In the United States, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance. Use of the drug is widespread among young people, and research finds the earlier a person uses marijuana, the more likely they are to develop dependence and become addicted. Addiction to marijuana is possible when a person struggles to stop using it, even though it causes problems in his or her life.

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana is the dried flower, stems or leaves from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plants. Both plants contain the powerful, mind-bending chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Because of the psychoactive and euphoric effects of marijuana use, it has the potential for abuse and addiction.

While marijuana has proven useful for treating medical symptoms like pain, inflammation, muscle control and more, it’s still considered an illegal controlled substance on a federal level. But, as more medical and recreational marijuana shops open across the country, more people will have access to a variety of forms and potencies of marijuana.

People use marijuana in the following ways:

  • eating “edibles,” like brownies, gummies, cookies or candy
  • eating or smoking marijuana extracts, or potent THC-rich resins (hash oil, honey oil, wax or shatter)
  • orally ingesting cannabis capsules
  • smoking the dried flower in pipes, bongs or rolling papers
  • sublingual (under the tongue) THC tinctures, or adding it to food or drink

More research is needed to determine the exact consequences of long-term marijuana use. However, prolonged use can lead to negative effects, especially if regular use started at a young age.

Teen Marijuana Abuse

Many teenagers believe marijuana is harmless because it’s “natural.” Yet this thinking is clearly misinformed because other harmful, illicit substances come from natural plant sources, like cocaine and heroin. Still, over 70 percent of high school students view smoking marijuana as harmless.

Teen marijuana use rates in the United States from 2017 include:

  • for high school seniors, 45 percent have used marijuana
  • just under six percent of high school seniors reported daily marijuana use
  • over 13 percent of 8th graders reported using marijuana at least once
  • over 37 percent of seniors used marijuana in the past year
  • twenty-two percent of seniors used marijuana in the past month

If a person smokes marijuana as a teen, it can lead to problems with learning, concentrating and studying. Furthermore, teen brains are still developing, and smoking marijuana can stunt development, lower IQ, decrease motivation and prevent a person from reaching their full potential.

Health Risks Of Marijuana Abuse

When people use marijuana at a young age, they may unknowingly subject themselves to several hidden health risks. The potentially harmful physical effects of marijuana use can include:

  • increased heart rate
  • increased risk of developing mental illness
  • problems with child development during and after pregnancy
  • respiratory (lung and breathing) problems

Regular use of marijuana can lead to a rare condition called Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome. This syndrome causes repeated incidents of intense nausea, vomiting, and dehydration. In severe cases, this can lead to hospitalization.

Marijuana also impairs a number of skills involved with driving, like alertness, coordination, concentration and reaction time. Distances and sounds may be misjudged when someone is high on marijuana, increasing the risk of injury to themselves or others.

Signs And Symptoms Of Marijuana Abuse

After smoking marijuana, THC quickly passes through the bloodstream and into the brain, producing an intense, psycho-active high. Marijuana that is eaten is ingested slowly through the body and takes longer to kick in, around 30 minutes to an hour, with effects lasting for several hours.

Marijuana stimulates areas of the brain that influence memory, sensory and time perception, coordinated movement, thinking, and pleasure. The drug stimulates the brain’s reward center by releasing a chemical called dopamine. This surge of dopamine is what creates the “high.”

The effects of marijuana can cause a person to show the following signs and symptoms of abuse:

  • difficulty thinking and problem-solving
  • impaired body movement
  • increased appetite
  • mood changes
  • memory problems
  • paranoia
  • red or glossy eyes
  • trouble speaking or communicating

Marijuana use becomes a problem when a person makes using it their top priority. They may neglect responsibilities at home, work or school in favor of using or obtaining marijuana. They may come home smelling like marijuana smoke, take too long to respond to text messages or phone calls, own various marijuana paraphernalia and appear absent-minded or distant when around family and friends.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

One in 11 people who use marijuana develop an addiction. Data suggests that 30 percent of people using marijuana suffer from what’s called a marijuana use disorder. In 2015, around four million people met the criteria for a marijuana use disorder, which becomes an addiction when using drug interferes with daily living.

Those who use marijuana before the age of 18 are likely to develop a dependence on marijuana, which can lead to addiction. Dependence means a person will experience withdrawal symptoms when they are not smoking or ingesting marijuana.

Symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include:

  • anxiety
  • decreased appetite
  • intense drug cravings
  • irritability
  • mood and sleep difficulties
  • physical discomfort
  • restlessness

Withdrawal symptoms can last for several days or weeks after the last use. Relapse is common during the weeks after stopping, as people are likely to succumb to marijuana cravings in order to reduce any unpleasant symptoms. Although marijuana withdrawal symptoms are mild compared to other drugs, treating marijuana dependence and addiction can prevent further use and work to change addictive behaviors.

Treatment Options For Marijuana Addiction

Behavioral therapy is the most common form of addiction treatment and works to change a person’s thinking and attitudes towards drugs. Effective behavioral therapy for treating a marijuana use disorder includes motivational interviewing, which motivates people to change behaviors and rewards them for stopping use.

If abuse is severe or puts the person or others at harm when they use or obtain marijuana, treatment at an inpatient rehab center may be best. As an alternative to inpatient care, a person can travel daily or weekly to receive outpatient treatment. All inpatient treatment plans are tailored to the specific needs of each individual, so weighing inpatient vs. outpatient treatment should be based on their unique situation and struggle with marijuana.

Contact us today for more information on treating marijuana abuse and addiction.