Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana is one of the most commonly used drugs in America. More than 40 percent of Americans over the age of 12 admit to trying marijuana at least once, according to the 2003 survey on National Drug Use and Health (National Institute on Drug Abuse 2010). While many people see marijuana use as harmless, there are, in fact, many negative effects to using the drug regularly, and some studies point to its addictive properties.

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana is a mixture of the leaves, stems, seeds and flowers of the hemp plant, also known as cannabis. The herb is typically smoked as a hand rolled cigarette, or “joint”. It may also be packed into a cigar form, known as a “blunt,” smoked from a pipe or consumed in food. Smoking marijuana is the most common method of consumption. Marijuana can easily be combined or laced with other drugs, such as cocaine or PCP, making it especially dangerous.

Among users, marijuana is generally considered a safe drug. It can also be used for medical purposes (ex. glaucoma), leading proponents to view the drug’s use as acceptable and push for its legalization. This controversy has made it more difficult to limit the drug’s widespread usage.

The Biology of Marijuana Addiction

The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, has mind-altering effects similar to many hallucinogens. Users experience a sense of euphoria, and colors and sounds may intensify. Marijuana has the following effects on users:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased relaxation
  • Red, bloodshot eyes
  • Sense of euphoria
  • Slowed sense of time.

Marijuana use may also cause anxiety, agitation and paranoia.

Researched published by Psychology Today (2010) has linked the active ingredients in marijuana to the same receptors in the brain that are triggered with opioid use (such as heroin and morphine). This means that the euphoric feelings triggered by marijuana use may cause a cycle of addictive behavior, including cravings for the drug and needing an increased amount of the drug to get high.

An addiction to cannabis can cause a variety of long-term physical effects, including impaired immune function and increased risk of lung cancer and heart attack.

Marijuana Addiction Risk Factors

Addiction to marijuana is especially prevalent among teenagers and young adults. For this reason, it is important that parents of teenagers recognize the signs of marijuana addiction, so they can seek help for their child if necessary. Other risk factors include:

  • Gender: Males are at higher risk than females.
  • Medical history: A history of mental illness, depression or drug abuse increases a person’s susceptibility to marijuana use and addiction.
  • Race: Caucasians are more likely to smoke marijuana than other races.

Marijuana Addiction Warning Signs

Marijuana use doesn’t necessarily signal an addiction, but frequent use can cause dependence in some, and it may also be indicative of other problems.

Signs of marijuana use include:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Increased feelings of hunger
  • Lack of motivation and feelings of apathy
  • Poor short term memory
  • Respiratory issues
  • Sedentary effect.

Because use doesn’t necessarily signal addiction, the symptoms of a marijuana addiction are more extreme than those of an occasional user. Addiction symptoms include:

  • Feeling that the drug is necessary in order to cope with everyday stress
  • Inability or trouble functioning when the user isn’t high
  • Obsession with finding the next high.

Marijuana Addiction Treatments

Treatment for marijuana addiction is generally cognitive. Because the effects of the drug are mild, there are few treatment programs solely dedicated to marijuana detox. However, users may be able to obtain treatment from a local drug and alcohol counselor or through a 12-step program such as Narcotics Anonymous. Currently, no medications exist to treat marijuana addiction.

How to Seek Help

If you or your child is suffering from an addiction to marijuana, you may be able to seek help from a local drug addiction center or counselor. To find a counselor in your area, visit


Ghozland, M., Simonin, F., Kieffer L., & Maldonado. A. (2002). Motivational Effects of Cannabinoids Are Mediated by Opioid and Opioid Receptors. Journal of Neuroscience, 22, 1146-1

Seppa, N. (2010). Not just a high. Science News,177(13), 16-20.

US Drug Enforcement Administration. (2010). Marijuana. Retrieved August 11, 2010, from

The National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010). Research report series – Marijuana abuse. Retrieved August 11, 2010 from