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Marijuana addiction symptoms and treatment

Reading time: 10 mins
Marijuana addiction symptoms and treatment sign

Marijuana addiction refers to the constant use of marijuana despite experiencing dangerous consequences. Marijuana, often known as cannabis, is a psychoactive plant that is commonly used for therapeutic or recreational purposes. When consumed, it can cause a variety of physical and mental effects. 

Those who are addicted to the substance develop an uncontrollable and compulsive need to take the drug, regardless of what it is doing to their health or social life.

Users experience cravings that force them to keep taking the substance. Data from a 2015 study by Hasin et al., published in JAMA Psychiatry shows that 30% of cannabis smokers have marijuana use disorder. The higher the cannabis intake, the bigger the odds of developing addiction or dependence. And once a person develops a strong need to take the drug, that’s when it becomes too difficult to quit.

marijuana addiction symptoms

The symptoms of marijuana addiction are listed below.

  • Behavioral symptoms
  • Physical symptoms
  • Mental symptoms
  • Social symptoms

The exact cause of marijuana addiction is unclear, but it could be a combination of biological and environmental factors. Family history of drug use, being a young adult or adolescent, and the presence of mental health problems are some of the most common risk factors for marijuana addiction.

Fortunately, marijuana addiction can be treated. The treatment methods for marijuana addiction are listed below. 

  • Detoxification
  • Medication-assisted therapies
  • Behavioral therapies

The main objective of this post is to focus on marijuana addiction symptoms and treatment options.

1. Behavioral symptoms

behavioral symptoms

Behavioral symptoms of marijuana addiction are changes in personality and attitude brought on by this substance use disorder. 

Prolonged cannabis abuse can change the weed addict’s personality, especially when they have to keep their drug use a secret. It creates a rift between the child and the parent, which alters their mood and damages their relationships and academic achievements. 

Personality and behavioral symptoms of weed addiction include withdrawn or sullen behavior, lack of communication, inability to remain focused, anger, hostility, and uncooperativeness.

The mood and personality changes can easily be recognized by the way the person acts. For example, they change their relationship with their partners, parents, friends, or other family members. They are more secretive, avoid eye contact, disappear from home for a very long time, constantly make excuses, and have regular cash problems. 

Sometimes a person with an addiction to weed is hostile, especially when other people express concerns regarding their behavior.

2. Physical symptoms

physical symptoms

The term physical symptom refers to the physical effects of marijuana addiction i.e. the effects of this substance use disorder on a patient’s body and internal organs and tissues. 

The most obvious physical symptoms of marijuana addiction are the effects of this drug on a person’s appearance. The smell of marijuana smoke sticks to clothing, breath, hair, and skin. Cannabis smells a lot stronger than other dried plants. It carries the scent of plum, diesel, apple, and lemon notes. However, the smell amplifies when mixed with sweat. As a result, it tends to leave a note of mustiness. People call it the “skunk-like” smell.

Plus, those who are addicted to a substance often have poor hygiene. Their appearance is messier and they don’t take good care of their teeth as much as they used to. In fact, according to the results of a 2013 study by Shekarchizadeh et al., published in BMC Oral Health where scientists evaluated 685 volunteers in drug treatment, poor oral health behavior was found among patients in drug withdrawal treatment. 

Based on the results, a staggering 48% brushed their teeth less than once a day, while 81% rarely or never flossed. The problem is that 57% of the volunteers ate sugary products two times a day. This increased their likelihood of dental problems. 

The same thing can be said for showers. It seems that when a person develops an addiction, they don’t pay that much attention to their hygiene. 

Smoking cannabis can impair the user’s motor and coordination skills. A 2017 review of cognitive motor deficits in cannabis users published in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences showed that individuals who took cannabis experienced differences in the corticostriatal networks of the brain, compared to those who didn’t take the drug. 

These networks are closely linked to control and motor learning. But, they also affect memory, reactions, and the capability to switch between various tasks. 

Smoking cannabis induced corneal vasodilation, also known as red-eye. Endocannabinoids have a direct impact on ocular tissues. Basically, addiction to cannabis symptoms includes dilated blood vessels in the eye. It will relax them, which, in turn, makes them larger. The dilatation is what’s causing the redness and it’s most noticeable on the whites of the eye.

THC can also interact with the receptors and increase the user’s appetite. It can boost ghrelin release. This hormone stimulates hunger. When the problem is left unresolved, a person with marijuana addiction could gain weight. 

Long-term marijuana smoking leads to a rapid decline in lung function. It can also make weed addicts vulnerable to developing chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and recurrent lung infections. What most smokers don’t realize is that marijuana smoke has countless toxins.

Many of the chemicals in cannabis can also be found in tobacco smoke. In fact, marijuana smoke has more than 450 different chemicals. Cannabis smoke can damage the cell lining of the large airways, which is why it can cause some level of lung damage, wheezing, phlegm, and coughing.

The more a person abuses the product, the bigger the risk for asthma or allergic illnesses. With chronic smoking, people expose their bodies to potential respiratory disease, airway inflammation, and poor lung function. 

Physical signs of weed addiction also extend to neurodevelopmental damage in unborn babies. For instance attention deficit disorder. Smoking the drug on a daily basis increases the odds of potential damage. 

Marijuana use speeds up heart rate thus forcing this muscle to work harder. Men and women with marijuana addiction are at a higher risk of heart attack and problems such as heart failure and atrial fibrillation. Also, marijuana constricts blood vessels and contributes to hypertension (high blood pressure).

Moreover, marijuana addiction signs include reduced bone density thus putting a person at a higher risk of osteoporosis. In osteoporosis, bones become weak and brittle. This leads to more frequent fractures.

Like cigarette smoke, marijuana smoke contains carcinogens that increase the risk of various cancers. Basically, marijuana addiction has a major impact on a person’s physical health and puts their life in danger in more ways than one.

3. Mental symptoms

mental symptoms

Mental symptoms are manifestations of marijuana addiction on a person’s psychological (mental) health and cognitive functioning. 

Cognitive impairment is a common problem among cannabis users. But, impaired cognition with lasting effects is a serious issue for users who start taking the drug very young. It can affect their brain development later in adulthood. 

A study on the adverse effects of marijuana use published in the May 2016 issue of The Linacre Quarterly shows that subjects who used marijuana at various times between the ages of 18 and 38, and those who used cannabis on a regular basis, had an average of 8 IQ point reductions.  

The most impactful cognitive impairment was found in areas of processing speed and executive functioning. More subjects who started taking marijuana at an earlier age became persistent smokers and experienced the highest cognitive impairment.  

Marijuana abuse can trigger psychological effects. According to a 2014 paper on the approach to cannabis use disorder in primary care published in the Canadian Family Physician, controlled studies found a clear link between marijuana use and psychosis development. The odds of developing this health issue for those who had ever used marijuana has a 1.41 ratio. While for frequent smokers, the odds ratio is 2.09. 

Although this kind of substance use disorder won’t cause psychotic symptoms, it could increase the likelihood of developing them or worsen their symptoms. Especially in users who are already susceptible to psychosis. 

Basically, people with marijuana addiction are at risk of mental health problems or they can aggravate current disorders. Some of these problems include anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or tendencies. 

When discussing the mental weed addiction signs, it’s important to mention it can also affect a person’s ability to drive. In fact, marijuana intoxication increases the risk of car crash mortality and morbidity by 1.5 to 3-fold, according to a study by Turner et al., published in the September 2014 issue of the Canadian Family Physician

The higher the THC concentration, the bigger the risk for collision. That means individuals who are addicted to marijuana are at a high risk of car accidents and other problems.

In some cases, people pair marijuana with alcohol to amplify its effect. When that happens, they can drastically lose their ability to drive safely. 

4. Social symptoms

social symptoms

Social symptoms of marijuana addiction are the effects of this substance use disorder on a person’s social life and interaction with other people. 

Indeed, marijuana addiction can have a profound impact on the user’s social life. It can reduce their motivation, work, school, and overall performance. Many people with marijuana addiction started abusing this drug in adolescence and developed a major problem. 

According to a 2017 research by Patte et al., published in the Journal of School Health, when students start taking cannabis, it can affect their academic performance. In the study, experts analyzed students who started taking the drug at least once a month. They found that subjects who used marijuana were 4 times more likely to skip class, and 2 to 4 times less likely to finish their assignments, and homework, and put in the effort to get proper grades. 

They were also half as likely to obtain higher grades compared to what they could achieve before taking cannabis. 

Scientists also analyzed students’ expectations. They asked users what they thought their highest educational achievements would look like in the future. Based on the data found, students who started smoking cannabis on a daily basis were 50% less inclined to go to university. They just lacked the ambition they used to have prior to taking the drug. 

But, one of the most significant social signs of marijuana addiction is the way the drug affects their judgment and perception. 

When someone is addicted to cannabis, they can display aggression, rebellion, irritability, and restlessness. Their delinquent behavior can ruin their family and romantic relationships. Daily and persistent cannabis use can intoxicate their system and can cause numerous problems at school, work, or at home.

What are the factors that may increase your chances of developing marijuana addiction?

Factors that increase chances of developing marijuana addiction

Factors that increase an individual’s chances of developing marijuana addiction include a set of elements and circumstances that can elevate an individual’s susceptibility to developing a problematic pattern of cannabis use. Risk factors that increase your chances of developing marijuana addiction are listed below.

  • Being an adolescent or young adult
  • Being a male
  • Family history of addiction
  • Lack of family involvement 
  • Presence of mental health disorders such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, psychosis
  • Abusing other substances
  • Being a smoker
  • Peer marijuana use
  • Novelty seeking
  • Conduct problems
  • History of child abuse

What are the common complications and impacts of marijuana addiction on your health?

Complications and impacts of marijuana addiction on your health are numerous. These complications become more severe when addiction is left unmanaged. The most common health effects of marijuana addiction are listed below.

  • Permanent IQ loss by up to 8 points
  • Depression, psychotic episodes 
  • Suicidal thoughts and tendencies
  • Increased risk of heart attack, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation 
  • Reduced bone density leads to osteoporosis and fractures 
  • Recurrent lung infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Increased risk of cancer of the head or neck

What are the treatments that your doctor may recommend if you are diagnosed with marijuana addiction?

marijuana addiction treatment

Treatments that the doctor may recommend if you are diagnosed with marijuana addiction may be based on the severity of your pot addiction symptoms. The most common treatments a doctor may recommend to someone diagnosed with marijuana addiction are listed below. 

  • Detoxification
  • Medication-assisted therapies
  • Behavioral therapies

1. Detoxification

marijuana detoxification

Detoxification, or detox for short, is the first stage in addiction treatment and it happens when a person stops using marijuana. Cessation of marijuana use induces withdrawal symptoms in addicted persons. 

During the detox stage in marijuana addiction treatment, patients may experience withdrawal symptoms such as mood changes and irritability, diminished appetite, headaches, sleep difficulties, poor concentration, stomach problems, sweating, and chills. The biggest withdrawal symptom is a strong craving for marijuana, a 2023 article titled, “What to Expect from Marijuana Withdrawal” from Healthline confirms. 

The abovementioned symptoms occur within 24 hours after cessation of marijuana use. They peak in two to three days and last about two weeks. 

Since withdrawal symptoms can be severe, detox is usually performed under medical supervision.

2. Medication-assisted therapies

Medication-assisted therapies

Medication-assisted therapies (MAT) are treatment approaches for substance use disorders that incorporate the use of medications with counseling and behavioral therapies. 

Treatment for marijuana addiction also comes with strong cravings and withdrawal symptoms, which doctors may manage by prescribing medications. A 2020 article titled, “Available Treatments for Marijuana Use Disorders” from the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that at this point the FDA hasn’t approved any medications for the treatment of marijuana addiction. 

However, some medicines can help reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and other problems that patients experience. Many people struggle with sleep problems during withdrawal, which is why a doctor may prescribe medications for better sleep. 

These include sleep aid zolpidem (Ambien), anti-anxiety medication buspirone (BuSpar), and anti-epileptic medication gabapentin (Horizant). Doctors may also prescribe medications for the management of other mental health disorders in cases when patients have depression, anxiety, and other problems.

Various studies are evaluating the effectiveness of different medications in the treatment of marijuana addiction. According to a 2011 paper on the pharmacological treatment of cannabis dependence published in Current Pharmaceutical Design, in 2004, the National Institute on Drug Abuse initiated a research program aimed at creating pharmaceuticals for the treatment of cannabis use disorders (CUDs).  

It is important to bear in mind medications are never the only treatment approach. They are only used in combination with other treatment measures.

3. Behavioral therapies

Behavioral therapies

Behavioral therapies are therapeutic approaches that aim to modify and improve an individual’s behavior and emotional well-being by identifying and addressing maladaptive patterns and thought processes. 

The main objective of behavioral therapies is to teach patients healthy coping mechanisms, help them build self-esteem, and understand triggers that encourage marijuana use. With regular therapy, patients learn to overcome their addiction and prevent relapse.

Healthcare professionals recommend the most suitable therapeutic approach for patients, based on their needs, the severity of addiction, and co-occurring mental health disorders. The most common therapy approaches are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management, and motivational enhancement therapy (MET).

The main objective of CBT is to teach people strategies to identify and correct problematic behaviors. As a result, patients experience improvements in self-control that allow them to stop marijuana use and overcome other problems that come with it. 

The most crucial aspect of CBT is learning. For that reason, therapy sessions focus on helping patients learn more about negative behaviors and thoughts in order to enable them to adopt more positive alternatives. 

On the other hand, contingency management includes positive rewards to encourage patients to stay on the right track. At the same time, motivational enhancement therapy is meant to provide a quick internally motivated change to engage in the treatment. 

Besides individual therapies, patients may participate in group therapy sessions, family therapies, and other forms of psychotherapy if necessary.

Which marijuana addiction treatment is the most effective?

most effective treatment for marijuana addiction

The most effective treatment for marijuana addiction is behavioral therapy. In fact, therapy is the cornerstone of treatment of this (and other forms of) addiction. A 2016 study by Walther et al., published in Deutsches Arzteblatt International confirms that cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most effective type of psychotherapy for marijuana addiction, especially when used in combination with other therapies such as MET.

Furthermore, in a 2007 study on marijuana dependence and its treatment published in Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, subjects from CBT and MET groups achieved greater rates of abstinence than their counterparts from other groups.

Therapy is an effective approach to the treatment of marijuana addiction because it focuses on resolving triggers and stimuli that play a major role in the development of addictive behavior. Thanks to therapy, patients improve their problem-solving skills and learn how to cope with negative situations in a healthy manner.