Facts About Marijuana Use and Abuse
Marijuana is currently the world’s most commonly used illicit drug. THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive chemical responsible for the high one gets from smoking marijuana.1
Now that high is becoming high-potency as well.
Because of advances in cultivating the plant Cannabis sativa, the average THC concentrations increased from 4.56% in 1996 to 11.75% in 2008.2 There are growing concerns about the increased potency of marijuana, with mounting evidence supporting the risk of cannabis-induced psychosis in otherwise healthy individuals.3
In general, the effects of marijuana include the following:
- Mild euphoria
- Increased sense of well-being
- Relief from anxiety
- Alterations in perception of time
- Hallucinations and illusions (infrequent)4
The common negative effects of smoking marijuana include:
- Impairments in cognitive functioning.
- Impairments in learning.
- Disruption of all stages of memory.
- Impairments of motor control and reaction time.
- Acute depressive reactions at very high doses.
- Panic reactions.
- Mild paranoia.4
Is Marijuana Addictive?
The DSM-5 — the newest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s manual for diagnosing mental health and substance disorders — now includes a diagnosis of Cannabis (Marijuana) Use Disorder, including a group of symptoms and diagnostic criteria for addiction — such as tolerance, withdrawal syndrome, craving and persistent or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control use of this drug.5 And in many Western nations, its use is so widespread that more than half of 21-year-olds born since 1970 have reported trying the drug at least once.6
Prevalence of Marijuana Addiction
In recent years, studies have discovered the following about the prevalence of marijuana addiction:
- More adults in the U.S. had a marijuana use disorder in 2001-2002 than in 1991-1992.
- Increases in the prevalence of marijuana dependence have been most notable among young black men and women, and among Latino adult men.
- There have been significant increases in the abuse of and dependence on marijuana by 45-to-64-year-old men.
- The increase in potency of the active ingredient in marijuana (THC) may have contributed to rising rates in problematic use.
- Prevalence of marijuana use by white males (18-29 years) has not increased, but they have remained high.
- Numerous environmental factors (increase in single-parent households, education, truancy and economic factors) are all likely to contribute to the observed changes.7
Marijuana Use in Adolescents: Concerns for the Future
Marijuana use in adolescence is associated with altered brain development, a decline in cognitive function and poor academic performance. Adolescents who use marijuana perform worse on tests of problem solving, with problems also in areas of attention, memory and learning. After 28 days’ abstinence from marijuana use, there was still diminished performance in areas of complex attention, verbal memory and planning in some studies.8 It is also thought that cannabis use in susceptible adolescents and young adults may lead to schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders.4
Marijuana and alcohol are frequently used together, with 58% of adolescents who drink also using marijuana. 9
Does Marijuana Help or Hurt?
Marijuana is the most frequently abused illegal drug in the country. The legalization of marijuana in some states remains a controversial issue, and there continues to be a lot of debate about whether or not marijuana is harmful to one’s health.
Contributing to the debate is the fact that marijuana is frequently used for medicinal purposes. Many people use it to ease the discomfort caused by cancer and other chronic diseases. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, scientists have found that marijuana offers therapeutic effects that can relieve nausea, ease pain and stimulate appetite.10
Still, chronic marijuana use may also contribute to the development of mental health issues, as well as lung and heart disease. And marijuana can be addictive. Although it rarely (if ever) causes death, it can cause many social effects.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana use can have a number of negative effects on a user’s daily life.10 It has been associated with decreased motivation, which can affect one’s school or work performance. Marijuana use has been connected to increased absences and decreased work performance. There are also more work accidents, which lead to more workers’ compensation claims. These factors can eventually lead to a marijuana user losing his or her job over drug use.
It can also affect one’s social life and cognitive abilities, leading to problems with memory, slowed reaction times, anxiety and panic, as well as social and interpersonal deficits.
Further physical effects of marijuana use include a suppressed immune system and respiratory problems stemming from the fact that marijuana contains greater amounts of tars than those found in tobacco smoke, as well as many of the same cancer-causing chemicals.4 Chronic use of marijuana can also reduce fertility and sexual potency in men and menstrual cycles in women. Finally, THC can cross the placenta, affecting a baby’s developing brain and cause other prenatal stresses on the fetus.
More Significant Social Issues
Marijuana affects perception and judgment and is associated with low achievement.11 Marijuana also causes memory and learning problems, which can especially affect those in high school or college. Marijuana use can also cause delinquent behavior, aggression, rebellion and poor relationships with family, especially parents.
According to The Social Impact of Drug Abuse, the effects of drugs in the workplace depend on the specific tasks being performed. Highly technical tasks that require concentration and memory are more likely to be affected by drug use than manual labor.12
Marijuana’s Long-Term Effects on the Brain
While some components of brain function recover completely with the passage of time after an individual stops marijuana use, research has shown that there are other areas in which problems persist. Some of the affected brain processes include decision-making, concept/idea formation and planning. These effects are most likely to occur in people who began regular marijuana use as adolescents and engaged in heavy use for a very long time.13 Daily or persistent use of marijuana at intoxicating doses can lead to chronic problems in areas of social functioning, including problems in school, sports, work and the ability to sustain healthy relationships.14
If you or someone you love and care about struggle with marijuana use and its consequences, there is always time to turn things around and enjoy a life of freedom from this drug. That time is now, and the number to call is 1-888-744-0789.
Statistics Regarding Marijuana Use
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports the following statistics about marijuana use:10
- Marijuana accounted for 17% of substance abuse treatment admissions in the United States in 2008.
- In 2009, nearly 17 million people in the United States, aged 12 and older, had used marijuana in the previous month.
- Between 2002 and 2008, marijuana usage rates increased every year.
- During that same time, marijuana usage rate decreased for 8th graders. In 2002, the rate was just above 19%; by 2008, the rate had dropped to 14.6%.
- In 2009, 42% of high school seniors in the United States had used marijuana at least once.
Marijuana and Mental Health
Here are the facts about mental health and marijuana:
- Marijuana use can cause severe anxiety and even panic attacks, especially among inexperienced users of the drug who take a relatively large dose.15
- Marijuana slows reaction time and information processing, signal detection and motor coordination, a condition which intensifies as dose increases. That might be okay if you’re just hanging out at home, but accidental injury or fatality while driving has become a major health concern around how marijuana affects mental processing.6
- Marijuana use is associated with psychotic illness, including schizophrenia, in vulnerable adolescents, such as those exposed to child abuse and a family history of psychotic illness.16
- There is a clinically significant relationship between reductions of marijuana use and reduction in depression among young women (ages 18-25). Depression is the most common mental illness for young adults, particularly for young women, and depressive symptoms were reduced in young women who reduced their use of cannabis/marijuana.17
Treatment for Marijuana Addiction
About one-third of heavy marijuana users report symptoms of withdrawal when they quit abruptly. While withdrawal rarely requires medication, the use of dronabinol (Marinol) has been shown to reduce withdrawal symptoms in highly motivated clients.18 Beyond this, there is little to offer by way of drug therapy for marijuana dependence like there is for opioid addiction or alcoholism.
A combination of different therapies has worked in some cases, including Contingency Management (CM), Relapse Prevention, Motivational Interviewing (MI) and combinations of these with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). These interventions are typically used in individual and group settings in rehab treatment and work in the following ways:
- Contingency Management (CM): Reward abstinence with vouchers for other healthy products.
- Relapse Prevention: Help you build on successes made in early recovery.
- Motivational Interviewing (MI): Engage your inner strength and help sustain your motivation to get better.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Teach skills to deal with cravings; address distorted thought patterns in the context of marijuana use while learning to live in freedom without the unhelpful thought patterns and behavior associated with addiction. 19
The most common form of inpatient treatment in the U.S. is the Minnesota Model, which proposes that total abstinence from all drugs of abuse is essential for successful treatment. Length of stay is fixed and you attend educational talks about the disease concept of addiction and how addiction affects the family and other significant people in our lives.
Group therapy helps you realize that you are not alone by having everyone in the group share their personal stories of addiction. Seeing the commonalities in others’ stories helps you begin to realize (if you haven’t already) that you have an illness. From here, you can begin to confront its adverse effects.
This is complemented with individual therapy with a licensed addictions counselor or psychotherapist. Psychiatrists and doctors help treat other co-occurring disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Peer interaction is essential in this model, for reasons of support and challenge. It is based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which instills hope and has a strong spiritual – not religious – component.20
Your best outpatient treatment choice depends upon your personal risk for severe withdrawal, the presence of other medical conditions that could complicate your treatment, the severity of any co-occurring mental health disorders and your level of engagement in treatment.
Especially important to the success of outpatient treatment for marijuana addiction is a supportive environment for recovery at home and the skills to cope with any addiction-related issues between you and your family.21 Traditional outpatient programs follow schedules and therapy similar to the inpatient programs during the day or evening, but on a less intensive schedule as your recovery progresses.
Luxury and Executive Treatment
Many luxury treatment programs provide essential substance abuse treatment services such as those found in traditional treatment settings, as well as many extra options, including:
- Private suites or living quarters.
- Superb food prepared by an onsite chef.
- A luxury environment that creates an ambience conducive to rest and relaxation.
- Enjoyment of some of life’s luxuries reminiscent of home.
Alternative approaches to treatment are often provided in luxury treatment programs:
- Art therapy
- Music therapy
- Therapeutic touch22
One concern about some of these therapies is that they are not all evidence-based, and that while they may address some symptoms of substance abuse, they may fail to change the behaviors and attitudes associated with addiction.22
Executive treatment programs are designed for the successful executive client who must continue to run his or her business. It provides the essential treatment services needed to remain abstinent from drugs, but does so while closely guarding the privacy, reputation and needs of the client to be able to carry out daily business at a somewhat reduced capacity. The environment is private and luxurious and without group meetings or group therapy.
- Allen, D.N. and Woods, S.P. (2013). Neuropsychological Aspects of Substance Use Disorders. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Burgdorf, J.R., Kilmer, B., Pacula, R.L. (2011). Heterogeneity in the Composition of Marijuana Seized in California. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 117(1), 59-61.
- Pierre, J.M. et al. (2016). Cannabis-induced psychosis associated with high potency “wax dabs”. Schizophrenia Research, 172(1-3), 211-212.
- Julien, R.M., et al. (2011). A Primer of Drug Action. Twelfth Edition. New York, NY: Worth Publishing.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Room, R. et al. (2010). Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
- Compton, W.M., et al. (2004). Prevalence of Marijuana Use Disorders in the United States. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 291(17), 2114-2121.
- Schweingsburg, A.D., Brown, A.D., Tapert, S.F. (2008). The Influence of Marijuana Use on Neurocognitive Functioning in Adolescents. Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 1(1), 99-111.
- Medina, K.L., Schweinsburg, A.D., Cohen-Zion, M., Nagel, B.J., Tapert, S.F. (2006). Effects of Alcohol and Combined Marijuana and Alcohol Use During Adolescence on Hippocampal Volume and Asymmetry. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 29(1), 141-152.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). DrugFacts: Marijuana.
- Drugs.com. (2015). Marijuana.
- Jean Paul Smith. (1995). The Social Impact of Drug Abuse.
- Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. (2015). Substance Abuse in Canada: The Effects of Cannabis Use During Adolescence.
- Koob, G.F. and Le Moal, M. (2005). Neurobiology of Addiction, Boston, MA: Elsevier Science.
- Gossop, M. (2013). Living with Drugs. Seventh Edition. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.
- Manseau, M.W. and Goff, D.C. (2015). Cannabinoids and Schizophrenia: Risks and Therapeutic Potential. Neurotherapeutics 12(4): 816-824.
- Moitra, E., et al. (2016). Reductions in cannabis use are associated with mood improvements in female emerging adults. Depression and Anxiety, 33(4), 332-338.
- Levin, F.R., et al. (2011). Dronabinol for the Treatment of Cannabis Dependence: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 116(1-3), 142-150.
- Davis, M.L., et al. (2015). Behavioral Therapies for Treatment-Seeking Cannabis Users: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Evaluation and the Health Professions, 38(1), 94-114.
- Weiss, R.D., et al. (2009). “Inpatient Treatment.” The American Psychiatric Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment: Fourth Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.
- Mee-Lee, D., et al. Editors. (2013). The ASAM Criteria: Treatment Criteria for Addictive, Substance-Related, and Co-Occurring Conditions. Third Edition. Chevy Chase, MD: The Change Companies.
- Fenster, J. and Temme, L.J. (2013). “Complementary and Alternative Approaches to Treating Clients with Substance Use Disorders.” Clinical Work with Substance-Abusing Clients. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.