Marijuana Addiction: Signs, Side Effects, and Treatment

By The Fix staff 01/21/15

Marijuana Addiction: Signs, Side Effects, and Treatment

Marijuana Addiction

Recent laws, allowing medicinal marijuana use, have caused an assumption that marijuana has no negative health effects and is not addictive. However, especially when used frequently at a young age, marijuana dependency and addiction can occur. Marijuana use is on the rise, especially among younger people, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Whether it is smoked in a joint, bong, or blunt or mixed in food or drinks, marijuana use can seriously affect the physical and mental health of users, particularly when marijuana use is started before the age of 13.

Marijuana addiction side effects

The NIDA points out that marijuana use introduces THC into a user’s bloodstream, carrying it to the brain and other organs. As a result, the brain’s endocannabinoid system becomes hyper-stimulated, resulting in a “high.” Signs of marijuana addiction or general use may include changes in thought patterns or emotional state, hindered movement, and impaired cognitive ability. In frequent users younger than 13, the effects of the substance on brain development can be permanent.

After studying the effects of marijuana on young users, the California Society of Addiction Medicine (CSAM)’s points out that children can, indeed, suffer from stronger and more accelerated addictions than older users.

Though several states are taking steps toward legalizing medical marijuana and decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of the drug, the risk for children remains high. CSAM stresses that marijuana use in children and adolescents can greatly hinder brain development and frequently results in educational under-achievement. They further note that, since the brain continues to undergo important development until the age of 25, children and adolescents are at far greater risk of becoming dependent on marijuana. Dependence occurs far more quickly in younger users and can even result in  structural changes within a user’s brain.

According to MedlinePlus, a division of the National Institutes of Health, side effects of marijuana addiction can include:

  • Panic or anxiety
  • Excessive fear or paranoia
  • Firmly held false beliefs or delusions
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there or hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Problems with concentration, issues with completing tasks
  • Violence, which may be related to marijuana that is laced with PCP
  • Increased heart rate or blood pressure
  • Possibly weakening of the immune system
  • Irritation of the airways causing narrowing or spasms
  • Asthma, sinusitis, or other serious respiratory infections in heavy users
  • Decreased ability to perform tasks that require coordination

The side effects of heavy or frequent marijuana use are of considerable concern, especially in young marijuana users. The NIDA says that regular marijuana users can have learning difficulties, attention and memory issues, and decreased motivation and may even have an IQ loss of up to 8 points.

Signs of Marijuana Addiction

The NIDA argues that, despite popular beliefs to the contrary, marijuana can be addictive. Age and frequency of use both contribute to an increased likelihood of marijuana addiction, as does the potency of the drug. PBS Newshour points out that marijuana is more than three times stronger than it was in the Baby Boomer days.

When a younger person becomes addicted, signs of marijuana addiction include increased problems with concentration and learning difficulties in school, resulting from a difficulty in retaining information. A young marijuana addict may display significantly increased tardiness and absence from school, difficulty with peer relationships, and problems in familial relationships. One important danger to teens addicted to marijuana is the fact that many do not see marijuana as a serious problem. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that 6.5% of 12th graders reported daily or near-daily marijuana use, and 60% of these students felt that marijuana was not harmful.

Marijuana addicts may engage in risky behaviors and may be encouraged to use other drugs, in addition to marijuana. The user may experience less satisfaction with life than non-users, which can lead to suicidal thoughts. Adults may experience less career success and have more accidents on the job than employees who are not addicted to marijuana. Critical thinking and memory function deficits can persist for several days after using marijuana, which may at least partially explain why some marijuana addicts exhibit deficits in these areas even on days they have not used marijuana.

Chronic marijuana users face the risk of suffering from temporary as well as permanent mental health disorders. Experiencing a temporary psychotic episode is just one example of a possible mental health reaction, which can progress to the development of psychosis, later on in life. For those already suffering from mental illness, marijuana addiction can potentially worsen the symptoms of a pre-existing mental health disorder.

Marijuana Addiction Withdrawal

Ceasing the use of marijuana may cause several unpleasant symptoms, including agitation, irritability, insomnia or other sleep disorders, decreased appetite, intense craving for marijuana, physical aches and pains, and depression or anxiety. One NIDA report demonstrates the existence of withdrawal symptoms when long-term users quit marijuana: lab studies have shown that both animal and human subjects experience multiple symptoms when marijuana use is stopped. The longer the person has used the drug and the heavier the marijuana use often leads to an increased likelihood of experiencing withdrawal symptoms when compared to former users or those who used less frequently. Aggression, in particular, is one withdrawal symptom that heavier marijuana users may experience during withdrawal. While marijuana withdrawal symptoms are not considered as severe as those from some other drugs, many heavy users report that they continued marijuana use to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Marijuana Addiction Detox

Detox from marijuana is not the same as treatment for marijuana addiction. Medical detox from marijuana is conducted in a safe medical environment and, according to NIDA, attempts to manage physiological and psychological symptoms associated with marijuana addiction withdrawal. USA Today adds that, when marijuana addicts first start trying to get off marijuana, they can get quite sick. It is this initial acute stage of symptoms that is dealt with in detox.

Detox is just the first step in the process for dealing with addiction to marijuana and should not be confused with treatment for marijuana addiction, which is a longer-term program. Once the marijuana addict is successfully through the detox process, he or she is ready to start a treatment program for marijuana addiction.

Marijuana Addiction Rehab

Marijuana addiction rehab helps users become drug-free by introducing new coping skills, along with behavioral treatments. A successful rehabilitation program is comprehensive and will address all aspects of marijuana addiction, including physical, mental, communal, cultural, or legal issues.. As stressed by the NIDA, no single treatment plan works for every addict. Treatment plans are individualized, addressing the needs of each patient on a case-by-case basis. A variety of rewards-based approaches and individual, group, and family counseling sessions may be utilized along with other treatments.

When entering a marijuana rehab program, an addict must not assume that he or she will be in that program for a set period of time, whether this be 28, 60, or 90 days. Successful completion of a rehab treatment program occurs when the patient and his or her medical professional feels that the addiction has been curbed. If an addict enters rehab of their own volition they can choose whether an outpatient or inpatient program is right for them. If, however, an individual is court-ordered into rehab, or by order of a parole or probation officer, the person does not get to choose whether rehab is outpatient or inpatient.

Regardless of the type or length of a program, professionals who are expertly trained and qualified to work in addiction rehab can help a marijuana addict through the treatment process and on the way to a productive life without marijuana.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix