Although typically dismissed as harmless, marijuana is a psychoactive drug that can lead to dependence and addiction. Marijuana Use Disorder is likely among those who smoke or ingest marijuana, and treatment may be necessary to overcome severe dependence.

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana is the dried flower from the Cannabis Indica or Cannabis Sativa plant. Both strands of the cannabis plant contain a powerful ingredient: THC.

THC is a psychoactive chemical that produces the euphoric and mind-bending effects of marijuana. THC is found in the bud of the plant and can be also extracted into waxes, oils, and other concentrates.

Marijuana flower can be smoked in papers, pipes, or water pipes known as bongs. It can be vaporized and inhaled with concentrates or ingested in food, cooking oils, butter, and tea.

When a person smokes marijuana, THC is inhaled through the lungs and enters the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, THC travels quickly to the brain, and the effects set in almost instantaneously, lasting between 1-3 hours.


Edible THC takes longer for the effects to kick in, as the body absorbs it more slowly, feeling the effects between 30 minutes to an hour. The effects may last for several hours.

The THC chemical acts on areas in the brain that naturally produce chemicals similar to THC. These areas are called cannabinoid receptors, and they’re found in parts of the brain that influence thinking and concentration, pleasure, movement, memory, and sensory and time perception.

When THC activates these areas, it produces a euphoria, or high, that can be addicting and lead to abuse.  

While legal in some states for medical or recreational purposes, marijuana is the most used illicit drug in the United States. In 2015, over 11 million young adults admitted to having used marijuana at least once in the past year.

With the prevalence of marijuana use on the rise, it may be helpful to spot the signs of marijuana abuse and addiction.

Signs Of Marijuana Use

A marijuana produced high is likely to change how people feel and behave. After a person smokes or ingests marijuana they’re likely to experience the following effects:

  • altered sense of time
  • bloodshot eyes
  • changes in perception and mood
  • delusions
  • difficulty verbalizing
  • difficulty thinking and concentrating
  • drowsiness
  • dry mouth
  • hallucinations
  • impaired memory
  • increased sensory experience
  • lack of coordination
  • lost sense of reality
  • paranoia
  • relaxation

Some of these effects may only occur if a person smokes or ingests large amounts of marijuana.  

For marijuana addiction, a person is likely to prioritize their life so marijuana comes first. They may compulsively use marijuana, constantly crave it, show impaired judgment relating to it, or continue to use marijuana despite obvious harm to themselves or others.

Due to the legalization in some states, and medicinal uses and sales in others, a person may dismiss marijuana as untouched by abuse or addiction. However, marijuana is addictive, and it’s estimated that 30 percent of all people using marijuana develop a marijuana use disorder.

Having a marijuana use disorder means a person, because of their marijuana use, develops lasting problems at school or work, in relationships, and with their health. The younger a person begins using marijuana, the more likely they are to develop a marijuana use disorder.

A clear sign of addiction is when a person can’t stop using a substance even though it interferes or causes conflict in daily life; marijuana is no exception.

While there is little evidence that shows marijuana can cause death, there are several health risks and dangers associated with long-term marijuana abuse and marijuana addiction.

The Dangers Of Marijuana Addiction

When a person starts to smoke or use marijuana at a young age, they risk stunting or hindering brain development.

A teenager smoking marijuana may impair memory, thinking, and learning. While research is still being conducted on this issue, some studies have found links between early marijuana use and low IQ, or intelligence.

There are also some hazardous health effects associated with marijuana abuse and addiction, including both physical and mental effects.

Some physical effects of marijuana include:

  • breathing problems or lung problems
  • increased heart rate
  • potential child development problems during and after pregnancy
  • vomiting and nausea

Breathing problems caused by marijuana use can lead to lung illness, coughing, and infection, but researchers have yet to find a link between marijuana and lung cancer.

A faster heart rate from marijuana use may increase the risk of heart attack, especially for those with heart disease.


A pregnant woman using marijuana may lead to birth defects, brain development issues, and behavioral problems in the future.

Some people suffering from long-term marijuana addiction may develop Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, which involves regular cycles of nausea and vomiting that may require medical attention.

Mental effects of marijuana addiction may include:


  • anxiety
  • depression
  • hallucinations (temporary)
  • increased risk of mental illness
  • paranoia (temporary)
  • suicidal thoughts
  • worsening of current mental illness like schizophrenia

Teens may be in more danger of experiencing mental health conditions caused by marijuana abuse, but research has yet to confirm this.

With more dispensaries opening up for business across the United States, and more and more potent marijuana and THC products becoming accessible, people suffering from marijuana use disorder may experience more adverse mental effects.

Regardless of what we know about the dangers of marijuana, marijuana use can lead to dependence, and people who quit use may experience withdrawal.

Marijuana Dependence And Withdrawal

Marijuana use disorders are likely associated with dependence.

Dependence means a person may experience uncomfortable symptoms when they stop using drugs. Once a person becomes dependent on marijuana, they’ll likely go through a period of sickness or irritation called withdrawal.

Symptoms of marijuana withdrawal may include:

  • anxiety
  • drug cravings
  • grouchiness
  • irritability
  • loss of appetite
  • mood changes
  • restlessness
  • physical discomfort
  • trouble sleeping

These symptoms are likely to occur in the days after last use and may last for a few weeks. During this time, many people may turn back to marijuana or other drugs to alleviate the symptoms.

While withdrawal symptoms are mild compared to other drugs like heroin or cocaine, the psychological effects of withdrawal may lead to further marijuana use.

The legalization of marijuana may also increase the number of people who develop dependence. Once the drug becomes more accessible, people may be more likely to give into drug cravings and develop a habit.

While marijuana is still being researched and studied, there are treatment options for those suffering from marijuana abuse and addiction, or marijuana use disorder.

Treatment For Marijuana Addiction

Effective treatment requires commitment and effort from the person in recovery. Many people with marijuana use disorder may be reluctant to receive treatment because they may believe they do not suffer from addiction.

Of the 4 million people reported to meet the criteria for a marijuana use disorder in 2015, only 138,000 people voluntarily sought treatment.

Nonetheless, treatment options are available for marijuana addiction.

Currently, there are no medications used in the treatment for marijuana use disorder.

However, many behavioral therapies have proven effective when treating marijuana abuse and addiction.The ultimate goal of behavioral therapy is to change a person’s thought and attitudes towards drugs.

Effective behavioral therapies for marijuana addiction include motivational incentives, which allow professionals to offer rewards for staying drug-free.

Other behavioral therapies may include support groups, one on one therapy sessions, and more intensive therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).

If the marijuana addiction is severe, a stay at an inpatient treatment center may be necessary if the person cannot abstain from using marijuana on their own.

Inpatient treatment centers will likely offer a stable environment, monitor a patient’s progress,  and help with the symptoms of withdrawal to achieve the right mindset for recovery.

Call now for more information on marijuana abuse and addiction.



NIDA: Teens – Marijuana

DrugFacts: Marijuana

NIDA – Is Marijuana Addictive?