Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana comes from a flower of the cannabis plant family that contains tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. This is one of the natural compounds in marijuana that has psychoactive effects when it is consumed. Marijuana contains many other compounds, some of which have been studied for their therapeutic effects. Many people who self-medicate with the drug believe that there is no such thing as marijuana addiction. However, research suggests that you can get addicted to marijuana, and abusing this substance can produce negative effects.

How Does Marijuana Addiction Affect the Brain and Body?

Many of the compounds in marijuana bond to receptors in your endocannabinoid system. This is a network that helps the body stay balanced. Your endocannabinoid system plays a role in regulating immunity, hormones, stress responses, inflammation and energy homeostasis. This network helps to manage other systems in the body, responding to feedback by up-regulating or down-regulating certain chemicals.

Your body produces natural chemicals that interact with the endocannabinoid system. In the absence of THC, these neurotransmitters and receptors work together to manage your health.

When you introduce THC into your system by inhaling, eating or drinking it, the drug activates the CB1 receptors in different parts of the body with distinct outcomes. Marijuana also contains hundreds of other compounds that affect the body. It has been used to reduce anxiety, seizures and pain.

However, the discovery of the endocannabinoid system is relatively new. Much of the way that marijuana affects the human brain is still unclear. In many cases, consuming THC can have negative consequences.

What Is Marijuana Addiction?

Marijuana addiction is referred to as marijuana use disorder. “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” lists the diagnosis as cannabis use disorder. This disorder affects about 30% of people who use this drug.

In regards to the endocannabinoid system, marijuana limits your body’s natural ability to regulate itself using its communication loop. If you take in large quantities of the substance, your body adapts by reducing its production of natural endocannabinoids. It also becomes less sensitive to the neurotransmitters that interact with the endocannabinoid system.

This generates dependence on the drug. You may not feel quite right unless you’re under the influence of marijuana because your body isn’t providing natural stress and pain relief. Instead of relying on your endocannabinoid system to maintain homeostasis, you must introduce the substance repeatedly to feel normal.

The drug also produces a euphoric buzz that influences your reward pathways. Marijuana stimulates dopamine signaling in the brain, which makes you feel good.

But the increased dopamine levels have been implicated in addiction. Dopamine is a precursor to certain behaviors. It can signal that your body is looking for a reward. If you have been using marijuana as that reward, you may develop cravings for the drug.

Furthermore, people who are physically dependent on marijuana experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the drug. These withdrawal symptoms may come on more slowly than with other drugs, especially if you consumed the drug as an edible. THC is stored in your fat cells and released over time, which gives it a long half-life.

Signs That You May Be Addicted to Marijuana

The DSM-5 lays out the criteria for marijuana use disorder. Someone with this problem has used cannabis for at least one year and has experienced substantial distress and impairment from at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty controlling your intake, such as using more than you intended to
  • Having trouble quitting even though you want to
  • Spending significant amounts of time seeking, using or recovering from the drug
  • Cravings or a preoccupation with using marijuana
  • Continuing to use the substance even if it causes negative consequences
  • Failing to meet routine obligations because of your use
  • Using marijuana in a potentially unsafe context
  • Using the drug even though it is causing psychological or physical problems
  • Needing to increase your dose to achieve a high
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the drug

You have a mild version of the disorder if you have two or three symptoms. Four or five symptoms indicate that you have a moderate version of the disorder. Your marijuana use disorder is severe if you have six or more symptoms.

You may have a marijuana addiction if you experience the signs above but can’t stop using the drug. Even if you’re not physically dependent on it, you might be psychologically addicted. Psychological marijuana addiction is a conditioned mental dependence. For example, if you smoke before you go to bed every night, you might believe that you can’t sleep without the drug. You may not have withdrawal symptoms when you stop using it, but your cravings may be intense.

Other Negative Effects of Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana abuse over-excites the endocannabinoid system. Along with a high, it can cause issues such as the following:

  • Changes in perception
  • Mood shifts
  • Trouble with memory and executive function
  • Increased appetite

One acute high isn’t likely to damage your health much. But frequent, heavy or prolonged use usually accompanies marijuana addiction and can result in the following negative effects:

  • Lethargy – Some strains of the herb make you sleepy and so relaxed that you don’t want to move. Marijuana addiction can reduce your motivation. It can make you feel fatigued, and the lowered inhibitions make you care less than you normally would about your lack of productivity.
  • Impaired memory – Using this drug regularly for a long time could diminish your ability to recall words. Studies show that heavy use in the past can affect your verbal memory later in life. Marijuana temporarily restricts the capacity to learn new things or create memories, both of which are part of your short-term memory. It is especially problematic for people who start using marijuana at an early age.
  • Smoking can cause lung damage – Pot smoke contains high levels of ammonia and other toxic substances, which can damage the lungs. Regular users may develop a persistent cough.
  • Increased risk of disease – THC causes inflammation in vascular cells and increases the risk of heart attack, cardiovascular disease and stroke. People who smoke marijuana frequently are more likely than others to have a heart attack before age 50, which raises your chances of having another one or other types of cardiovascular issues.

Many people hesitate to seek marijuana addiction treatment. The drug is socially acceptable in many locations. You may not realize that you can become addicted. But if you’re experiencing symptoms of marijuana addiction, please reach out to learn about therapeutic methods for breaking the cycle.