Understand Marijuana Addiction – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Marijuana is one of the most commonly used psychoactive drugs, and the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada and some U.S. states have created controversy around the issue. There is still much debate about the long-term health effects of marijuana use.

With the recent legalization of marijuana in many states and countries, marijuana use has been a hot topic of discussion and debate. General contention is focused around: 

  • Who should or shouldn’t have access to the drug?
  • How much is too much? 
  • What is an acceptable recreational amount? 
  • Should it be legal or illegal, and for whom?
  • Does it create benefit or detriment for the user?

 

While the evidence on the subject seems murky and grey, it is clear that many people do suffer from the consequences of marijuana addiction. 

Although marijuana is not nearly as addictive as some narcotics or opioids, and despite the increase in legalization, marijuana remains federally classified as a Schedule I drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Unlike other Schedule I drugs like methamphetamines or heroin, marijuana addiction is a much more complicated subject with contradicting positions and evidence. There is a lot of research still to be clarified as we begin to expand the social acceptability of cannabis use. 

This blog will provide some insight into the possible causes of marijuana addiction, why it’s controversial, how marijuana addiction can develop, who is most at-risk, and how they can seek treatment.

It is important to remember that if you or someone you love is either affected by or at risk of marijuana addiction, reading through the information and resources provided here can help.

Definition Of Substance Addiction

Substance addiction is a disease that affects a person’s brain, cognition, and behaviour, leading to the inability to control normal function without drug use or stay away from the substance.

Marijuana is challenging to place in the category of addictive substances because, unlike methamphetamine or heroin, it’s not a chemically addictive substance. 

According to the American Addiction Centers, it would take estimated ingestion of 19 pounds of marijuana in 15 minutes to overdose from the drug. However, psychological issues and cognitive impairment brought on by excessive marijuana consumption can increase death by other causes like car accidents or reckless behaviour. 

Marijuana addiction is different from other addictive habits. When compared with hard drugs that are highly addictive and injectable like heroin or methamphetamine, marijuana is considered a soft drug or relatively harmless, depending on the frequency of use. It is unlikely that first-time users will experience sensations of withdrawal.

Marijuana is a psychoactive drug that alters the user’s perceptions of reality. When smoking or ingesting marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) attaches to cannabinoid receptors, causing the user to experience temporary changes in: 

  • Mood
  • Memory
  • Food cravings
  • Movement
  • Coordination
  • sensory perception
  • Pleasure
  • Time perception
  • Concentration

 

What is more common in cannabis users is an addiction to the sensations, feelings, or behaviours associated with the drug rather than the drug itself. 

People can become addicted to marijuana because the weed they use can be laced with LSD, cocaine, or heroin or mix their marijuana with addictive substances like tobacco. 

Alternatively, if the marijuana contains any fungus or bacteria from contaminated growing conditions, this can also affect how an individual reacts to consuming the drug. 

There is a lot of contradictory information about cannabis use, and people are continually receiving conflicting messages about whether marijuana is beneficial or harmful. 

One of the main issues with marijuana as a substance is its potency and diversity. Unlike synthetic drugs, the strength of the marijuana plant depends on the strain of the individual plant and can vary from as little as 3% THC to 30+% THC, leaving much room for variation in effects. 

Additionally, there has been a recent increase in chemical cannabis extracts like shatter, wax, or vape pods, which produce higher THC concentrations ranging from about 60% to 80%. 

Individual effects of consuming marijuana will depend mainly on factors like:

  • How much marijuana is consumed
  • The frequency with which marijuana is consumed
  • How it is ingested (smoking, eating, topically, etc.)
  • How potent the THC content is
  • Ingesting plant matter versus chemically concentrated substances
  • Whether or not the marijuana is synthesized or laced with other more addictive drugs
  • Whether you have preexisting medical or psychiatric conditions

 

What we do know is that the following three groups of people are most at risk when it comes to cannabis consumption:

  • People under the age of 25 whose brains are still developing
  • People with preexisting conditions (either diagnosed or undiagnosed)
  • People with anxiety

 

What is clear is that certain biological, social, psychological, and economic factors can determine how marijuana will affect an individual and cause them to develop an addiction.

In cases of marijuana addiction, the danger is not that they will overdose, but that they will experience issues like :

  • Develop/unlock/exacerbate a psychiatric condition like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia
  • Alienate themselves from their friends, families, career, or hobbies
  • Develop depression or anxiety
  • Inhibit themselves intellectually in the case of adolescent/teenage use
  • Be incarcerated (if illegal)
  • Use marijuana as a gateway drug to more severe substances  

Causes of Marijuana Addiction

Psychological Trauma or Abuse

An individual who has been the victim of psychological trauma or abuse is 44.8% more likely to turn to a lifetime dependency on marijuana.

Potential scenarios include: 

  • Being peer pressured by friends to use marijuana to excess, resulting in the individual wanting to smoke to feel like they are part of the group or to ”fit in”.
  • Feeling pressured by a partner or spouse to use marijuana to excess
  • An abuse or trauma victim turning to marijuana to feel numb or to disassociate 

In marijuana, it is often the drug of choice for victims of trauma or abuse because of the endorphin release and sense of euphoria felt upon consumption.

Consumption is hazardous because marijuana is a cumulative drug. Addicts will initially seek help from the drug to ease with sensations of stress, and over time find themselves needing to consume more cannabis at a higher concentration or frequency to achieve the same high.

It is important to remember that marijuana use is not a healthy alternative to seeking therapy.

Mental Illness

There is a lot of contradictory information out there about the relationship between marijuana and mental illness.

  • People who experience mental illness, such as depression and anxiety, often claim that marijuana helps them.
  • People who use marijuana to excess can exacerbate preexisting mental illness.

 

Cannabis can affect everyone differently. Cannabis use can either ease or worsen anxiety or depression symptoms depending on the individual and the amount consumed. 

While some research shows higher levels of depression and anxiety in people who regularly or heavily use cannabis, the implications are complex. In many cases, it’s likely that environmental, social, or genetic factors that would trigger depression or anxiety also lead to initial marijuana use. Marijuana use allows those with depression or anxiety to separate from these sensations temporarily. 

People who heavily ingest cannabis or have cannabis addiction might experience a similar sensation to depression or anxiety due to a dulling of normal feelings and emotions. The drug reacts with the brain’s chemical composition and the eventual inability to feel calm or relaxed without using the drug. 

What does seem to be the case is that cannabis addiction can exacerbate mental health issues or preexisting psychological concerns.  

What is important to remember is that marijuana affects everyone differently. When it comes to mental illness, people need to reach out to loved ones/mentors/therapy first and not use marijuana as a substitute for therapeutic services.

Low Self-Esteem

One of the associated problems with cannabis use is experiencing sensations of low self-esteem. 

Low self-esteem is commonly associated with cannabis consumption; however, it helps look at the whole picture when it comes to individual responses. 

Let’sLet’s say the potential marijuana addict is an adolescent, already experiencing extreme mood shifts due to puberty and the daily stressors of high school peer pressure. They may experience preexisting sensations of low self-esteem.

Consuming or relying on cannabis to ease sensations of low self-esteem can lead to marijuana addiction and dependency. 

Eventually, their brain no longer knows how to regulate naturally without the psychological effects of marijuana altering the brain’s chemistry. 

The adolescent can no longer differentiate between individual low self-esteem or low self-esteem brought about by excessive cannabis use. Cannabis use can be complicated in adolescents as it disrupts typical brain maturation.

As tolerance builds and neurotransmitter pathways become blocked by heavy use of cannabis, the brain becomes reliant on the consumption of cannabis to regulate mood and ease sensations of anxiety or panic, which initiate feelings of low self-esteem. 

Tolerance and heavy cannabis use can drastically affect people under 25 whose brains are still developing.

It is unknown if the adverse effects on the brain’s function can be reversed. While marijuana addicts may believe themselves easing the symptoms, they might be making the cognitive impairments worse. 

What can eventually happen is that pathways become so blocked, and tolerance can get so high that the cannabis addict relies on the drug to attain a false or manufactured sense of confidence and ease and is unable to achieve those sensations without using the drug.

Poverty

Many people with precarious work situations turn to cannabis as a coping mechanism. If job security is unstable, it can create more stress, leading to an increased desire to consume cannabis to experience relaxation or euphoria sensations or escape reality in some way.

While marijuana use can initially ease some of this stress, persistent use can create individual difficulties in work performance and eventually lead to job loss.  

These stressors become more complicated by the ways society stigmatizes people of colour and families or individuals at or below the poverty line.  

According to a recent report, poverty rates remain disproportionately high in the Black and Hispanic communities:

Race Under 18 18-64 65+
White 8.9% 8.1% 7.3%
Asian 11.3% 9.4% 11.7%
Hispanic 23.7% 14.2% 19.5%
Black 29.5% 17.5% 18.9%

 

Poverty and drug use statistics are a tricky subject, inexplicably tied to race relations in the U.S. and other colonized or formerly colonized countries like Canada, New Zealand, Australia, or India. 

Black people are 3.64% more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in America than white people, which creates a negative cycle in which black individuals experience nearly four times as much social and disciplinary pressure for cannabis use as their white counterparts.  

Regardless of stigma, legalization, or public opinion, people of colour and people from impoverished communities are still incarcerated or incriminated disproportionately worldwide for marijuana possession or use. 

Relationship Problems

When it comes to marijuana use in relationships, the positive and negative implications are just as complex, if not more so. 

For example, when a couple is experiencing communication difficulties, what would happen if those individuals turned to cannabis consumption to escape their problems rather than communicate them?

Over time, the couple understands that, while consuming cannabis might be something they do together, it inhibits vulnerability and their ability to work through their problems in a healthy way either together or with a therapist’s help. 

They might get home from work, smoke together, then eat in front of the T.V. before going to bed. In this case, marijuana addiction is preventing the couple from communicating. 

Couples might turn to cannabis use can elevate mood, create a sense of euphoria, or experience improvements in sexual experiences, such as:

  • Elevated mood
  • Increased sexual desire
  • Increased arousal 

 

However, couples may end up further complicating and worsening their relationship troubles through persistent cannabis use. Men who are dependent or addicted to marijuana use and require daily usage may experience erectile dysfunction or difficulty achieving orgasm

For the most part, this seems to be related to psychological issues with the continuous use of cannabis or cannabis addiction. 

By turning to cannabis to alleviate psychological or emotional issues, couples cover and ignore problems with a temporary high. 

Loss

The loss of a loved one, a baby, or a family member can be sudden, premature, or else it’s a long, exhausting development, as is the case with some cancers or other medical conditions. 

Grief is a painful feeling, and it often takes a long time to go through that journey. Many people who are struggling with grief turn to marijuana because of its numbing properties.

According to the Kübler-Ross grief cycle, the individual should go through 5 stages of grief:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Bargaining
  • Acceptance

 

There are, of course, variations to this cycle; there is no exact way to grief.

By turning to cannabis consumption, people struggling to cope with grief can numb themselves and manage uncomfortable emotions, thoughts, memories, or situations easier. 

However, by consuming marijuana to avoid negative feelings, they may end up becoming addicted to cannabis. Using cannabis as a means of avoidance can cause people experiencing grief can get stuck, blocking themselves from going through all the stages of the grief process. Without reaching the acceptance stage, true healing cannot happen.

Stress

Stress is a natural part of everyday life, no matter your age. Daily life pulls people in so many directions at once that it’s no wonder we feel stressed or off balance.  

Whether it’s stress related to hormones, school, peer pressure, work, home life, etc., sensations of anxiety trigger the body’s instinct to defend itself and one of the ways the body naturally communicates.

Stress may cause people to feel heightened sensations of anxiety, worry, fear, or tension. Learning to recognize these sensations and naturally appease them is critical. 

The four major types of stress are:

  • Situational stress
  • Time stress
  • Anticipatory stress
  • Encounter stress

 

Recognizing how each of these types of stress manifests in your body and seeing or feeling the warning signs can be the first step in naturally managing stress. Supporting your body to handle stress naturally through exercise, healthy eating, meditation, or getting better sleep can decrease negative sensations associated with stress.

However, a 2020 report indicated that 41% of American cannabis consumers use the drug before, during, or after social interaction. This statistic suggests that nearly half of cannabis consumers turn to the drug for stress-related causes.

Turning to marijuana to alleviate stress symptoms can be a slippery slope, and many people become addicted to the way THC chemically alters the brain’s response to stress. 

Additionally, ingesting too much of the drug can increase anxiety and stress. People dependent or addicted to cannabis feel worse symptoms than healing or alleviating themselves from pressure.

Chronic Pain or Medical Conditions

Part of the complication in the debate on marijuana addiction is the sufficient frequency with which cannabis is proscribed for its potential medical benefits. Cannabis can aid with how the body reacts to chemotherapy’s effects, and it can help alleviate symptoms of other chronic diseases like epilepsy. 

The effects of cannabis can vary significantly depending on both dosage and how the cannabis reacts with individual body composition. 

In a 2016 study, researchers found that U.S. states selling legal medical-use cannabis are seeing declining numbers in the yearly doses of prescribed painkillers and other medication:

Pain 1,826 fewer doses
Anxiety 562 fewer doses
Nausea 541 fewer doses
Psychosis 519 fewer doses
Seizures 486 fewer doses
Sleeping disorders 362 fewer doses
Depression 265 fewer doses

 

The most notable difference between medical and recreational cannabis use is that the physician examines the patient, considering any substance abuse history. 

Patients are closely monitored and must undergo counselling before receiving a medical marijuana card. A medical marijuana card is also only valid for one year, which requires patients to make annual check-ins with their doctor to examine the effectiveness of medical marijuana use. 

Additionally, patients must attend routine check-ups throughout the year, where doctors track any potentially harmful effects of cannabis consumption, leading to a much healthier and conscious relationship between the patient and cannabis ingestion.

Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Addiction

Signs and symptoms of cannabis addiction and dependency occur when an individual cannot feel normal sensations of comfort and ease without consuming the drug. The user will feel feelings of craving or anxiety when cannabis is not available. 

What is often difficult to decipher is the level to which mental health issues or sensations of stress, depression, or anxiety were present in the individual before any cannabis consumption and the level to which mental health issues were either eased exasperated by cannabis use. 

Symptoms and effects of cannabis use on the body:

Physical: 

  • Increase in appetite
  • Reduced nausea
  • Pain relief
  • Red eyes
  • Bronchial cough
  • Distorts time

 

Psychological: 

  • Increased sense of euphoria
  • Increased dopamine release
  • Memory problems
  • Heightened senses
  • Lower inhibitions
  • Impaired judgement

 

Emotional: 

  • Increased or decreased anxiety (depending on the individual)
  • Increased or decreased depression (depending on the individual)

Many effects of cannabis use seem to contradict each other, as they depend primarily on the individual user’s physical, emotional, and psychological make-up and the amount and regularity with which they consume cannabis. 

Smoking or ingesting marijuana can cause dependency responses and addictive behaviours, and depending on the individual, dependencies can lead to exploring harder drugs.

As marijuana consumption increases over time, the user’s brain becomes flooded with dopamine responses associated with the drug’s consumption. The substance becomes associated with dopamine and endorphin production, creating a psychological marijuana addiction.

Any drug that can lower inhibition and promote reckless behaviour demands a deliberate look into individual psychological factors that could lead to cannabis addiction.

Marijuana Addiction Treatment Options

Marijuana is the most used illicit drug, with nearly 200 million people using the drug globally. As these numbers increase each year, it is essential to monitor consumption and understand cannabis addiction and dependency warning signs.

Intervention can be a constructive step in getting yourself or your loved one the help they need and is worth considering when a person cannot stop their addiction or needs a substance to help them get through their day. 

Andy Bhatti and the intervention and addiction services teamwork to provide holistic care for all patients and their families, tailoring an intervention treatment plan to the individual and family’s specific needs and examining environmental and psychological factors that could contribute to the initial use of the drug.  

With treatment centers across the US, Canada, and Asia, Andy and his team of interventionists work diligently to find treatment centers, relieving much of the stress and pressure families feel in the complicated process of finding the right treatment center for their loved ones.

Andy has a lot of experience working with adolescents in crisis. Before becoming an interventionist, Andy was a high-risk foster parent in the Vancouver area and is familiar with the importance of building addiction treatment programs and helping teens create healthy habits.

Counselling can be a crucial step in addiction recovery. Counselling can teach individuals with cannabis addiction to communicate their feelings, triggers or understand their symptoms better rather than turning to the drug to numb these sensations. 

Andy creates regular one-to-one counselling sessions, provides individual support, couple support, and family intervention services, and includes emergency counselling and support for those in crisis.  

Conclusion

If someone you love is suffering from cannabis addiction, Andy can help get them the support they need in getting back on a healthy, happy, and sustainable path.

Reach out to our team today for more information about support and treatment for marijuana addiction.

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