Marijuana Addiction

Luke Prest
Calendar icon Last Updated: 01/25/2024

Reading Time: 7 minutes

What is Marijuana Addiction?

Marijuana is typically smoked to produce a relaxed and euphoric effect, but some choose to eat the substance for a milder, more extended high. Whichever way you take it, repeated use increases the risk of feeling like you need to use marijuana daily, eventually causing you to be unable to stop using it on your own.

Many people consider marijuana use to be relatively harmless, because they believe that it isn’t addictive, and because the drug can be beneficial when used for a medically prescribed purpose. Studies have shown, however, that chronic use of marijuana can be dangerous, leading to dependence, tolerance, and addiction. Long-term marijuana use can cause adverse effects both physical and psychological dependence, making it difficult to stop using, and even creating withdrawal symptoms in its users.

What are the Risks of Marijuana Addiction?

These prolonged symptoms of marijuana abuse will require professional treatment and a lot of time and patience to overcome:

Mental Effects of Marijuana use include:

  • An anxiety that does not go away or gets worse as a result of smoking pot
  • Depression or a depressed state
  • Social intolerance or a lack of desire to be social
  • Paranoia or feeling like everyone is out to get you
  • Acute psychotic reactions

Effects of Marijuana on the Heart:

  • Increased heart rate by 20-100%
  • Increased risk of heart attack
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular vulnerabilities

Effects of Marijuana on the Lungs:

  • Carcinogenic toxins create lung cancer
  • Increased exposure to disease
  • Increased risk of pneumonia
  • Increased risk of cold

Effects of Marijuana on Life:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Physical impairment
  • Mental impairment
  • Reduced cognitive abilities
  • Poor social life

What are the Symptoms of Marijuana Addiction?

Extensive research has shown that smoking marijuana can lead to some physical and psychological consequences such as:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Red eyes
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Increased heart rate
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Dry mouth
  • A productive cough
  • Depression

Paranoia is also a common symptom of marijuana use, although friends and family members of the individual suffering from marijuana addiction are more likely to notice this effect than the user. Only after they are in recovery do most individuals realize the degree to which marijuana-induced paranoia has been negatively impacting their lives.

Most of these symptoms will wear off as the drug itself wears off, but for some, the psychological effects of marijuana can last many months or even years after the individual stops smoking pot. Insomnia can persist for many months, often pushing individuals to relapse and to return to marijuana. Anxiety and depression are also common outcomes of marijuana abuse that can persist for months, often leading to relapse. Professional treatment is needed to provide counseling, behavioral coaching, and prescribed medications that can relieve these symptoms and the individual’s desire to self-medicate.

Long-term use of marijuana has been proven to have addictive potential. In most cases, first-time users will not become addicted and even occasional users who smoke pot recreationally may not become addicted to the drug. However, daily, long-term use of marijuana can lead to addiction and many other harmful effects. The likelihood of developing an addiction increases exponentially when marijuana use begins before the age of 18 when the drug can have a profound effect on the individual’s still-developing brain.

No longer using marijuana after a prolonged phase of marijuana use can lead to the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Poor appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Cravings
  • Mood swings

What are the Signs of Marijuana Addiction?

Cannabis dependence is much more common than dependence on other drugs due to the sheer number of people who use marijuana. The first step to overcoming marijuana addiction is to recognize that you have a problem and need help. Recognizing the signs of marijuana addiction can help you determine the severity of your problem.

Marijuana abuse signs include:

  • Tolerance to marijuana. If you realize that you have to smoke more pot to produce the same effects, then you are becoming addicted to the drug.
  • Withdrawal when marijuana is not smoked.If you have signs of withdrawal such as upset stomach, anxiety or depression when you do not smoke marijuana, then your body has already developed a physical dependence on the drug.
  • Smoking more pot than you intended. If you tell yourself or others that you will only smoke one joint and then you wind up smoking more than you intended, you are addicted.
  • Inability to control or cut down marijuana use.If you’ve tried to cut back on your smoking or tried to use less marijuana but still find that you wind up smoking more or using more than you anticipated, you are suffering from a potential sign of addiction.
  • Spending most of your time getting high.If marijuana has taken over your life to the point that you spend most of your time getting high or thinking about getting high, you are suffering from addiction.
  • Reduced activities because time is spent focused on pot. If you no longer take part in activities that you once enjoyed because you are busy smoking pot, that is a sign of addiction.
  • Smoking pot despite known consequences. If you have already suffered legal, social, financial, or other consequences as a result of marijuana use and you still smoke pot, that is a sign of addiction.
  • Using pot to relieve stress and becoming dependent on it for relaxation.If you smoke marijuana to cope with stress and you’ve become dependent on the drug to relax, that is a problem.

What to do if Someone You Love is Abusing Marijuana?

If someone you love is abusing marijuana, they may be in denial about the drug’s potency, or their addiction. Through open communication, you may be able to help them realize they need to quit using. Here are some reasons to quit marijuana:

  • Physical reasons to stop smoking pot – to feel better, reduce the risk of lung cancer, and be more energetic
  • Psychological reasons to stop smoking pot –to reduce anxiety, get back to being happy without pot, and reduce depression
  • Relationship related reasons to stop smoking pot –to get out of the relationship rut that comes from smoking too much pot, find new friends, and heal from the fights or pain that marijuana has caused you and your loved ones
  • Financial reasons to stop smoking pot –to free up the money spent on marijuana, so you have more money to spend, put into savings, or use to pay bills
  • Legal reasons to stop smoking pot –to stay out of trouble with the law

Every person will have different outcomes from their treatment and recovery efforts will differ from one patient to the next, depending on their individual needs and preferences. Marijuana addiction, though not as deadly or dire as some other addictions, is still challenging to overcome, taking time, effort and patience. The road to recovery from marijuana addiction will likely have many ups and downs. Many people who try to quit smoking pot for the first time will fail and may have to try again, possibly a few times, before they find a recovery method and treatment program that works for them.

Which Treatment Options are Available for Marijuana Addiction?

Overcoming marijuana can be a difficult journey because you are already in a rut, you are probably anxious and depressed, you may have changed your social circle to one that revolves around smoking pot, and you have likely suffered various other problems as a result of your pot abuse, which will need to be addressed. Fortunately, there are many options for help when it comes to overcoming marijuana addiction and taking back control of your life:

  • Inpatient Rehab inpatient rehab will be required for those with a particularly serious addiction to marijuana, and/or any co-occurring mental illnesses or addictions to other substances.   Individuals with an unstable home environment, or who currently live with other drug users should also seek inpatient rehab.
  • Outpatient Rehab Marijuana addiction can often be treated on an outpatient basis, which usually includes daily, weekly or semi-weekly counseling. Outpatient also includes therapy sessions to assist the individual in learning how to recognize and avoid the situations that cause them to smoke pot, and to treat any underlying mental or emotional issues that contribute to marijuana use.
  • Behavioral therapy –many people who smoke pot do so because they are bored or they need a mood boost. Behavioral therapy can teach these people how to overcome their addiction by guiding them to develop additional hobbies, interests, and goals that will allow them to be happier, more productive, and less likely to feel the need to smoke pot
  • Cognitive therapy this method of treatment will help the addict to think in a different way that does not encourage them to smoke pot
  • Community reinforcement many people who smoke pot, have trouble feeling good or happy without the drug due to chemical changes in the brain. Community reinforcement programs can help by providing a reward to an individual for recovery goals that are met such as not smoking pot for a month or setting other goals and following through
  • Support groups –support groups for this addiction include Marijuana Anonymous,  which follows the twelve-step recovery model that outlines a series of steps to take the addict from full-fledged addiction to sobriety.

Recovery from marijuana addiction is not something that you should try to tackle all on your own. In addition to seeking professional treatment, it is a good idea to have a support network of people who can help you through hard times and celebrate your successes with you. This support network can be made up of family and friends, fellow patients you meet in treatment, people you interact with at 12-step meetings, and even online support groups and forums.

Medical Reviewer
Luke Prest, MD
Board Certified Pediatrician
Read Bio
Luke Prest, MD, is a board-certified Pediatrician who provides comprehensive care, including management of mental health conditions, to children and adolescents. Through his medical training, he developed a deep understanding of the diagnosis, treatment, and management of various disorders, and remains committed to staying up-to-date with the latest medical advances and best practices in medicine.