Marijuana Addiction: Effects, Signs and Rehab Treatment
Marijuana is derived from the dried flowers of the Cannabis sativa plant.1 The plant contains over 500 chemical compounds, but the primary mind-altering (psychoactive) ingredient, which is primarily responsible for the intoxicating effects that individuals seek, is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC.1
While some people may experience a pleasant euphoria and sense of relaxation after using marijuana, other effects vary dramatically among different people and may include anxiety, panic, or fear.1 Chronic marijuana use can lead to the development of a cannabis use disorder.1
Luckily, treatment for marijuana use disorder exists. Read on to learn more about marijuana, its effects, addictive potential, and treatment options for those who struggle with its misuse.
What is Marijuana?
Marijuana—also commonly referred to as weed, pot, grass, herb, ganja, bud, and Mary Jane—comes in several forms and can be consumed in many different ways.1 Some individuals inhale the smoke from the dried flowers in hand-rolled cigarettes called joints, in pipes, water pipes (or bongs), or in blunts (marijuana rolled in cigar wrappers).1 Others brew marijuana into tea or bake it into foods like brownies and cookies, which are referred to as edibles.1 Additionally, vaporizers (also called vapes, vape pens, or weed pens), which allow individuals to inhale cannabis vapor, are becoming increasingly popular, as are more concentrated resins, which are highly potent and can be heated and smoked.1
Cannabinoids are a group of compounds found in the cannabis plant. The two main ones include THC and cannabidiol (CBD), but there are more than 100 different cannabinoids.2 CBD—marketed as an ingredient in foods, oils, capsules, and more—does not produce a high. It can come from hemp or non-hemp plants. Hemp is defined as any part of the cannabis plant with 0.3% (or less) of THC.3 By comparison, THC is the mind-altering substance found in marijuana that’s associated with the substance’s intoxicating effects.1
Marijuana is a Schedule I drug, meaning there are no currently accepted medical uses, and there is a high potential for misuse.4 However, there has been a debate for many years about whether marijuana should be classified as a Schedule I substance.5 Other Schedule I drugs include heroin and LSD.5
Statistics on Marijuana and Addiction
Marijuana is the most used, federally illegal drug in the United States.6 In 2020 alone, over 49 million people (or almost 18% of Americans aged 12 or older) reported using it that year.7 Among individuals aged 12 and older in 2020, 5.1% (or 14.2 million people) had a marijuana use disorder, the clinical term for marijuana addiction.7
Regular marijuana use affects the parts of the brain associated with memory and learning and decision-making, and emotion, which is why it can be especially harmful to adolescents since their brains are still developing.6 The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported in September 2022, that marijuana use is on the rise among all adult age groups, sexes, and pregnant women, with people aged 18–25 having the highest rates of use.8
Effects of Marijuana Use
The route of administration determines how quickly the effects of marijuana are felt. When an individual smokes marijuana, THC and other chemicals pass from the lungs into the bloodstream, which then quickly carries them throughout the body and the brain. Thus, the person feels the effects immediately.1
On the other hand, when individuals ingest marijuana through foods or beverages, the drug—and its chemical compounds—must pass through the digestive system first. Therefore, it can take between 30–60 minutes before any effects are felt.1
Marijuana’s effects may include:1
- A sense of relaxation.
- Heightened sensory perception.
- An altered perception of time.
- An increased appetite.
At high doses, marijuana use can cause effects that include:1
- A loss of the sense of personal identity.
Can You Overdose on Marijuana?
While life-threatening marijuana overdoses may be unlikely, dose-dependant toxicity is possible. Individuals who ingest enough THC, the primary psychoactive component in marijuana, and other cannabis-derived products risk experiencing marijuana’s effects (mentioned above) on a more severe scale. Those who consume marijuana in the form of edibles or beverages may unintentionally overconsume since it takes longer for the effects to be felt.9
Additionally, the effects of marijuana may lead to unintentional injury, such as a car accident, fall, or poisoning.9
Furthermore, marijuana may be laced with other products or substances. Using marijuana with other substances may result in greater impairment than using it alone.9 It may also cause severe intoxication and dangerous—even fatal—effects, depending on the adulterant mixed with it.
Signs of Marijuana Addiction
Marijuana use disorder is characterized by the compulsive use of marijuana despite its harmful and negative consequences.1 Some individuals who use marijuana regularly will develop a marijuana use disorder. Research suggests that 9% of individuals who chronically use marijuana experience addiction.10
Studies show that prolonged and heavy marijuana use can alter brain circuitry. THC is the compound responsible for reinforcing marijuana use and the principal addictive component.10
Symptoms of Marijuana Use Disorder
Only a healthcare professional can diagnose an individual with cannabis use disorder, the clinical term for marijuana addiction. Clinicians use the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). An individual may be diagnosed with a cannabis use disorder if they meet at least 2 of the following criteria in a 12-month period:11
- Cannabis is used in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than was intended.
- There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control cannabis use.
- A great deal of time is spent obtaining, using, or recovering from cannabis use.
- The person experiences cravings for cannabis.
- Recurrent cannabis use results in a failure to fulfill obligations at work, school, or home.
- There is continued cannabis use despite experiencing persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems that are caused or exacerbated by use.
- Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced as a result of cannabis use.
- Recurrent cannabis use occurs in situations where it is physically hazardous.
- Cannabis use continues despite persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problems caused by or exacerbated by use.
- The person develops a cannabis tolerance, meaning they need a higher dose to achieve the same desired effects.
- The person experiences withdrawal symptoms when they stop or drastically cut back on their cannabis use.
Research suggests that the cessation of heavy, prolonged cannabis use may cause mild withdrawal symptoms. In fact, the DSM-5 recognizes cannabis withdrawal syndrome and requires the presence of 3 withdrawal symptoms developing within 7 days of reduced cannabis use. These symptoms include:12
- Irritability, anger, or aggression.
- Anxiety or nervousness.
- Decreased appetite.
- A depressed mood.
- Headaches, nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain.
Some research indicates that about 47% of people who chronically and heavily use cannabis experience some symptoms of withdrawal when they stop or drastically reduce their use.12
Marijuana Addiction Treatment and Rehab Options
Rates of cannabis use and cannabis use disorder have increased in the past 15 years, paralleling the legal and political changes favoring legalization.13
In 2020, 2.8 million people aged 12 and older initiated marijuana use, including 1 million adolescents aged 12-17 and 1.1 million young adults aged 18-25. Only 27.4% of people aged 12 and older thought smoking marijuana once or twice a week was dangerous.7
Despite an increasingly mainstream perception that marijuana use is relatively benign, research shows that heavy use can become problematic for many people, causing cognitive impairment and a lack of motivation at school and work. In some instances, it may even put some people at risk of developing certain mental health disorders.13
Unfortunately, only about 10% of daily or almost daily cannabis users actually seek treatment.13 Some studies suggest that barriers to treatment include a belief that treatment isn’t necessary, a lack of motivation to change, and a desire to avoid the stigma attached to addiction treatment.10
Cannabis misuse and cannabis use disorders need to be taken seriously. Many people need treatment to regain their physical and mental health. Various treatment options exist, depending on the severity of one’s use disorder, which can range from mild to severe, depending on how many DSM-5 criteria a person meets.11
Effective treatment should address the whole person, not only their cannabis use disorder.14 Detox, residential or inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, and aftercare are all options that are available to meet each person’s unique needs.15
Therapies Used in Marijuana Addiction Treatment
Psychotherapeutic treatments for cannabis use disorder have been proven effective in reducing many people’s frequency and quantity of use.13 Clinical trials indicate that a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational enhancement therapy (MET), and contingency management (CM) can be quite beneficial.
CBT focuses on disrupting negative thought patterns and subsequent behaviors and developing healthy coping skills, prosocial behaviors, and relapse prevention strategies.13 MET helps a person explore their own ambivalence in a non-confrontational way to enhance a person’s motivation and goal-setting collaboration.13 CM reinforces positive behaviors—such as attending counseling sessions or having a negative drug test—by rewarding the person with vouchers or gift cards.12 Using CM, in combination with CBT or MET, has been shown to promote longer periods of abstinence in some people.13
Medications Used in Marijuana Addiction Treatment
Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications specifically intended for the treatment of cannabis use disorder.16
Success Rates and Statistics for Marijuana Addiction Treatment
While psychotherapeutic treatments like behavioral therapies have proven to help reduce a person’s frequency and quantity of cannabis use, abstinence rates tend to decline after treatment.13 However, that shouldn’t deter individuals from seeking treatment since treatment helps individuals learn and implement positive and healthy emotional and behavioral changes so they can identify triggers and manage stressors to prevent relapse.
Marijuana Rehab Cost and Insurance Coverage
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) dramatically changed the landscape for the treatment of substance use disorders.17 Prior to the ACA, substance use disorder treatment was not typically covered under private or public health insurance plans. If it was, it usually had limited services and higher co-pays.17 The ACA provided greater access to treatment through regulatory changes and major coverage expansions that require SUD treatment to be covered on par with any other medical or surgical procedure.17
Specific plans vary. Contact your insurance carrier to verify your benefits. Additionally, many treatment facilities accept credit cards and have financing options as well.
How to Choose the Best Marijuana Addiction Treatment Program
Seeking addiction treatment can feel overwhelming. After all, there are thousands of treatment facilities nationwide. To find the one that best fits your needs, call and ask questions, including:18
- What is the cost, and do you accept my insurance?
- Are the facility and the clinicians who work there licensed?
- Is the location convenient, and if not, is it feasible to travel there?
- What is the expectation for the duration of treatment?
- Do you offer medications for addiction treatment?
- Are treatment plans individualized to meet my specific needs?
- Do you treat co-occurring mental health disorders?
- Are there aftercare programs so I can stay engaged in the recovery process?
Additionally, you can contact one of our compassionate Admissions Navigators at American Addiction Centers (AAC), who will listen to your story, explain your options, and even help verify your insurance. Don’t wait. Call .