Unlike most other illicit drugs, marijuana is often distinguished as an innocuous counterpart to more serious substances. As legislation throughout the United States is changing and moving toward complete legalization of the substance, more people than ever are paying close attention to marijuana. With marijuana use on the rise, understanding the drug along with signs and symptoms of abuse is important.

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana, or cannabis, is known by many names. Bud, weed, loud, chronic, pot, grass, and dope (to name a few) all refer to the drug. With every generation creating its own nickname for marijuana, it’s clear to see that weed has been around for a long time.

Marijuana itself is a psychoactive drug derived from the cannabis plant and may be used for medicinal or recreational purposes. The main portion of the plant that makes it psychoactive is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. A secondary chemical compound within marijuana is Cannabidiol or CBD. There are still more than 483 chemical compounds within the plant as well as 65 other cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids are chemicals that specifically act upon the cannabinoid receptors within cells that alter neurotransmitter release in the brain. Marijuana may be smoked in plant form or as oils, vaporized, or even consumed as an edible.

The method of administration can determine how long it takes for the effects to begin to manifest. Smoking or otherwise inhaling THC can have an immediate consequence while eating or drinking it will likely take much longer because food and drink must be digested before entering the bloodstream.

No matter the route of administration, the effects of THC on the brain is unmistakable and can begin within minutes. The high, which is a stark change in perception coupled with feelings of euphoria and an increase in appetite, is a result of the THC stimulating the neurons in the reward center of your brain.

When THC interacts with these neurons, it causes a release of dopamine or the “feel-good chemical” of the brain. The brain will subsequently release higher levels of dopamine disproportionate to what is typically observed in correlation with natural stimuli.

Some of the more common effects of marijuana use are a relaxed and euphoric sensation as well as a distorted perception of time, increased appetite, and heightened senses. However, this is not without negative effects as well. Users also may experience increased anxiety or paranoia as well as unpredictable changes in mood, panic, and fear. Physical effects can include dry mouth, dizziness, bloodshot eyes, and shallow breathing.

Once someone has used marijuana, it will remain present in the person’s system for up to three days. In cases where the drug is used frequently or daily, it can stay in the system for more than a week.

Because of the attention and culture that surrounds the use of marijuana, the drug has been called by several different street names including weed, pot, hash, herb, mary jane, the devil’s lettuce, reefer, bud, ganja, and grass, among many other names. Spice is another name that might be used, but that refers to synthetic marijuana, which has been mixed with harmful chemicals and has no perceived medicinal value.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

Marijuana use disorders are typically associated with dependence –  when a person feels withdrawal symptoms when they are not using the drug. Those who use marijuana report sleep difficulties, mood swings, irritability, cravings, decreased appetite, and other physical discomfort symptoms. Marijuana dependence occurs when the brain acclimates to large amounts of the drug and reduces production and sensitivity to its own cannabinoid neurotransmitters.

A marijuana use disorder will only become an addiction once the person cannot stop using the drug by themselves. At this stage, it will start to interfere with many aspects of their lives.

Marijuana addiction is a controversial topic that many will disagree with, but marijuana, like any drug, can be addictive. In 2015, four million people in the United States met the criteria for a marijuana use disorder, and another 138,000 sought treatment voluntarily for their use of the substance.

What Are The Signs Of Marijuana Addiction?

Addiction starts when a user disregards consistent negative effects and goes to detrimental lengths to keep using the drug. Whether you think marijuana is physically addictive or not, here are some signs and symptoms of marijuana addiction to look out for:

  • Cravings for the drug
  • Using more marijuana than initially intended
  • Ignoring responsibilities to get high
  • Increasing problems with behavior at work or school
  • Engaging in risky behavior such as driving while on marijuana
  • Using the drug to self-medicate and to handle anxiety or stress
  • Inability to stop after trying to quit
  • Increasing tolerance for the drug
  • Experiencing withdrawal after prolonged abstinence
  • Using marijuana despite obvious consequences

What Is Involved In Marijuana Addiction Treatment?

Like almost any drug addiction, quitting marijuana use after prolonged exposure will have negative side effects, including anxiety, irritability, drowsiness, loss of weight and appetite, and constant cravings for marijuana. Because many people relapse just to help deal with these symptoms, the best thing to do is to get addiction treatment at a drug rehab.

For many drugs, the first step is often detoxification, which involves ridding your body of the substance through medical supervision and possibly FDA-approved medications. If you have only been using marijuana, then you might not need to go through detox.

However, if you have been using the drug alongside other, more dangerous substances such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, or opioids, then you may need detox treatment before moving forward with your recovery.

The next step, depending on your insurance and the severity of your addiction, might be residential treatment. This involves living at the rehab facility for 30-90 days and will help you get to the root of your addiction. Through therapy and clinically proven treatment methods, counselors and therapists will work with you to identify the thoughts and behaviors that led to your addiction in the first place.

If you have a mental illness that may sit as the source of your addiction, you may receive dual diagnosis treatment, which takes both your addiction and mental condition into account through treatment.

After residential, you may transition into outpatient treatment, which allows you to return home while still being treated with therapy and group sessions. There are three main levels for this:

Intensive Outpatient (IOP): This involves participating in treatment for more than nine hours each week.

Outpatient (OP): This is the same as IOP except you participate in fewer than nine hours of treatment each week.

Often, the home is still a dangerous place for people in recovery. Being back in the same settings and surrounded by the same people might lead someone back to marijuana.

Additionally, returning to the stressors of dealing with everyday life can also be a cause for relapse. This is why many people choose to use a transitional living program, which provides a safe home environment to develop the life skills necessary to ease back into everyday life.

Another way to help you stay connected is to be a part of an active alumni community. By reinvesting into the treatment center that helped you, you can sponsor and mentor others who are going through the same or similar struggles that you are going through. Having someone under your wing can help you remain accountable through your recovery journey.

How Dangerous Is Marijuana?

Marijuana is one of the few illicit drugs on the market that is thought of as non-addictive, but is that true? Some studies claim marijuana is only psychologically addictive while others report that chemical dependency develops with regular use. However, there are real stories involving real people who struggle with this drug.

What is undebatable is the drug’s effect on your body. WebMD reports that your heart rate effectively doubles for up to three hours after smoking marijuana. This can have detrimental effects on bleeding, blood sugar, blood pressure, and even breathing.

Also, the cannabis plant has been bred to contain more THC than it has in the past—it is getting more potent. This means the base level will be higher, and it will require a larger amount of THC to get you high as your tolerance grows.

There also are indirect dangers to marijuana use as well. If you are using the drug to self-medicate and treat a mental disorder, you could end up worsening the symptoms. This could be debilitating and even deadly in cases such as schizophrenia and depression.

Marijuana Abuse Statistics

  • In 2017, about 45% of high school seniors had tried marijuana.
  • In 2013, the DEA seized more than 267,000 kilograms of marijuana.
  • Marijuana has been used by people for almost 5,000 years.
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