Can I Really Become Addicted to Marijuana?

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When people think of addiction, they usually don't think of marijuana. Many people perceive this substance to be completely harmless. However, any substance that provides a “feel-good” feeling can become addictive.

With the widespread legalization of marijuana, it's important to understand the risks involved with using it.

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana comes from the dried seeds, leaves, flowers, and stems of the cannabis sativa or cannabis indica plant. It is a psychoactive drug that contains THC, a mind-altering compound that causes people to feel a pleasurable “high.”

There are several ways a person can consume this substance. These include:

  • Hand-rolled cigarettes
  • Pipes and water pipes
  • Blunts
  • Vaporizers
  • Edibles (i.e. brownies, gummies, or chocolate mixed with this substance)

Cannabis Use Disorder

Addiction to marijuana, also called cannabis use disorder (CUD), is possible. This is true even though this substance may not be as addictive as other addictive substances.

According to the CDC, the risk of CUD varies from study to study. Some studies suggest 3 in 10 people who use marijuana will become addicted. Others suggest the risk is as low as 1 in 10. Most studies agree that, similar to other forms of SUD, CUD is more prevalent in people who begin using at a young age.

Some people's concerns with marijuana usage are the increasing concentration of THC in it. In 2022, the THC concentration in marijuana was around 22%, according to the CDC. Compare this to 2017 when the THC concentration was 17% and to 2008 when it was 9%.

Signs of Addiction

Some of the signs of CUD include:

  • Spending a lot of time using this substance
  • Craving this substance
  • Using more than intended
  • Continuing usage despite it causing problems at home or work
  • Giving up activities you used to enjoy to use this substance
  • Continuing usage despite it causing social or relationship problems
  • Usage in high-risk situations (e.g., while driving)
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping use
  • Attempting to but failing to quit

Using marijuana frequently can result in dependency and cause withdrawal symptoms when the use of this substance stops. Withdrawal symptoms can last up to two weeks.

They may include the following:

  • Cravings
  • Irritability
  • Mood and sleep difficulties
  • Decrease appetite
  • Restlessness

Short-Term Effects of Marijuana Use

When smoked, THC goes through a person's lungs and into their bloodstream. This causes them to experience the effects of THC more immediately. THC is absorbed more slowly when a person eats or drinks it.

Effects can last from 30 minutes to one hour. Some of the short-term effects of THC include:

  • Altered senses (e.g., experiencing bright colors)
  • Changes in mood
  • Altered sense of time
  • Impaired body movement
  • Difficulty thinking and problem-solving
  • Impaired memory
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Psychosis

The short-term effects may vary from person based on tolerance and dose.

Long-Term Effects of Marijuana Use

Consumption of marijuana can lead to negative long-term effects on your mental and physical health. Notably, this substance may cause permanent IQ loss when a person starts using it before the age of 18. This can impair a person's thinking, memory, and learning functions. 

Marijuana can also cause breathing problems when inhaled through the lungs. This irritates the lungs and can cause similar breathing problems as people who smoke tobacco. These include:

  • Cough
  • Phlegm
  • More frequent lung illness
  • Higher risk of lung infections

Using this substance while pregnant can cause several problems for the baby. This includes low birth weight, and behavioral and brain problems. Infant brain problems can develop into long-term effects such as problems with attention, memory, and problem-solving.

Marijuana usage can also have long-term effects on a person's daily life. It can interfere with career goals and relationships and reduce overall life satisfaction. Other long-term effects include an increased risk of heart attack and cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS). CHS causes regular cycles of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration that can sometimes land people in the emergency room.

Can You Overdose on Marijuana?

There have not been reports about people overdosing on this substance. However, marijuana use may become life-threatening when mixed with other substances.

Some people who use marijuana experience physical discomfort that causes anxiety, paranoia, and psychotic reaction. People who have experienced this type of discomfort have sought emergency room treatment.

Is Marijuana a “Gateway Drug”?

Marijuana has the reputation of being a “gateway drug.” This reputation claims that use of this substance leads to the use of more dangerous “harder” drugs. However, this may not be the case.

While many people use this substance before becoming involved in other “harder” drugs, most people who use marijuana do not. The risk of using “harder” drugs after marijuana usage is more related to other factors including a person's social environment, economic background, and biological factors. Untreated trauma can also increase the risk of substance use and addiction.

Treatment for Marijuana Addiction

There is no current FDA-approved drug for marijuana detox. However, a detox facility can monitor your symptoms and make the withdrawal process more comfortable.

Other treatments for CUD include psychotherapy and modalities such as yoga and meditation.

Marijuana addiction can have long-term effects on your mental and physical health that interfere with how you live your life. Pathways Recovery Center has experience treating substance use disorder (SUD). Our center provides many treatments and modalities to accommodate your needs. We believe that recovery will happen for you one day at a time and are here to guide you along your recovery journey. Our mental health professionals can work with you to create a treatment plan that is specific to your recovery needs. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, call (888) 771-0966 to learn more about how Pathways Recovery Center can help you have a successful recovery by meeting you where you are.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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