Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

How Addictive is Marijuana?

“Marijuana is not addictive.” It’s a statement repeated by drug dealers, blog writers, dedicated smokers and neophyte users. While it would be wonderful if this statement were true, science suggests that the statement is false. The 740,800 users who entered treatment programs for marijuana in 2009, according to the Treatment Episode Data Set, might concur. After all, if the drug weren’t addictive, these people might not need help in order to stop the drug abuse.

Conquering a myth that is this persistent takes time, but it’s work worth doing. It’s also work that might be more important now than ever before, as the 2012 Monitoring the Future survey finds that only 66.9 percent of students in 8th grade view regular marijuana use as harmful. Perhaps if these students knew the truth, they’d be less likely to experiment with such a dangerous drug.

Use Breeds Dependence

There are specific receptors inside the human brain that are primed to respond to marijuana. When these cells can access the drug, they emit specific chemicals related to pleasure, and a series of chain reactions sweeps through the body. Hours later, the sensation associated with the drugs might be gone, but those changes might leave behind a shadow. The person might not react to the same amount of drugs in the same way in the future, and deep down inside, a craving for marijuana may begin to grow.

Researchers have conducted studies to determine just how addictive marijuana really is, and the results are startling. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that about 9 percent of people who use marijuana become addicted to the substance, but about one in six people who start using the drug when young become addicted. Adding marijuana to a growing brain could be the spark that allows an addiction to form, and it’s clear that young people who experiment are taking terrible risks with their health.

Dependence Breeds Withdrawal

When discussing addictiveness levels, researchers often measure the physical and mental symptoms people experience when they attempt to stop using the drugs they were once addicted to. The idea here is that discomfort can work like a spur, driving the person back into the arms of drug use. The stronger the spur, the more addictive the drug might be. When looked at through this lens, marijuana seems even more dangerous.

A marijuana withdrawal symptom is common in frequent users, with a study in the journal Addiction suggesting that about 16 percent of people who use the drug daily had symptoms of withdrawal, even if they didn’t enter formal treatment programs and therefore weren’t aware that withdrawal was part of the process of healing. Common symptoms include:

  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Changes in appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings for drugs

These symptoms may not be a threat to life, but they can certainly be unpleasant, and it’s quite possible that people who feel jittery, anxious and unable to sleep might be drawn back to marijuana, in the hopes of making the pain stop.

Spotting the Signs

Addictions are personal, and the behaviors people might display when they’re addicted to drugs can differ accordingly. People who are addicted to this drug, however, might have some signs parents can watch for. The odor of marijuana, for example, is distinctive and hard to cover up, and teens with addictions might carry this skunk-and-grass smell with them at all times. They might also seem sedated and slow on a regular basis, and their grades might drop lower and lower each quarter.

Solutions Are Available

There are no specific medications that have been developed to help people fight against marijuana addiction, but therapy can be intensely helpful for people who would like to leave this habit behind. In a treatment program, they can learn more about why they were drawn to take the drug in the first place, and they can learn how to resist temptation in the future.

Young people who have taken marijuana habitually might need other forms of therapy that help them to develop emotionally and set realistic goals for the future. When they emerge from their addictions, they may have the opinions and thoughts of much younger people, and the might need help getting up to speed with peers so they can move forward in life. This is the kind of help we provide to clients at Muir Wood. We specialize in helping adolescent boys with addictions, mental illnesses or both. Since marijuana is so popular among adolescent boys, we’ve helped many clients work through this particular addiction and we have sophisticated techniques that could be useful in the fight. Please contact us to find out more.