Despite being federally illegal, marijuana is rapidly gaining acceptance for medicinal and recreational use. Cannabis taboos are fading in many places. Public perception is shifting as more states legalize its use and dispensaries increase accessibility. Millions of Americans in the United States use cannabis. In fact, in 2020, nearly 18 percent of those surveyed aged 12 and over said they had used cannabis in the previous year, making it the country’s most commonly used illicit drug. Usage is highest among young adults aged 18 to 25, accounting for nearly 35% of all users.
Unfortunately, marijuana is not without its risks. According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 14 million individuals have a marijuana use disorder. So, how can you tell if you have a marijuana dependency? When should you ask for help?
Marijuana: A Brief Introduction
Marijuana is made from the cannabis sativa plant. The drug is made up of the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds of the plant, which are green, brown, or gray in color. THC is the psychoactive chemical found in cannabis plants, also known as delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol. The drug is known by various street names. Depending on where you live, it may be referred to as skunk, hashish, hash, grass, pot, weed, ganja, refer, grass, or Mary Jane.
Marijuana is sought after for its psychoactive properties. It alters the user’s perception, resulting in feelings of happiness, decreased anxiety, and even mild hallucinations. Cannabis users may also experience increased appetite, colloquially known as “the munchies.” Marijuana is available in three varieties: marijuana bud, marijuana resin, and concentrated oil, the most potent form.
Marijuana is most commonly smoked with a joint or a blunt, which is marijuana mixed with tobacco. Unfortunately, this is also the most carcinogenic method due to the tar produced by tobacco smoke. Those who consume marijuana-infused food products, or “edibles,” digest cannabis through the stomach, which is then metabolized in the liver.
Some people prefer to vaporize marijuana. A vaporizer or “vape” is used to inhale cannabis into the lungs. Medical marijuana users often prefer this method because of the smaller amount of cancer-causing byproducts like tar, ammonia, and free radicals. However, vaporizing is more potent than smoking because it prevents cannabinoids from being destroyed during combustion.
How Marijuana Affects Your Brain And Body
Frustratingly, there is still a lot about cannabis use that we don’t know. Researchers who want to learn more about the risks and potential medical benefits of cannabis have been stymied due to marijuana’s status as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has committed to prioritizing access to marijuana for research purposes, but it will take time before the government approves research.
More research is needed to determine the long-term effects of THC before we can truly understand its impact on health. Even though there is still much to learn, we do know that when a person smokes marijuana, the THC chemical quickly enters the bloodstream and then the brain. THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the immune system, central nervous system, and brain. This is what produces the desired euphoric high. THC’s interaction with cannabinoid receptors results in a flood of dopamine, but it also inhibits neurons in the prefrontal cortex, causing feelings of drowsiness.
Researchers also understand some of the negative consequences of marijuana use. In the short term, smoking or ingesting cannabis can impair memory and make problem-solving more difficult. It can lower your blood pressure while increasing your heart rate. It can impact memory, learning, and thinking in the long term, especially in users who started using marijuana at a young age. Marijuana can lead to hallucinations and even psychosis. Regular cannabis users are at risk of developing Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, which causes severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.
Reduced sperm count and motility, impaired motor skills, and dry mouth (“cotton mouth”) and throat are possible side effects. Despite conflicting findings, some researchers believe marijuana can increase adolescent anxiety and depression.
The same way you develop a tolerance to other drugs, you can also develop a tolerance to marijuana. The brain adapts to THC, and more is needed to produce the same feelings of pleasure over time. Tolerance can cause mood changes, depression, paranoia, or psychosis.
The Tell-Tale Signs of Marijuana Addiction
How do we know when marijuana use gets to the point of being a problem? Many people brush off recreational marijuana use, giving it the reputation of an innocuous drug. While it is true that marijuana isn’t included in lists of “hard” drugs like heroin and crack cocaine, it is possible to overdose on excessive amounts of cannabis and require hospital intervention. Luckily, there are some tell-tale signs of marijuana addiction that can help alert you to an addiction in yourself or a loved one. Some of the signs of a marijuana use disorder include:
- Having trouble remembering things or conversations that took place while high
- Decreased motivation to participate in social activities
- Poor performance at work or school
- Experiencing a compulsive need to use marijuana
- Prioritizing cannabis use over relationships, finances, and work
- Those around the marijuana user express concern
- Experiencing anxiety, depression, or physical withdrawal symptoms like sweating and tremors
- Not being able to stop taking marijuana, despite wanting to
What to Do If You or A Loved One Is Addicted to Marijuana
We’ll likely have a better picture of all the risks and benefits of cannabis use over the next few years as research continues. Until then, it’s hard to know just how dangerous a marijuana use disorder can be. Nonetheless, the first step is being brave enough to seek help. If you believe that you or someone you care about may have an issue with marijuana, many treatment options are available.
At a full-service treatment center like Lake Avenue Recovery, we can help you take the first step on the path of healthy living. We offer options to fit every patient’s schedule and recovery needs. We’re here to help you figure out if you’re addicted to marijuana and how to treat it. Reach out today at 508-794-4400.