As of November 2018, medical marijuana has been legalized in 33 states across the United States, with a growing number also legalizing marijuana for recreational sale and use. Because of these new laws, a national conversation is being held regarding the substance’s role in medicine, recreation, and its overall safety. Many wonder whether marijuana is addictive, and if so, to what degree.
Marijuana, Dependence, and Addiction
Researchers are studying the long-term effects of regular marijuana use. Most agree that the substance presents potential for abuse and dependence. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes that an estimated 30% of marijuana users experience some level of what they call “marijuana use disorder” – a blanket term for problem use where the individual’s life is impaired in some way. Use falling under such a disorder may not be nearly as debilitating or dangerous as a full-scale addiction. Nevertheless, NIDA notes that addiction is possible, and that marijuana has been known to foster dependence in the form of withdrawal symptoms. These can include “irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, cravings, restlessness, and various forms of physical discomfort that peak within the first week after quitting and last up to two weeks”.
Who Is at Risk for Marijuana Dependence and Marijuana Use Disorder?
Marijuana use disorder can occur in anyone, but certain factors increase its likelihood. Rates of dependence on marijuana vary with the user’s age and the age at which they began using the drug. NIDA writes, “People who begin using marijuana before age 18 are four to seven times more likely than adults to develop a marijuana use disorder”. An estimated 9% of all users become dependent, while 17% of users who start in their teens become dependent. Other risk factors include one’s genetics, economic status, and mental health, with co-occurring mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, as common among those who develop a dependence or addiction to marijuana.
Marijuana’s Effects on Neurochemistry
Healthline describes a study by NIDA Director, Dr. Nora Volkow, which found decreased dopamine response in the brains of marijuana users. This could partly explain another risk factor for dependence or tolerance since a decreased response to dopamine, whether caused by marijuana use or not, can be momentarily increased through the use of marijuana. When someone who is normally prone to feeling bored or under-stimulated uses marijuana, it may give them a “hit” of dopamine that activates the brain’s pleasure centers and makes daily tasks more bearable or exciting. Other studies have found similar “complex, diverse and potentially long-term effects on the dopamine system” that may explain the mechanisms of marijuana dependence.
Marijuana Dependence and Recovery at GRC
With its effects on the brain’s reward centers and possible withdrawal effects, marijuana can produce dependence in users that can interfere with daily functioning and greatly hinder one’s life. A substance need not be addictive to have such unhealthy effects. While someone may not be addicted to marijuana, strictly speaking, it can still be used as an unhealthy coping mechanism or crutch to avoid addressing underlying problems in one’s life. It is up to the individual to take responsibility and recognize when this is the case. Seeking treatment for something like marijuana dependence may seem uncommon, but it can provide the individual with a host of helpful strategies for beating any dependence on any substance and cultivating healthier coping mechanisms, goals, and plans of action to build a better life. Granite Recovery Centers in New Hampshire offers a unique 12-step based approach to recovery that combines step work with proven clinical modalities. Individuals can count on personalized therapy, life skills development, a supportive and caring community, and high quality care from a passionate, experienced team of professionals. If you or a loved one feels that a dependence on marijuana or other substances is hampering your life, please contact us today. If you or loved one is suffering from a drug addiction, please give us a call at 855.712.7784. We can help.