana or more potent strains of the drug in order to get the high that they feel they need.
For an addict, the consequences of not consuming marijuana can be unpleasant and uncomfortable with symptoms appearing as part of withdrawal.
Marijuana withdrawal is characterized by a number of symptoms, including lack of appetite, sleep issues, and irritability. Usually, these symptoms start to appear within a few days of not using marijuana and are typically intense for up to two weeks.
As time progresses, the marijuana user could see additional side effects of prolonged use, including respiratory issues and the decline of mental facilities in the form of memory loss. In some cases of chronic marijuana use, the user may be more suspect to certain psychological conditions.
Recovery from addiction is not a one-time process. It’s a lifelong journey for the addict and their loved ones. By knowing and understanding some of the obstacles that are most commonly faced throughout the journey, the support system the recovering addict has built can assist them in living a sober, cleaner life.
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