Marijuana is the most common recreational drug used today in the United States, especially by young people. This substance is made up of the leaves, flowers, buds, stems and seeds of the plant Cannabis sativa. This hemp plant contains a chemical compound known as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that gives users mind-altering experiences.
Those who ingest this drug over time can develop marijuana dependence. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has estimated that 9% of those who use cannabis will develop marijuana dependence.
Marijuana dependence means that someone has gotten so used to using cannabis that they must use this substance in order to feel like their normal self. They have developed a tolerance for the drug and need to ingest more in order to achieve the effect they desire. Having marijuana dependence also means that when someone who uses marijuana regularly stops using it, they have withdrawal symptoms that can range from irritability to insomnia to depression. Those who depend upon this drug often want to cut down or stop, but cannot do so successfully, and they spend an inordinate amount of their time getting and using the drug.
One reason why marijuana usage is so common is its easy availability. It is also not a very expensive drug to buy and it is legal in some areas of the United States. Dependence on marijuana is becoming more common for these reasons and because heavy users discover they develop a tolerance when trying to withdraw from using it.
Those who use cannabis heavily often do not believe they are dependent upon it. Heavy users believe that if they don’t smoke “pot” on a daily basis, they are not addicted to it. Yet they may not realize that the chemicals in the drug are still in their system, even if they’ve missed a day or two of smoking.
When someone has a cross addiction in relation to marijuana dependence, it means they are also addicted to another substance in addition to cannabis. Those with a cannabis dependence have a tendency towards addiction and are more likely to develop a cross addiction to stronger drugs or prescription medications.
There are behavioral and physical symptoms that may indicate someone’s psychological or physical dependence on cannabis.
The behavioral signs of this drug dependence include:
Having a dependence on cannabis can have some dangerous consequences. The mind-altering chemical THC gets absorbed into the bloodstream when marijuana is smoked. The blood then takes the THC and distributes it to other parts of the body. Long-term use can affect brain development negatively, especially when usage begins when someone is young. Thinking, memory and learning can be impacted and brain connections can be affected. These effects can be long lasting or even permanent.
Other dangers that can develop include breathing problems, rapid heart rate, temporary hallucinations or paranoia and other mental health issues.
There is treatment available for those who have developed an addiction to cannabis. Behavioral support treatment centers include therapy and motivational incentives to stop using marijuana. There are no medications to treat marijuana dependency though research is ongoing to treat withdrawal symptoms.