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Can You Really Be Addicted To Marijuana?

marijuana rehab facility

Marijuana, also known as cannabis and weed, may seem harmless, but when you think of it as a drug like alcohol or the nicotine in cigarettes it becomes clearer marijuana addiction is possible. It’s a common enough question, though, so the very simple answer is yes. You can be addicted to marijuana.

The United States is currently going through many changes around marijuana and it’s been in the news much more in recent years. A lot of these news stories, combined with attention from pop culture like movies, music, and video games have made a discussion about marijuana somewhat complex.

To add another layer of complexity there are (as of this writing) 11 states plus the District of Columbia that have legalized recreational marijuana possession, growth, and use. They are Alaska, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

All of the states have put in place the same age requirement as alcohol, where the law states you must be 21 years old or older to use marijuana, and each state has specified its own limits on the amount that can be grown and carried.

Those 11 states have also legalized medical marijuana, along with these 22 states:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • West Virginia

In 2020 several other states will vote on legalizing marijuana and, most likely, the entire United States will at some point have laws in all 50 states that decriminalize marijuana to some extent.

The history of weed within the U.S.—and really, most of the world—is characterized by the brief introduction and adoption of the drug, then swift demonization and criminalization. A lot of misconceptions and outright fictions were spread about marijuana in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and a section of these somehow still exist today.

Early stories are largely racist, classist, and exaggerations, meant to frighten the public away from engaging in drug use. Some historians chalk this up to the general political climate of early 20th century America that would also lead to prohibition, where alcohol was banned between 1920 and 1933.

It seems somewhat difficult to pin down any one reason why marijuana was criminalized and became the focus of so much misinformation and stigma. Most information points to the U.S. reacting to the drug showing up in America by arresting immigrants and criminalizing the drug as “dangerous” and leading to “psychosis.”

History does show the earliest adoption of laws criminalizing marijuana in the United States were enacted in 1931. Although this was only 29 states, it began our country’s journey toward total criminalization.

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The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was signed by Congress and got us closer to fully criminalizing marijuana. Even then, however, the law still allowed for the possession of some marijuana if a person were to pay an excise tax, and also if it was being used for medical or industrial purposes.

In 1972 the Shafer Commission within Congress decided our country’s treatment of marijuana, as well as those in possession of it, growing it, and/or using it, was in need of vast reconsiderations. The commission recommended the full decriminalization of personal marijuana use.

President Richard Nixon said no. Some states went ahead and began repealing the mandatory minimum sentences that had been in place for marijuana arrests in the 1960s. Since then the United States has, for the most part, moved forward like this.

It’s hard to avoid the comparisons between how the United States reacted to alcohol at one time and how it is currently reacting to marijuana. Both have studies showcasing their effects on our minds and bodies as well as social side effects. One is entirely legal and the other is now partially legal.

The truth about marijuana is, of course, much more complicated.

Marijuana Addiction

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 10% of marijuana users develop an addiction. If someone starts smoking weed when they’re under the age of 18 it becomes even more likely, with almost 17% becoming addicted. What exactly does that mean?

First, let’s understand exactly what addiction is. As defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it’s when the use, search for, or process of attaining drugs or substances is “compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.”

When a drug defines your day-to-day life and leads to not only mental and physical problems, but social problems as well, this is most likely due to an addiction. Feeling as if you cannot survive without a drug and then doing whatever it takes to get that drug is a much simpler way to describe addiction.

Another factor that is now defining marijuana use and potential addiction is potency. A February 2020 study showed that the THC content of marijuana has continued to increase year after year. In the 1990s marijuana typically had less than 4% THC content. Now it is typically above 15% THC.

There are not many studies yet showcasing the long-term effects of high THC levels on younger brains. Doctors and scientists worry it could have drastic consequences, however, knowing what they do about brain development in adolescents.

There is another aspect of marijuana use that may not be discussed as much, and that’s dependence.

Marijuana Dependence

Dependence can feel a lot like addiction but is technically not defined the same way. The general definition of dependence is when your body adapts to a substance in order to maintain a level of normalcy. However, a dependence on marijuana can result in withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, sleep disruption, restlessness and more.

This is another somewhat controversial idea due to the positive effects marijuana can have on some who are prescribed marijuana for medical conditions. There are studies, however, showing that marijuana dependence is very real.

In one of those studies, it was found that adults who were dependent on marijuana averaged over a decade of daily or almost-daily use. They also had attempted to quit using marijuana multiple times but could not.

More stunning is that around 4.3% of all Americans have at one time been dependent on marijuana. But, to put that in context, around 9% percent of people who try marijuana may develop a dependence whereas 24% of people who try heroin become dependent, as well as 15% who try cocaine.

The same study also showed that marijuana accounted for far more adolescent admissions for treatment (ages 12–17) than any other substance. As you’ll see, marijuana can have much longer-term and serious effects on adolescents than adults.

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What Can Long-Term Marijuana Use Do To You?

There have been quite a few studies of long-term marijuana use on the brain. If a person starts using marijuana in adolescence, the effects can alter their brain’s development enough for them to lose an average of between six and eight IQ points.

Adolescents are also at much higher risk for social/health side effects such as dropping out of school, contracting and spreading sexually transmitted infections (STI), and unexpected pregnancies.

The part of marijuana that produces the feeling of being high, THC, affects the area of your brain dealing with memory and how you process information. Because of that, tests have reported those struggling with long-term marijuana use can suffer from memory problems.

It has been reported that long-term and repetitive use of marijuana leads to similar side effects as smoking tobacco, specifically:

  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing while breathing

Studies have also shown that stopping regular marijuana use has lessened, and even completely eliminated, these side effects.

What Does Marijuana Addiction Feel Like?

Being addicted to marijuana, or any substance can result in regular cravings for the drug. This means if you have used marijuana and are reaching the end of its effects your body and mind will begin feeling as if they need more.

If you are missing day-to-day commitments due to marijuana use, spending money you shouldn’t be spending on it, or doing anything illegal to obtain marijuana, you may be addicted.

Neal Pollack wrote for the New York Times, “I spent years telling myself that marijuana isn’t addictive, and so I didn’t have a problem. But clearly, I did.” He talks about losing his temper while high on weed, acting out in public and in professional settings, and how in both cases it negatively affected his life and job.

Along with that, he talks about how he couldn’t even be emotionally present for massive, life-changing situations—like his mother dying and his son’s birth—without being high. After his mother passed away he was high “every day for the next eight months.” Marijuana became a compulsion for him, something he was convinced he needed at all times.

He ends the article by saying, “…marijuana addiction exists, and it almost wrecked my life. If you have a problem, you are not alone.”

In his New York Times article Neal Pollack says he had some nights filled with twitching when he finally quit. Not everyone reacts the same way, but marijuana withdrawal symptoms can be present when you don’t smoke, as mentioned above, including irritability, not being able to focus or stay still, and occasionally even signs of heightened stress or anxiety, like sweating and rapid breathing.

Usually, withdrawal symptoms begin around one to two days after someone has stopped using marijuana. The average length of the withdrawal symptoms is around a week to two weeks. People in recovery reported trouble falling asleep, only being able to sleep for shorter periods than usual, and having persistent nightmares.

Specifically for adolescents, a study showed that while they were in treatment for marijuana a significant portion of them also received co-occurring disorder diagnoses, such as for anxiety or depression.

Dependence is also a potential outcome, sometimes one step before a full addiction develops. In marijuana dependence, someone may feel it’s impossible to have a normal day without smoking weed, which can also lead to the symptoms mentioned above.

What Is A Good Marijuana Addiction Treatment?

As you read already, marijuana dependence and addiction can be difficult to get past. It may not be a quick road to recovery but we are determined to guide you along that path no matter what. We know your circumstances are unique and your path to recovery will be too.

Vertava Health of Mississippi completes a full clinical assessment for everyone in need of treatment. All cases are different which means the treatment is chosen based on what will address the specific needs of each client. We take a holistic approach, meaning we look at your entire situation, all the factors that may be leading to a substance use disorder.

Marijuana Treatment And Recovery

You may be struggling with marijuana use but also another, undiagnosed mental health situation. When this is the case it is called a co-occurring disorder. Vertava Health of Mississippi wants to help you address both struggles by applying any of the methods of treatment we have at our disposal. This includes therapy (occasionally both individual and group sessions), and if needed, prescription medications.

Using evidence-based treatments such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), we help you regulate thoughts and emotions, as well as focus on how your social interactions can play a large role in your daily life. Let’s take a closer look at DBT.

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Dialectical Behavior Therapy

This is an evidence-based form of therapy we can utilize during detox and withdrawal, all the way to active recovery and discharge. DBT not only helps by teaching tools for redirecting thought patterns and behaviors, but to also mold your life in new ways, helping to avoid negative cycles.

There are four main sections to DBT, and they are:

  • Mindfulness: Learning to be present in every moment. This awareness is guided to begin accepting yourself and all the circumstances of your life.
  • Distress Tolerance: This is the introduction of coping skills for addressing distressing situations, oftentimes situations that feel as if a relapse is close by. Distress tolerance teaches you how to move past these moments healthily.
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness: Focusing on the social aspect of your life, this section will begin helping you build the new path you’ll navigate, one that will take into account your recovery.
  • Emotion Regulation: Sometimes emotions like anger and sadness can lead to relapses or just feeling like you have failed. By being able to regulate those emotions, but also to understand them and work with them—rather than against them—you can begin understanding yourself more and achieving recovery.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

We also offer an intensive outpatient program (IOP) for scheduling regular visits in the evening. Visits can be scheduled Monday through Friday and are usually spaced out over multiple days. It’s one way we aim to help those who may not be able to attend therapy sessions or other forms of treatment during the day.

This can often be the step taken after enrolling in our inpatient recovery program when you are now moving back out into your daily life. Maintaining recovery can sometimes feel as hard as beginning and that’s why we offer IOP. It helps you continue with your positive changes.

Vertava Health Of Mississippi Has Your Strength

No matter what you are dealing with, we’re ready to help you approach it head-on. If you are struggling with marijuana addiction or dependence, let us know. Our evidence-based treatments are here to help guide you.

More than anything, we use your natural strength, the dedication, and resilience you have to change your own life. Once you take that first step we help amplify what you are capable of by harnessing your power and will for change. Recovery can be a long and difficult process, but you will guide yourself through. Give us a call at 844-551-7335. We’re looking forward to chatting.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where Did Marijuana Originate?

Marijuana has been around since the 1600s so pinpointing where it originated is relatively difficult at this point. For most of that history it was used to produce hemp, which it is still used for today. The ingestion of marijuana, whether through eating the plant’s resin or smoking its buds, is also able to be traced back to the 1800s at least, with some historians guessing its use as a drug in religious ceremonies dates back to as early as 500 B.C. in China. If you’re wondering how long marijuana has been used recreationally within the United States, you can look to the late 1800s and early 1900s.

How Long Does Marijuana Stay In Your System?

Anywhere between three and 90 days. Why such a huge gap of possible detection? Because there are a lot of ways to test for marijuana use, from urine to hair, to blood, and saliva. Detection time also depends on how long someone has been using marijuana. For instance: if you smoke marijuana regularly, either daily or close to daily, then a test may be able to detect it in your system for up to 30 days. Also, if being administered a blood test for marijuana use, the test can detect marijuana in someone’s system very quickly after they have ingested it.

When Did Marijuana Become Illegal?

The earliest adoption of laws criminalizing marijuana in the United States were enacted by 1931, but that was only 29 states. It wouldn’t be until the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 that the U.S. Congress got closer to fully criminalizing marijuana in the country. Even then, it still left the possibility of possessing it and paying a specific tax, as long as the use was deemed appropriate—specifically for medical or industrial uses. In 1972 the Shafer Commission, which was made up of U.S. Congressional members, recommended the full decriminalization of personal marijuana use, but President Richard Nixon said no. Some states went ahead and began repealing the mandatory minimum sentences that had been in place for marijuana arrests in the 1960s, and our country has largely gone forward in this push and pull fashion. As mentioned in the article above, there are now 33 states with legal marijuana uses, 11 of which include medical and recreational and 22 allowing only medical use. This will most likely continue to change as more and more states are voting on marijuana laws.

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