While many people believe that marijuana (also known as weed or pot) is a harmless drug, research suggests that it can be addictive and lead to serious physical and mental health issues.

As marijuana continues to become legalized or decriminalized across the nation, it’s important to understand the health risks of this drug. Just like alcohol, marijuana being legal doesn’t make it 100% safe.

Understanding Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana is a psychoactive drug that alters the brain’s chemistry, producing a sense of euphoria and relaxation.

However, with regular use, the brain adapts to the drug’s effects and requires more to achieve the same high. This phenomenon is known as tolerance and is a hallmark of addiction. That being said, not everyone who has a high tolerance is an addict, but it’s often the case.

Marijuana addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and use despite negative consequences. It can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or socioeconomic status, and it can lead to a host of physical and mental health problems.

However, because marijuana is legal, decriminalized, or essentially ignored in many parts of the country, and because marijuana users are much less likely to have the same kind of destructive habits or incidents that you see in users of harder drugs, like meth or heroin, it’s often not viewed as addictive.

What’s important to focus on is scale — even though a marijuana user might not be crashing cars like an alcoholic, they might still be having consequences, just on a lower scale. A consequence is still a consequence, regardless of how big it is.

For example, not getting a job because you couldn’t pass a drug test isn’t necessarily a big consequence, but it’s still a consequence that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana addiction is a bit more subtle than addiction to more “destructive” drugs, like cocaine. Here are some of the signs:

  • Difficulty controlling how much you use or how often you use
  • Spending more time and money than you’d like obtaining and using marijuana
  • Neglecting responsibilities or obligations in favor of using marijuana
  • Continuing to use marijuana despite negative consequences, such as legal problems, relationship issues, or financial difficulties
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit, such as irritability, anxiety, insomnia, or appetite changes
  • Withdrawing from family, friends, school, work, or hobbies in favor of more time using the drug

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you might be addicted. If so, only you can decide if you want to seek help or continue along this destructive path.

Is Marijuana Addictive? Debunking Common Myths

Despite the evidence suggesting that marijuana can be addictive, many people still believe otherwise. Here are some common myths:

  • Marijuana isn’t addictive: While not everyone who uses marijuana will become addicted, research suggests that it can be addictive for some individuals. The same can be said for almost all drugs, including alcohol.
  • Marijuana is a natural plant, so it’s safe: Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. Both morphine and cocaine appear naturally in plants. Marijuana contains many chemicals that can affect the brain and body in harmful ways.
  • You can’t overdose on marijuana: This is only partially true. Overdosing on marijuana exclusively is essentially impossible, but mixing marijuana with other drugs can make an overdose on those other drugs much more likely.

The Risks of Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana addiction can have serious physical and mental health consequences. Some of the risks associated with long-term marijuana use include:

  • Respiratory problems, such as chronic bronchitis and lung cancer
  • Impaired memory and cognitive function
  • Increased risk of mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, and even schizophrenia
  • Decreased motivation and productivity
  • Social and relationship problems, including the inability to get a job
  • Legal problems if caught with large amounts or caught with even small amounts in a state where it’s illegal

Seeking Help

If you or someone you love is struggling with marijuana addiction, the first step is to seek professional help. If your addiction is not causing you too many problems, you might start with your doctor.

Your primary care physician can provide a referral to a qualified addiction specialist, who might then refer you to a higher level of care, like sober living or IOP.

If these levels of care are insufficient, you might consider a treatment center, either inpatient or outpatient.

These offer a range of services, including detoxification, counseling, and support groups. It’s not uncommon for them to recommend a psychiatrist or therapist (or both) during and after treatment.

Recovery: What to Expect

Recovery is a lifelong process that requires commitment and dedication. While the road can be challenging, it’s essential to remember that you can overcome addiction and live a fulfilling life.

Some things to expect include:

  • Withdrawal symptoms: Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable and challenging, but they typically subside within a few days to a week. At most, you should be done with them in a month.
  • Cravings: Cravings for marijuana can be intense, especially in the early stages of recovery. Learning coping skills and developing a support network can help manage cravings. Working the 12 Steps can also reduce or eliminate cravings.
  • Relapse: Relapse is unfortunately common, but it’s essential to remember that it doesn’t mean failure. Relapse can be an opportunity to learn from mistakes and strengthen your recovery. It’s not the end.

Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to deal with these issues:

  • Develop a support network of family, friends, and peers in recovery to turn to when cravings get bad or you relapse
  • Engage in healthy activities, such as exercise, meditation, or your favorite hobby, when you’re struggling.
  • Learn coping skills from your therapist or from a treatment program to manage stress and cravings.
  • Address underlying mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, through therapy or medication.

It’s essential to remember that recovery is a process, and setbacks can happen. The most important thing is to stay committed to the recovery journey and keep moving forward.

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