Over the past several years, marijuana has lost much of its cultural stigma in the U.S. A study published in January 2018 by the Pew Research Center indicated that 61 percent of Americans are in favor of legalizing cannabis for medical and recreational use–up from just 31 percent in 2001. Nearly 55 million U.S. adults report that they currently use marijuana. Twenty-nine states have medical marijuana programs and nine more have completely legalized marijuana for recreational use, with more expected to follow suit. Despite the portrayal of marijuana as relatively harmless, however, some questions about the addictive nature of the drug are still unanswered.
Marijuana Use Disorder
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicates marijuana use disorder affects up to 30 percent of cannabis users. This typically takes the form of dependence, which means the user experiences withdrawal upon discontinuing use of a substance. With cannabis, withdrawal symptoms may include mood swings, sleep and/or appetite changes, irritability, restlessness, physical symptoms like a racing heartbeat, and cravings. This occurs because the brain reduces production of endocannabinoid neurotransmitters in response to artificial ingestion of these chemicals through marijuana use.
Some people with marijuana use disorder develop an addiction, which means they continue using cannabis despite negative consequences associated with the drug such as difficulty with work, school, and relationships. Although it is difficult to estimate how many people are addicted to marijuana, 138,000 individuals sought treatment for cannabis use in 2015 according to NIDA data. Up to nine percent of those who use the drug will develop dependency issues, rising to 17 percent among those who began using marijuana as teens.
According to NIDA, those who begin using marijuana before age 18 are up to seven times more likely to develop marijuana use disorder than those who begin using the drug as adults. The National Institute of Health notes that most people who seek treatment for marijuana addiction have been using the drug almost daily for 10 or more years and have tried unsuccessfully to quit at least six times. Individuals who take medication to treat depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders are more likely to become dependent if they use marijuana. Marijuana users who also smoke cigarettes or regularly binge drink are also at higher risk for addiction to cannabis.
Although marijuana is much less likely to lead to addiction than substances such as heroin and cocaine, the sheer number of Americans who use cannabis make dependence a more prevalent occurrence. Some have theorized that the rising potency of marijuana will contribute to increased dependency since many of today’s strains contain more than 50 percent THC compared to less than 5 percent in the 1990s.
Signs of Marijuana Addiction
If you are concerned about your marijuana use, consider these signs that you may be dependent:
– You feel irritable when you aren’t using cannabis.
– If you have marijuana, you use your supply quickly and are unable to moderate.
– You are unable to meet the obligations of school or work.
– You are spending more than you can afford on marijuana.
– You miss out on other activities to get high.
– You have gotten into legal trouble because of your habit.
– You need to use more of the substance to achieve the same effect.
– You feel anxious about running out of weed.
If you use marijuana and are unable to quit even if you want to, talk to your doctor about ways to moderate or discontinue use. Therapy and other techniques can help reduce your dependence on cannabis, along with identification and treatment of comorbid mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.