Marijuana is a psychoactive drug that acts as a depressant and potentially has a hallucinogenic effect. Marijuana is legal in 28 states and Washington, DC as a medicinal drug, and various states are increasingly approving its use as a recreational drug. Those who use the drug report the following effects:
- Slowed reaction time
- Relaxed feelings
- Increased appetite
- Altered sense of time
- Altered sense of mood
- Impaired body movement
- Difficulty thinking
- Impaired memory
- Trouble with problem-solving abilities
- Altered senses, including seeing bright lights
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the active ingredient in marijuana, and it binds with the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Once it binds and activates these receptors, it affects memory, concentration, depth perception, coordination, and perception of time, ultimately interfering with normal function. These cannabinoid receptors, particularly C1, C2, and possibly others, are located throughout the cerebellum, hippocampus, and cerebral cortex.
Popularity of Marijuana
Marijuana is known by an array of names, such as ganja, weed, reefer, broccoli, pot, bud, herb, and Mary Jane. CNN published statistics from JAMA Psychiatry, which revealed that use of nonmedicinal marijuana is on the rise. The study indicated that 9.5 percent of American adults used marijuana within the prior year as of 2012-2013. In 2001-2002, the numbers of American adults who smoked weed was 4.1 percent.
In 2011, as noted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, 18 million Americans aged 12 and older reported partaking in marijuana use. Of these individuals, fewer than 5 million met the criteria for having a dependence on marijuana. Weed is actually more popular than pain relievers, hallucinogens, heroin, cocaine, and tranquilizers combined.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states the potency of marijuana has increased over time based on samples confiscated by law enforcement. In the early 1990s, the THC content of samples was about 3.7 percent for marijuana and 7.5 percent for sinsemilla, a more potent form of marijuana derived from female plants. In 2013, the THC content of marijuana was 9.6 percent and 16 percent for sinsemilla.
Other forms of marijuana use are becoming more popular. With the growing number of people using medicinal marijuana and the accessibility of “pot shops,” edibles are becoming more popular, especially marijuana in the form of brownies, cookies, and candy. They even make marijuana-infused beef jerky, ice cream, root beer, nuts, and fruit chews. Dabbing is becoming more common, which consists of the person using a marijuana extract. People also use vaporizers to inhale the drug in a more discreet manner.
How Common Is Marijuana Addiction?
Statistics from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed 4.2 million Americans were dependent on marijuana, but 15 million were regular users. Approximately 10 percent of marijuana users become chronic users over time.
Although the number of individuals with a marijuana use disorder decreased over the past 10 years, about 30 percent of individuals who use marijuana may have a marijuana use disorder. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the National Institutes of Health, states that, although it is difficult to determine the number of individuals dependent on marijuana, it’s estimated that 9 percent of people who use marijuana become addicted while 17 percent of those who start using in their teens or earlier become addicted. Those who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are 4-7 times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder as an adult.
In 2014 alone, 4.176 million Americans were dependent on or abused marijuana. Of those individuals, 138,000 voluntarily sought help for their marijuana use addiction.
What Are the Signs of Marijuana Abuse and Addiction?
Although it’s not common, some people do develop a tolerance to the drug. In other words, the person requires more marijuana over time to feel the same effect. In some cases, the person’s tolerance may increase to a level where they begin using edibles with high concentrations of THC or begin to dab using propane-extracted concentrates.
Dr. Nora Volkow, who is the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, conducted a study on those who use marijuana. The study revealed those who frequently use marijuana don’t have as much of a response to dopamine when compared to those who don’t use marijuana regularly or at all. When given a chemical like methylphenidate, the individuals who frequently used marijuana didn’t have as much of a response. These people had a negative response when they didn’t feel the effects of methylphenidate. It appears the issue is that those who abuse marijuana chronically have less of a reaction when dopamine receptors are stimulated. Dr. Volkow determined this is because the brain doesn’t know what to do with the dopamine because of the repeated marijuana exposure.
Those who abuse marijuana may experience a loss of interest in daily activities. They may not have as much energy as they did prior to the marijuana abuse. It’s possible for people to become less social and opt to smoke weed rather than go out with friends. Performance at work may change, and if a person is still in school, it’s possible the individual will begin doing poorly.
Studies indicate that marijuana can lower IQ scores and affect a person’s memory, meaning the person may begin to forget to complete tasks or fulfill responsibilities from repeated exposure. The person may think about obtaining marijuana frequently. It’s possible for the individual to neglect responsibilities, make poor decisions to obtain the drug, and place marijuana as a top priority in life, above other responsibilities.
Just because a person abuses marijuana for a prolonged period of time doesn’t mean addiction has occurred. Everyone responds differently to using and quitting drugs. As stated, some people will be able to stop marijuana use without experiencing withdrawal, but for many, symptoms of withdrawal arise when use is stopped or reduced.
The severity of the symptoms depends on the amount of use and how long the person used. In addition to a general lousy feeling, some examples of common symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include:
- Mood swings
- Sleep difficulties and insomnia
- Decrease in appetite
When Does Withdrawal Start?
The timeline of marijuana withdrawal varies from person to person. People who use the heaviest may develop symptoms within the first day of quitting. They may begin to feel anxious, have difficulty sleeping, or become irritable. These symptoms tend to peak within 48-72 hours and cause intense cravings along with issues like stomach pain and the chills. Between days four and 14, depression can set in as a result of changes to the brain’s chemistry. The symptoms may remain for up to 2-3 weeks, and they then tend to dissipate over time, though most people don’t have any symptoms after three weeks.
Benefits of a Medical Detox from Marijuana
Medical detox involves professional medical support throughout the withdrawal process. There isn’t currently a medication designed to relieve the symptoms of withdrawal from cannabis, but medical professionals may prescribe other medications to relieve specific withdrawal symptoms. For instance, a doctor can prescribe gabapentin, a drug used for patients with nerve pain or issues related to seizures. It works by relieving anxiety associated with marijuana withdrawal. Other anticonvulsants are currently being studied for their effectiveness at relieving anxiety caused by withdrawal. A doctor may also prescribe sleep medications like zolpidem to relieve insomnia. Baclofen is a GABA receptor antagonist that prevents the release of glutamate, noradrenaline, and dopamine. It alleviates the reward effect of drug abuse. Hydroxyzine (the generic form of Vistaril) is an antihistamine that is also used to reduce anxiety associated with withdrawal.
Not all clients require medication to cope with withdrawal symptoms, but support is essential for everyone undergoing withdrawal. Professionals will help clients to feel encouraged and supported throughout the entire process, increasing the likelihood that they will complete withdrawal and move forward into a comprehensive treatment program.