In many parts of the world, cannabis is classified as a Class B drug. This classification denotes that whilst cannabis can be a harmful substance, it’s effects are not quite as harmful as drugs with a Class A classification (such as cocaine and ecstasy). Read More
Marijuana – also known as cannabis, weed and pot – is one of the most commonly used drugs in the United States, second only to caffeine and alcohol. Because marijuana legalization is becoming a worldwide trend, the general perception of marijuana users and the likelihood of a marijuana dependency changes more and more every day.
And, while its usage is considered by many to be relatively harmless, especially in comparison to hard drugs, the truth is a little more complicated than that.
What is a marijuana dependency and is it harmful?
When it comes to marijuana use, developing a dependence is rare for marijuana but not impossible. Like any other addiction, the marijuana use preys on the brain through activation of its reward centers, which release naturally-produced chemicals like dopamine and endorphins.
While the majority of Americans who smoke or ingest marijuana use it recreationally – similar to those who drink on occasion, but are certainly not alcoholics – there have been documented cases of addiction and dependence. In the same way the someone can become addicted to things like shopping or eating, people can also develop dependencies on marijuana, which, despite evidence to the contrary, is widely seen as being non habit-forming.
Marijuana contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is a chemical that triggers a dopamine release in the brain of the user – also known as the “high.” THC mimics a substance that is naturally produced in the human body called endocannabinoids, which help relax muscles, reduce inflammation, protect damaged tissue, and regulate appetite, among other things.
Alongside the sensations of euphoria comes an activation of the brain’s reward pathways, which encourage users to remember the experience and repeat it.
So, essentially, the more THC you use, the more you’ll want it, which can result in marijuana dependency. Coupled with the fact that THC levels in marijuana have increased drastically in the last 30 years, the risk of marijuana abuse and dependency is relatively high.
The short-term side effects of a marijuana dependency
The short-term side effects of marijuana abuse can be challenging but are generally not life-threatening. They include:
- elevated heart rate
- mood swings
- diminished motor function
- impaired body movement
- impaired cognition
- hallucinations (when taken in high doses)
- psychosis (only a risk with extremely high-potency marijuana)
The long-term side effects of a marijuana dependency
The more minor negative side effects of overuse and addiction include neglecting responsibilities, short-term memory loss, lung infections, panic attacks, inability to concentrate, weight gain, and lack of motivation.
However, there are some other, bigger side effects:
Poor mental development in teens
Research indicates that younger people are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of marijuana, including dependence and addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people who begin smoking marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop an addiction than those who pick it up later in life.
In a study conducted by Duke University, it was shown that among 1,037 people, those who regularly used marijuana as teens experienced an average decrease of eight IQ points. These lost mental functions never fully returned – even in those who quit smoking as adults.
The risk of developing an addiction to marijuana after the age of 25 is extremely small.
Physical health issues
Smoking marijuana is still a type of smoking, and though it doesn’t contain many unhealthy substances that cigarettes do (like tar and nicotine), marijuana smoke comes with its own set of risks.
Small amounts of toxic chemicals such as ammonia and hydrogen cyanide are known to cause long-term problems in the lungs and heart.
Reduced mental capacity, poor information retention, and memory loss
Perhaps the most widely known adverse effect of prolonged marijuana usage is the long-term cognitive impairment that many suffer as a result. Evidence suggests that people who regularly smoke marijuana struggle much more with mental tasks due in large part to the drug’s effect on the hippocampus, which regulates short-term memory. When someone starts abusing marijuana as a teenager, the chances of memory loss increase drastically.
Mental health concerns
Marijuana abuse has been linked to a broad spectrum of mental health issues ranging in severity from mild to extreme. Because so many people use marijuana as a way to “de-stress,” chronic users are likely to find themselves unable to de-stress without it. Anxiety and depression are also common.
More drastically, however, heavy marijuana usage has been noted, in some cases, to be a contributing factor of psychosis and persistent paranoia.
Just like anything else you put in your body – alcohol, junk food, and nicotine, to name a few – marijuana may not present an immediate health risk; however, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy!
Though many smokers will insist that it’s caused them no harm, that doesn’t mean that it can’t.
If you or someone you know is struggling to stop using marijuana, our facilities at Tikvah Lake Recovery may be just what you need.
Our treatment program involves a combination of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, holistic wellbeing practices, detox management, and a highly personalized treatment plan to ensure each person going through recovery gains the skills needed to manage their addictive behaviors for the rest of their lives.
For more information about marijuana dependency, contact our admissions team today.
Despite being recently legalized in many U.S. states, marijuana is still the subject of great debate and controversy. Some claim it’s a gateway drug; some claim it’s essential. Still, others claim marijuana addiction is a real thing, while others claim it’s harmless and benign.
There is no doubt, however, that the stigma around cannabis usage is decreasing as the number of users increase. Marijuana is also increasing drastically in potency, and thousands of Americans are beginning to find their own usage habits problematic – regardless of whether or not their usage is frequent enough to qualify them as ‘addicts’.
Perhaps the most hotly debated question regarding marijuana is this: Is it actually addictive?
The nature of addiction
In and of itself, marijuana is not addictive. But, while the majority of users do not develop an addiction, it’s still entirely possible to become addicted to it.
The nature of addiction – and its relation to marijuana – can be a little tricky to unpack fully. Lots of people have different (and often controversial) ideas about addiction. For example: what types of behaviours constitute an addiction? How do addictions form? From a scientific perspective, what is addiction?
Perhaps most importantly: What substances can you be addicted to?
Scientifically speaking, it’s possible to become addicted to anything that you mentally, emotionally, or physically enjoy. Addiction is now defined as a neurological disorder wherein any behaviour that releases endorphins – a hormone secreted by the reward centers of your brain that produces feelings of happiness – becomes something you depend on to function.While some substances contain chemicals or other materials that more naturally re-wire the pathways in your brain to form an addictive behaviour, it’s possible to become addicted to anything that brings you happiness – certain types of foods, leisure activities, exercise, and more.
Let’s take foods, for example. Processed sugar is known to be one of the most addictive substances in common food. As such, you are much more likely to develop an addiction to sugar than you are to most other foods. However, it’s still possible for someone to develop an addiction to another type of food they greatly enjoy.
In other words, just because one substance is naturally more addictive than another, it doesn’t mean there’s no risk of addiction.
Marijuana as a substance
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the active ingredient in marijuana, and it triggers a release of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine causes sensations of euphoria, which causes the ‘high’ associated with marijuana. It also activates the brain’s reward pathways to remember the experience and repeat it.
In other words, the more THC you use, the more you’ll crave it, and you’ll start to develop a marijuana use addiction.
Research indicates that younger people are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of marijuana, including dependence and addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people who begin smoking marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop an addiction than those who pick it up later in life. In fact, the risk of developing an addiction to marijuana after the age of 25 is almost nonexistent.
It’s also important to note the distinction between ‘abuse’ and ‘dependence’. Marijuana abuse is a phrase reserved for someone who continues to smoke despite negative consequences; dependence refers to actual addiction or use disorders, often resulting in withdrawal and a drastic increase in physical and mental tolerance.
Dependence is rare for marijuana users, but not impossible. The negative side effects of overuse and addiction include smoking more than intended, neglecting responsibilities, short-term memory loss, inability to concentrate, weight gain, mental health problems such as anxiety or depression, and lack of motivation. In many cases, addicts have lost jobs, money, and spouses.
Seeking help for marijuana addiction
So, whether or not you believe marijuana is harmful, it’s proven that it can certainly be addictive. Over 200,000 people per year seek help for marijuana use addiction at facilities like Tikvah Lake Recovery, and thousands of those people have been trying to quit for years (even decades) before choosing to attend a residential treatment program.
Regardless of your habits, we urge you to consider whether or not your usage is becoming problematic. At Tikvah Lake Recovery, our treatment program involves a combination of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, holistic wellness practices, and a detailed and personalized plan for going forward.
To find out more about how we can help, contact our admissions office today.