Given the legalization of marijuana, many have wondered about the substance, its safety, and whether it’s addictive. Marijuana – also known as weed, marijuana and other names – is a plant used as a medicinal and recreational drug.
People can become addicted to marijuana. While it is possible to try the substance without becoming addicted, not everyone does. There are risks to use, even for medicinal purposes, and addiction is one of them.
As with any medicinal drug, the potential risks and potential benefits of use are weighed when deciding what to try and what not to try. Learn more about marijuana addiction, risk factors, effects on the brain and more.
Is marijuana addictive?
While some people can try cannabis without becoming addicted, it can also be addictive to some. Marijuana use disorder, also known as marijuana use disorder, is when marijuana use has a negative impact on a person’s health or life, yet they continue to use it.
While the numbers aren’t entirely clear, it’s estimated that 6.3 percent of adults have marijuana use disorder, and that number is increasing. As many as 30% of people who use marijuana may develop marijuana use disorder. Cannabis use can also be associated with addiction and dependence.
Addiction and Dependence
Addiction and dependence are two terms that are often used interchangeably. There is a difference between the two.
Addiction occurs when a person overuses substances such as alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs. It is often marked by behavioral changes that keep people focused on using the substance regardless of potential negative outcomes. Addiction can be physical, psychological, or both.
Substance dependence, also known as chemical dependence, is when a person has a physical dependence on a substance, but is not addicted. An example is when someone who has been taking a prescription drug for a long time stops taking the drug and experiences physical or mental withdrawal symptoms. Dependence symptoms can be cognitive, behavioral, and physical.
Dependency manifests as a pattern. A person starts by repeatedly using substances such as marijuana. With regular use over time, they develop tolerance, in which case the effects of the substance go unnoticed or go unnoticed at all. The person develops symptoms when they stop using the substance, which makes them feel the need to use the substance again.
Symptoms of Marijuana Use Disorder
Marijuana use disorder, or marijuana use disorder, is when a person continues to use the substance even if they have a negative impact on health or life as a result of their use. Symptoms include over-focusing on marijuana use; neglecting school, work, or relationships; other problems caused by marijuana use, such as an inability to resist cravings; and more. These can range from mild to severe, depending on the person.
Symptoms may include:
- changes in sleep, appetite, or mood
- craving for marijuana use
- Reduce control over marijuana use
- Fulfillment rate dropped
- Decreased school, work, or athletic performance
- Headache, abdominal pain, chills, or sweating when not in use
- Need to use more to get the same effect
- Negative emotions associated with use
- Overuse of marijuana and exceeding expectations
- risky behavior
- Social withdrawal related to marijuana use
Perhaps one of the biggest risk factors for marijuana addiction is age. People who start using marijuana before age 18 are up to 7 times more likely to develop marijuana use disorder. Additionally, men are twice as likely as women to develop marijuana use disorder.
Other risk factors include:
- family history of substance use disorders
- Friends and peers who use marijuana
- Adverse childhood experiences, such as sexual abuse
- cigarette use
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effects on the brain
Marijuana use has negative effects on the brain. THC, stands for THCis the part of the cannabis plant that causes psychoactive effects. THC causes changes in the brain that affect structure and function, including learning, memory, cognitive abilities, and behavior—including future substance use. This is a growing concern for young people exposed to THC, including babies during pregnancy.
Marijuana use was also found to be associated with lower IQ, impaired memory and cognition, and lower test scores. The negative effects of use appear to be more problematic for those who use it more frequently and for longer periods of time. However, research is limited and the details of the negative effects on the brain are not fully understood.
Is recreational marijuana the culprit?
The negative effects of marijuana are not limited to recreational marijuana. Medicinal marijuana use also carries risks. Like other medicines for the treatment of disease, medicinal cannabis can have negative effects even when used to treat disease.
Additionally, more than 80 percent of those who use medicinal cannabis also use it recreationally. This can lead to more use and increased risk of marijuana use disorder.
Medicinal uses of marijuana
Medicinal cannabis is used to treat and manage a variety of medical problems, including physical and mental health challenges. Despite the risks, research into medicinal cannabis use has shown effectiveness. Nearly 90 percent of those who use medicinal cannabis claim it helps them manage their illnesses and symptoms, and many find they are able to reduce their use of other medications.
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Conditions commonly treated with medical marijuana include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
- Cancer Chemotherapy Side Effects
- Crohn’s disease
- Multiple Sclerosis Muscle Symptoms
- nausea and vomiting
- PTSD or PTSD
- Seizures and Epilepsy
Cannabis Addiction Standards
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) categorizes the diagnostic criteria for cannabis use disorders. The use of the substance must be associated with damage or suffering. Diagnosing this condition requires meeting at least two of the 11 criteria within a year.
DSM-5 Criteria for Marijuana Use Disorder
- More uses than expected
- Inability to reduce usage despite desire or effort
- Excessive time spent on usage-related activities, including gaining access and recovery
- urge or craving
- Failure to fulfill work, school or family obligations due to use
- Social or interpersonal problems related to use and continued use
- Although important, withdrawal from social, work or recreational activities due to use
- Harmful use
- Intentionally encountering problems with use and continued use
- Tolerance, defined as needing more for an effect or reducing the effect by the same amount
- Withdrawal, defined as DSM-5 cannabis withdrawal symptoms or the use of a substance to resolve withdrawal symptoms
Cannabis Use Disorder Help
Marijuana use disorder is treatable. This condition can be diagnosed by a health care professional, such as a doctor or psychologist. Treatment options include psychotherapy (talk therapy) and medication. More specifically, motivational interviewing, emergency management, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be used. Medications to control cravings can be used along with non-drug interventions.
Substance Use Helpline
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for support and advice in your area Information on treatment facilities.
For more mental health resources, see our national helpline database.
It is possible to become addicted to marijuana. Marijuana use disorder involves continued use of the substance even if the person has a negative health or life impact from the substance. Men and young adults are at increased risk.
Although this is a serious medical problem, it can also be treated. A healthcare professional can provide support by making a diagnosis and then offering talk therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.
Cannabis addiction can be a challenge for those experiencing it and those around them. Marijuana use disorder, addiction and dependence are treatable.
Get help if you suspect that you or someone else has a marijuana use disorder, dependence, or addiction. Seek support from a primary care provider or a health care professional such as a psychologist. Substance use resources are also available at the local community and state level.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How addictive is marijuana compared to alcohol?
Compared to alcohol, marijuana is considered less addictive for most people. However, that doesn’t mean there are no risks and marijuana can still be addictive.
What part of the brain does THC change?
THC affects the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex. This can impair concentration, memory, and function. It can also be addictive.
Are medical marijuana patients at higher risk for addiction?
Compared to recreational cannabis, medicinal cannabis typically contains higher percentages of cannabidiol (CBD) and lower percentages of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), making it less likely to be addictive. However, it does contain THC, which patients can become addicted to.
How do you reset your tolerance?
Tolerance to marijuana can be reset by pausing use. These breaks can range from a few days to a few weeks or even longer. Some people take a break and decide they don’t want to start using marijuana again.