Marijuana is one of the most common recreational substances consumed worldwide, and usage is hardly taboo in this age. However, few people know much about its chemical makeup, the effects of the drug and whether marijuana is actually an addictive drug.

What is marijuana?

Marijuana is a substance that contains a psychoactive component called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol – you might know it as THC. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this chemical is found in resin produced by female marijuana plants (called Cannabis Sativa). The plants also contain over 500 other chemicals with properties related to THC, which are called cannabinoids.

Marijuana has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration but has been legalized for medical and recreational use by many states. Synthetic components of marijuana have been incorporated into medicines that have been approved by the FDA, however.

The effects of marijuana differ depending on the method of consumption. When marijuana is smoked or taken orally (via food or drinks) THC enters the bloodstream and eventually the brain, causing feelings ranging from relaxation to paranoia, from elation to anxiety.

The effects of marijuana

Marijuana can cause various physical and mental effects, too. Larger doses of marijuana have more drastic effects, such as acute psychosis (hallucinations, delusions). There have also been studies linking psychiatric disorders, like schizophrenia, to marijuana usage.

The Mayo Clinic identifies numerous immediate side effects of marijuana, including headaches, dryness of the mouth or eyes, lightheadedness, exhaustion, nausea, delusions, hallucinations, faster heart rate and an increased appetite among others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also lists several long-term side effects of marijuana usage. Marijuana negatively impacts memory, attention, mood, decision-making coordination and reaction time. Marijuana usage also increases heart rate and has been linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart disease.

Marijuana has been touted for its pain relief qualities, but there is limited evidence that it is effective in the treatment of chronic pain. One positive is that marijuana has been shown to assist in the treatment of glaucoma and decrease vomiting in patients undergoing cancer treatment.

Is marijuana addictive?

Many people think of addiction in terms of opioids, which activate reward centers in the brain and require increasing amounts of the substance for the same high. While marijuana is nowhere near opioids in the intensity of its addictive properties for the same volume of the substance, marijuana is still physically addictive.

The American Psychiatric Association defines a substance use disorder or addiction as a condition where usage of a drug continues despite detrimental consequences that prevent a person from engaging in normal life activities. 

Marijuana definitely fits into that category, and many people who consider themselves casual marijuana users may be surprised to find that they meet the criteria for a substance use disorder.

Marijuana’s side effects are severe and increase with increased usage. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that usage decreases academic performance, lowers career achievement and impaired social skills. There’s no denying that usage could prevent a person from being able to take part in daily life activities.

Addiction to marijuana is not just common; it’s increasing in prevalence. A study on marijuana’s addictiveness found that 3 out of 10 users met the criteria for a marijuana use disorder in 2012-2013, up from 1 out of 10 in 2001-2002.

Why is marijuana addictive?

Marijuana use disorders can lead to addiction because a sense of dependence develops when individuals use marijuana regularly. These withdrawal feelings include a negative mood, changes in sleep and appetite, anxiety and uneasiness.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that marijuana dependence happens when a person’s brain becomes accustomed to a certain volume of the drug and the brain’s response becomes dulled, requiring increasing amounts of marijuana.

Is marijuana a gateway drug?

It is never easy to pinpoint what causes addiction, and there’s typically more than one reason to single out. However, longitudinal studies have been conducted that identify marijuana usage as a risk factor for abuse of other substances.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites several studies, one of which found marijuana users to be more likely to later develop an alcohol use disorder. Marijuana users are also more likely to develop an addiction to nicotine.

What to do about marijuana use

Whether you knew before this article that marijuana is addictive or not, you’re now equipped with the facts to make an important decision about any usage habits your or a loved one may have. Marijuana may seem harmless, but studies clearly demonstrate some intense negative effects.

If you are ready to get help for an addiction, Real Recovery Clinical Services can help. Offering a variety of inpatient and outpatient options, Real Recovery makes treatment realistic for your schedule. Find freedom from drugs and pursue the life you’ve always wanted with support from Real Recovery when you call (855) 363-7325.