Can I get Addicted to Marijuana?
There is a common misconception that marijuana is completely non-addictive. Here in Boulder, Colorado, where marijuana is legal for recreational and medical use, many may believe it to be free of negative consequences. Because Marijuana has been medically prescribed for many years now in Colorado, people may assume that its use is completely safe, benign, and non-habit forming. Unfortunately, however, 30% of those who use marijuana have a form of what is called Marijuana Use Disorder, the most severe cases of which have developed a serious addiction to the drug. If a person begins using marijuana before the age of 18, they are anywhere between four and seven times more likely to develop Marijuana Use Disorder.
The clearest sign of any addiction, including Marijuana Use Disorder, is the continuation of use of the drug despite negative consequences. Other signs of addiction include:
- Increased tolerance to the effects of marijuana (ie having to use more and more to achieve the same high),
- Engaging in risky behavior while using or pursuing marijuana
- Decreased interest/engagement in activities not involving marijuana use
- Shame or secrecy surrounding marijuana use
- Using more marijuana than originally intended
- Inability to cut down or discontinue using marijuana
- Using marijuana to escape or to cope with everyday stressors or mental health symptoms
- Daily functioning suffers due to marijuana use, including work, financial, familial, or self-care responsibilities
- Withdrawal symptoms
When a person has developed a physical dependence on Marijuana, their brain adapts to continuous use. Endogenous cannabinoids are the signaling molecules in the brain that THC (the psychoactive component in marijuana) mimics. THC also affects the brain’s regulation of dopamine, the neurotransmitter people often associate with pleasure. With heavy marijuana use and Marijuana Use Disorder, the brain will eventually have a decreased response to dopamine, causing dependence and mental health issues such as depression. Someone with marijuana dependence will feel withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation of use such as irritability, cravings, insomnia, and appetite loss.
Addiction treatment for Marijuana Use Disorder is most effective when approached from a holistic perspective. Because a person addicted to marijuana is most likely using it to cope with trauma, mental health issues, or other stress, it is important to develop healthier coping strategies for self care, while also addressing the root of the problem. Nutrition, exercise, life skills, community, creativity, and spirituality are all important to nurture in early recovery so that life feels not only manageable, but enjoyable, without using marijuana. Whether it’s hiking the trails outside Boulder, Colorado, connecting with horses during equine therapy, or finding inner stillness during mediation and yoga in our office in Lafayette, Colorado, we aim to help clients connect with and build upon the strengths they already possess on their journey to healing from addiction. Our program not only fosters these components of holistic healing, but also helps clients build a solid plan for relapse prevention as well as assists in the process of healing the old trauma that may have felt unbearable without substance abuse.