Marijuana (a psychoactive drug from the Cannabis plant) is a controversial drug that has been around for decades in American culture. Over recent years, marijuana has become increasingly available due to changes in its legal status. There are also raging debates surrounding its potential medicinal value, its harmful qualities, and its addictive properties. While marijuana may not be lethal, its impact on an addict can be seriously damaging.
The hemp plant has been used in societies for centuries. Its plant produces flowers and leaves which were highly valued for their use in products like rope, sails, and clothing. In the early 20th century, however, an influx of Mexican immigrants brought the recreational use of marijuana (also made from the hemp plant) to American shores. Since then, marijuana has become one of the most widely used substances in the country1.
Marijuana use is extremely common and there is some difficulty differentiating between casual users and those who may have an addiction. The reason for this is that marijuana does not, generally speaking, carry the same consequences used as a measuring tool for addictions. That is, marijuana users are usually less likely to seek recovery and almost never die from an overdose.
In America, usage from ages 18-49 is the highest, with roughly 50% of that population reporting having smoked marijuana. The greatest concentration of heavy users is found in the 18-25 year old demographic. White people consume greater amounts of marijuana than any other demographic, with 76% of all marijuana users being white, while only 20% are Hispanics or African-Americans. Asians are the least likely to use marijuana, at only about 16%2. Marijuana is also favored by males over females, with males reporting marijuana use at 45%, with females only at 36%3.
As you can see, marijuana use is extremely widespread and covers pretty much all demographics, to some degree. There has also been difficulty in statistically linking marijuana use to any other significant lifestyle indicators. For instance, there seems to be a positive correlation between unmarried adults and marijuana usage, but relatively little else. There is a great disparity among marijuana users when it comes to living arrangements, job stability, and income. This would seem to suggest that marijuana users are not homogenous, and therefore marijuana addiction can be difficult to predict or categorize4.
Marijuana contains a drug called THC, which is responsible for its impact on the user. Depending upon the route of administration, a marijuana “high” can take effect either immediately (if smoked) or up to an hour later (if eaten). The effects of being high on marijuana are distinct and noticeable. A person who has recently used marijuana will likely display:
Marijuana also has a distinct odor. The smoke is distinctly musky and often compared with the scent of a skunk. Like cigarettes, the smoke will cling to the area in which it was smoke and also to the clothing of the user.
Due to recent changes in U.S. legislature, prices can vary greatly for marijuana. For instance, in an area where marijuana is legal, a user can often purchase their daily supply for around $20. If marijuana is illegal, prices can be inflated up to 5 times that amount due to the complexities and fluctuations of the illegal drug market. However, because marijuana is such an omnipresent substance, prices are rarely prohibitive, and many users will have surrounded themselves with fellow users with whom they can share the financial burdens of their shared habit6.
On the other hand, marijuana has an action on the brain which impairs judgment and creates distorted thinking. While most of the correlation between marijuana use and crime is accounted for by drug-related offenses like possession, there is also a connection between marijuana and unrelated offenses. That is, studies show that in the case of violent crime, there is a significant connection between marijuana use and arrests7.
While marijuana may have a relatively low impact on an addict’s life when compared to other illicit substances, it still takes a significant toll. When combining the risks of prohibition-related offenses and the proclivity towards violent crime, marijuana addicts are quite likely to suffer legal consequences. While many moderate users can maintain homes, families, and jobs, at a certain point, the costs will begin to add up.
Because marijuana has long been a misunderstood drug with a checkered past in this country, reliable studies are still emerging on both the short-term and long-term dangers of the drug.
The primary action of THC on the brain, in the short term, is to over-stimulate the areas of the brain which respond naturally to THC-like chemicals produced by the body. When these areas are activated, people experience the “high” of the drug, which includes alteration of the senses, changes in mood, impaired motor skills, difficulty with thinking, problem-solving, and memory.
The primary concern with long-term marijuana abuse is in the area of brain development. Many of the short-term effects, studies have concluded, seem to extend into the long-term and may even become irreversible. A study in New Zealand showed that users who smoked heavily in their teens lost an average of 8 IQ points between ages 18-38. This hampered brain functioning did not recover when they eventually overcame their addiction.
Marijuana can also produce psychosomatic disorders after prolonged use. These issues include hallucinations, paranoia, and exacerbating the symptoms of schizophrenia.
In addition to its impact on the brain, marijuana also poses dangers to the body. Marijuana smoke causes lung irritation which can lead to many of the same respiratory complications as smoking cigarettes, including frequent lung illness, chronic cough, and a higher risk for a lung infection. Since marijuana also increases the heart rate, it can be particularly threatening to older people and those with pre-existing heart conditions.
Compared with other hard drugs, marijuana is relatively new to recovery circles. For many years, the myth that “marijuana isn’t addictive” permeated society and even affected those engaged in recovery. Now, however, as the strength of marijuana on the market has increased significantly, and people are more frequently seeking recovery for addiction, it is finally starting to be recognized as a dangerous and addictive drug8.
As such, studies are still emerging in regard to relapse rates and permanence among marijuana users. It does seem to be a fact, however, that relapse is primarily linked to the difficulty of withdrawal. Because withdrawal can be a lengthy and uncomfortable process, most addicts who attempt to detox themselves without support will give in to the craving to use. To complicate this process, most marijuana addicts have extensive connections throughout the illicit drug community in their area, which allows them to easily acquire more of the substance if they should choose to give up and relapse.
In order to combat this, it is often vital that an addict be surrounded by people who are encouraging and supporting his new abstinence from the drug. Their support will often be necessary in guiding the addict through the discomfort associated with withdrawal.
Marijuana withdrawal is one of the mildest detoxes among addictive drugs. Typical symptoms will include negative mood, irritability, anxiety, muscle pain, chills, loss of appetite, insomnia, and craving. Many of these symptoms are common to withdrawal from basically any addictive substance and, while uncomfortable, will very likely not require medical attention9.
The most important element of detox from marijuana is addressing the cravings, which can likely become overwhelming in the early stages of withdrawal. For this reason, placing an addict in a safe space with watchful people is important. This can include being at home with supportive friends or family or may require a more strictly controlled setting like rehab or hospital.
Marijuana is a highly addictive substance, particularly in individuals who have been using large amounts for many years. In addition to its addictive properties, marijuana is rapidly becoming more available, through legalization campaigns throughout the country. The combination of craving and easy access makes marijuana recovery quite difficult, even though the physical hook is not quite as strong as drugs like heroin or alcohol.
Recovery protocols for marijuana recovery typically indicate behavioral therapies. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational enhancement (MET) interventions are the most widely utilized strategies. The goal of these therapies is to change the way an addict thinks and behaves. These recoveries have also been shown to increase in effectiveness if combined with family support and a community-based support group. Many religious groups or 12-step programs offer these sorts of support services.
Marijuana is a drug that affects all aspects of an addict’s life. Therefore, the broader and more inclusive the recovery plan, the greater the likelihood of success in recovery from marijuana addiction.
American Rehab Centers recommends Adult & Teen Challenge rehabs for recovery from addiction, including from marijuana addiction, due to the length of time these programs give to addicts to allow them to get past their addiction. With the craving for cocaine lasting several months past the last use, it takes a good year of abstinence in a controlled environment for an addict to get past the addiction to marijuana. Most other rehab programs are not able to give that much time and attention to the addict or are too costing for most people to afford over an extended period of time.
PBS. “Marijuana Timeline”. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/dope/etc/cron.html
2NORML. “Who Are You? US Government Statistics on Adult Marijuana Users”. April 2009. Russ Belville. http://blog.norml.org/2009/04/10/who-are-you-us-government-statistics-on-adult-marijuana-users/
3National Survey on Drug Use and Health. “Ever Used Marijuana by…” 2007. http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/quicktables/quickoptions.do
4U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Demographic and health characteristics of heavy marijuana smokers in Los Angeles County.” 1991. Bourque LB, Tashkin DP, Clark VA, Schuler R. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1959998
5WebMD. “How Does Marijuana Affect You?”. http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/marijuana-use-and-its-effects#2
6Mary Jane’s Diary. “How Much Does Weed Cost?”. June 2016. http://maryjanesdiary.com/how-much-does-weed-cost/
7National Bureau of Economic Research. “Marijuana and Crime: Is there a Connection Beyond Prohibition?”. October 2003. Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, Beau Kilmer. http://www.nber.org/papers/w10046
8U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Marijuana Neurobiology and Recovery”. Dec 2008. Ahmed Elkashef, MD, Frank Vocci, PhD, Marilyn Huestis, PhD, Margaret Haney, PhD, Alan Budney, PhD, Amanda Gruber, PhD, and Nady el-Guebaly, MD. Pg. 22
9U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Marijuana Neurobiology and Recovery”. Dec 2008. Ahmed Elkashef, MD, Frank Vocci, PhD, Marilyn Huestis, PhD, Margaret Haney, PhD, Alan Budney, PhD, Amanda Gruber, PhD, and Nady el-Guebaly, MD. Pg. 20 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2597384/