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Forming a Dependency to Marijuana
As one state after another legalizes marijuana under certain restrictions, use of marijuana continues its upward trek. Losing its former stigma as an illicit substance, marijuana has become much more mainstream across age groups and ethnicities due to the more permissive attitudes. Over the past several decades—it became fully present in the U.S. in the 1960s—the impression about marijuana has endured that it is a harmless recreational drug that promotes relaxation, provides a silly high, and helps aid sleep.
But is marijuana addictive? The short answer is yes, but it is important to recognize that, in comparison to substances such as alcohol, opiates, meth, cocaine, and benzodiazepines, marijuana addiction is less common, with about 9% of regular users becoming addicted. Marijuana use disorder, which includes marijuana abuse, marijuana dependency, and marijuana addiction, affects about 6 million Americans each year, according to the National Institutes of Health.
What is Marijuana Use Disorder
Regular marijuana use has the ability to cause impairment in daily functioning. When marijuana use reaches this threshold it has become marijuana use disorder. Effects of the disorder can include interpersonal problems, career stalling or job loss, loss of productivity, loss of ambition or drive, social problems, and drug cravings. Other signs of a marijuana use disorder include:
- Obsessing over or prioritizing getting high
- Increased tolerance, leading to higher consumption of marijuana
- Engaging in risky behaviors, such as driving under the influence or promiscuous sexual practices
- Becoming isolated, secretive behavior, socially withdrawn
- Legal problems
- Financial difficulties
- Trying to quit the marijuana but fail at these attempts
- Experience withdrawal signs when the drug is withheld
Marijuana use has doubled over a ten-year period, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry. When comparing use of the drug in 2003 and 2013 the study revealed marijuana use jumped from a rate of 4.1% of the population to 9.5%. As a corollary to the increase, about 30% of regular users exhibited diagnostic symptoms of a marijuana use disorder, further reinforcing the answer to the question, “Is marijuana addictive?”
Dependency to marijuana can develop when individuals use pot on a daily basis as a means of inducing sleep or relaxation. This habitual use sets up chemical changes in the brain that can cause a reflexive dependency on the drug, along with the belief that the individual “needs it” to function.
Increased Potency of Marijuana
Over the decades marijuana potency has increased dramatically. The THC levels in marijuana during the 1970s were around 3.8%. In today’s pot, THC rates are over 12%, about triple the level of potency. This has provoked concerns among people who once assumed that marijuana was a harmless plant-based drug. Now there are valid concerns about the effects of high THC being consumed regularly, especially on young, developing brains of teens, as well as wondering is marijuana addictive based on the increased potency.
Other concerns revolve around the more potent marijuana, including edibles. These products can contain high levels of THC, integrated into cookies, candy, brownies, and other treats. A danger exists for small children or dogs to come upon these potent sweets and become very sick when exposed to the THC.
Treatment for Marijuana Use Disorder
Increasingly, people are entering rehab programs for help with a primary marijuana use disorder. By this point, the negative effects of a marijuana habit have escalated and led to multiple problems in daily life. Marijuana use disorder may also co-occur with an additional substance use disorder, such as alcoholism, as the two are often abused simultaneously. Additionally, co-occurring mental health disorders often accompany a marijuana use disorder, such as anxiety disorders or depression. The pot is used as a means of self-medicating the uncomfortable symptoms of these conditions. Therefore, when someone seeks treatment for a marijuana use disorder a thorough evaluation of all related conditions must be conducted.
The core treatment element of marijuana use disorder is psychotherapy. The following modalities have been shown to be effective for a dependency to pot aka marijuana:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a short-term behavioral therapy that helps clients adopt new coping skills to access when facing cravings or a trigger to use. Addictive thought patterns that have become reflexive, such as “I can’t fall asleep without pot,” are replaced with different responses and actions that help avoid falling back into using marijuana.
- Motivation Enhancement Therapy (MET): MET is also a short-term therapy, and compliments CBT. In MET clients are guided to address their own ambivalence about quitting marijuana, while also coached to set goals for life in recovery.
- Contingency Management (CM): CM creates a reward system as a motivational tool for helping clients choose abstinence over drug use. Using vouchers that have monetary value or a free service or gift upon a clear urine test result.
Online Resource Information About Marijuana Addiction
The Treatment Specialist is a leading resource center for educating and guiding individuals inquiring about addiction, mental health, and dual diagnosis disorders, including marijuana use disorder. The specialists can answer the question, “Is marijuana addictive” and can provide a deeper understanding about the dangers of marijuana abuse and dependency. In addition, The Treatment Specialist can guide individuals, helping them with decisions regarding what kind of treatment for marijuana use disorder is most effective. For more information, please contact a Treatment Specialist today at (866) 644-7911.