is marijuana addictive

Is Marijuana Addictive? Get the Truth

With just over 22 million users every month, marijuana is the commonly used illicit drug in the US.

A drug with a history dating as far back as 500 BC, we’re only recently beginning to understand how marijuana affects the human body. A big part of that research is understanding cannabis use disorder and marijuana addiction.

So, is marijuana addictive?

The short answer to this question is yes, but there’s far more involved in understanding the processes that lead to marijuana addiction. If you or a loved one is struggling with cannabis use, you should understand all of these processes. 

Keep reading to learn more about what they are and how to tell if addiction has evolved.

How Marijuana Works

The cannabis plant produces over 100 chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. The main psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. Better known as THC, this cannabinoid is what induces the high associated with smoking or ingesting marijuana.

THC works by mimicking anandamide. This is a naturally-produced neurotransmitter that works with our body’s endocannabinoid system. THC binds to the cannabinoid receptors in this system in the same way that anandamide does.

When it does so, THC produces an intoxicating effect. It also dulls our mental abilities and memory recall. It’s this effect that’s so seductive to recreational marijuana users.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

As users continually take more marijuana, the brain adapts to the amount of THC that it gets from external sources. As it becomes reliant on those external sources, the production and sensitivity of our own endocannabinoid system and its neurotransmitters decreases.

When this occurs, people develop what’s known as physical dependence. Physical dependence is the main characteristic of a cannabis use disorder. It’s associated with both high tolerance and withdrawal.

Tolerance means that, as your brain gets used to the amount of THC you’re ingesting, it requires greater and greater quantities to produce the same effects. Withdrawal, on the other hand, is what happens to regular marijuana users when they reduce their use of marijuana or stop taking the drug altogether

Regular marijuana users who try to quit or reduce their intake report many symptoms of withdrawal. These include moodiness, difficulty sleeping, irritability, reduced appetite, cravings, discomfort, and restlessness. These symptoms can last for up to 2 weeks after quitting.

Cannabis use disorder does not necessarily mean a person has a marijuana addiction. While they may be physically dependent on it, this is not the same as an addiction.

When Does Dependence Become Addiction?

A person can be physically dependent on a substance without being addicted to it. Many regular marijuana users have a physical dependence on the drug. This means that they find it difficult to stop using due to withdrawal symptoms and they have a high tolerance for the drug.

So when does physical dependence become marijuana addiction? Although withdrawal, tolerance, and dependence are hallmarks of an addictive drug, marijuana addiction isn’t present until the drug begins to interfere in a person’s life on a deeper level. This is the main characteristic of addiction.

It can be said that marijuana addiction is when a person compulsively seeks to buy and use a drug despite the consequences to their health, finances, relationships, and other areas of life. When marijuana becomes the most important thing in a person’s life despite severe consequences, then we can say a person is addicted.

Who is Susceptible to Marijuana Addiction or Cannabis Use Disorder?

It’s believed that approximately 30% of people who use marijuana have some level of a cannabis use disorder. So even beginning to use the drug can lead to this kind of physical dependence.

But even more susceptible to this drug are people under the age of 18. It’s estimated that using marijuana before the age of 18 makes a person 4 to 7 times more likely to become physically dependent on marijuana.

What’s worse, the potency of marijuana is increasing. While samples from the early 1990s had a 3.8% THC content, samples from 2014 have as much as 12.2% THC content. This means that marijuana is getting stronger and we don’t know the potential consequences – especially on young, developing brains.

Signs of Marijuana Addiction and Abuse

Unlike other illicit drugs, marijuana addiction or cannabis use disorder isn’t as easy to spot. But, as a person’s use, tolerance, and dependence increases, there are signs to look out for.

If you think a loved one is abusing marijuana, look out for these physical signs. They can occur immediately after using marijuana and include:

  • Bloodshot or red eyes
  • Forgetfulness or confusion (especially regarding recent events)
  • Unpromoted or inappropriate laughing
  • Dizziness
  • Increased appetite

While these physical signs can only tell you if a person has recently used the drug, noticing them more often than not can be a sign that someone is using marijuana too often. This doesn’t denote physical dependent or addiction, but it could be your first warning sign and a chance to take action before the problems get worse.

If someone in your life has already developed a physical dependence on marijuana, there may be signs to look for to help you determine how bad their use is. Withdrawal symptoms will indicate whether physical dependence has occurred. These symptoms include nervousness, insomnia or trouble sleeping, cravings, and moodiness. 

Finally, if you think that a loved one may have a marijuana addiction, remember that the main character is using the drug despite personal harm and consequences. If you noticed the development of personal, work, school, or family problems, as a result of their use, this could indicate an addiction. When obtaining and using the drug becomes their main priority in life, you may be dealing with marijuana addiction.

Get The Support You Need

The answer to “is marijuana addictive?”, is an unequivocal yes. While many regular users develop a physical dependence on the drug, this can quickly develop into marijuana addiction. And your teen is far more susceptible to the negative consequences of marijuana than any other age group.

If you think your loved one is struggling with cannabis use disorder or addiction, time is of the essence. There are many programs and tools to help them. Contact us to learn more about getting the help you need right away.  

About the Reviewer: Chris Barnes

Chris BarnesChristopher Barnes has worked in health care for over thirty years. He is a graduate of Alabama State University where he earned a double Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Work and Psychology in 1982. Christopher Barnes is currently the Director of Clinical services at The Discovery House where he has been employed for the past five years. Because of his extensive experience in health care & substance abuse he has an excellent rapport with constituents, clients, and other professional organizations in the counseling/social service community.