It seems like it was just yesterday when marijuana was considered an illegal substance; however, public opinion has changed drastically over the past two decades, and now 33 states in the U.S. allow the use of marijuana in one form or another. Many other states have decriminalized cannabis, although many are still taking steps towards legalization and others are resisting reform entirely.

This substance can be used to treat a wide variety of medical conditions, from pain to insomnia to anxiety. Some doctors, nowadays, will prescribe marijuana over other prescription drug alternatives, like opioids. But, it’s not without its potential harms.

Can You Get Addicted to Marijuana?

Marijuana has a fairly low addictive potential in comparison to many other substances. It can be used recreationally, as long as there is moderation. Long-term use can lead to the development of marijuana use disorder, and this happens to about 10% of regular, heavy users.

Cannabis use disorders can come with symptoms like poor work or school performance or comorbidity with other types of mood disorders. Those who consume marijuana under the age of 18 are more likely to develop a dependence on this type of substance.

The addictive compound in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The increasing potency of marijuana has spurred a larger incidence of abuse. Studies show that the THC content in confiscated marijuana samples was less than 4% in 1990; however, by 2018, this has risen to 15%. Since legalization, even more growers have attempted to produce strains with even higher THC content. There have been reports of some strains producing over 30% THC.

With that said, there is not a lot of research in this area. The continuing and growing use of cannabis will hopefully lead to more insights on this particular subject. If you’re considering trying cannabis, you should educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of cannabis addiction, as well as the possible side effects of marijuana use. We’ll touch on these subjects below.

Is Marijuana More Addictive in One Form Than Another?

live resin in a jar

Marijuana comes in various forms, including flowers, edibles, oils, tinctures and concentrates. The different forms can be consumed in different ways, and will have differing effects on the body based on their potency and cannabinoid content.

Flowers are typically ground and smoked in a pipe or rolling papers. The cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis can be extracted to make edibles, oils, tinctures and concentrates. In general, concentrates are more addictive because they are more potent and contain a high concentrate of delta-9 THC. Delta-9 distillate, which is essentially a pure form of THC, can be vaped or consumed.

Many smokers will start off smoking flowers. As their tolerance increases, some move on to edibles and concentrates because they patch a much larger punch. A small dose can have a strong effect on even some of the most seasoned marijuana users.

Is Sativa or Indica More Addictive?

There are different strains of marijuana, and they are often classified as either a sativa, indica or hybrid. The misconception is that indica strains have a sedative, relaxing effect, that sativa strains have an uplifting, energetic effect and that hybrid strains have unique properties that combine both indica and sativa together.

However, this method of classification is actually incredibly inaccurate. The effects that a strain may have will depend on the individual’s body chemistry, as well as the terpenes that the strain contains. The effects can also be dependent on how long the cannabis was allowed to grow for. This affects the type and amount of cannabinoids that are present in each strain.

So, the question remains: are sativa strains more addictive than indica strains? Or, are indica strains more addictive than sativa strains? Is it more dangerous to consume one strain over the other?

The answer to those questions is no. There isn’t a type of strain that is more addictive than the other. The only thing that really matters is the potency of the strain. Those who smoke marijuana with a higher THC content will be more likely to develop some type of dependence.

Signs of Cannabis Addiction

Regular marijuana users should keep an eye out for signs and symptoms of addiction. As more states continue to legalize cannabis and public opinion changes on this substance, more Americans are willing to try it out. Those who were previously smoking may now feel more comfortable smoking more regularly, as it is legal to do so even outside.

4 million Americans aged 12 and up meet the classification for marijuana use disorder.”

Marijuana use disorder is defined as a mental health disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. Due to this reason, the diagnostic criteria for this disorder are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). There are 11 different criteria that users can meet. The number of criteria that they meet will define the severity of their addiction.

Signs and symptoms of cannabis addiction include:

  • Avoiding social, recreational and occupational activities, like hanging out with friends, in order to smoke marijuana
  • Continuing to smoke marijuana even when it leads to negative consequences, like poor work performance or trouble with the law
  • Continuing to smoke marijuana even when it leads to physical or mental health issues
  • Experiencing marijuana withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit
  • Craving marijuana on a regular basis while doing daily activities
  • Having a desire to quit using marijuana, but being unable to do so for long
  • Needing to smoke more and more in order to feel any effects at all
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, home or school in order to smoke marijuana instead
  • Smoking more weed than prescribed if it’s for medical purposes
  • Spending all your time thinking about marijuana and how to get it or how to smoke
  • Smoking marijuana even if it puts you in a dangerous situation

The severity of the marijuana use disorder will largely depend on the number of criteria that the smoker meets. Luckily, marijuana has a fairly low addictive potential. Due to this reason, most people will not meet the standards for a severe addiction, which is when more than 6 criteria are met.

Most individuals will struggle with a mild to moderate form of addiction. A mild addiction is defined as meeting two to three criteria while a moderate addiction is defined as meeting three to four criteria.

Other Behavioral Signs of Marijuana Abuse

If you suspect that a loved one is struggling with marijuana abuse, you should look out for not only physical signs, but also behavioral signs. The physical signs merely tell you whether an individual is using cannabis or not. As this substance is now legalized for recreational use, it may not necessarily be an indication of abuse.

Some troubling behavioral signs of marijuana abuse that is commonly witnessed in those struggling with a cannabis use disorder include:

  • Using all of their money to purchase weed even if they have other financial obligations
  • Having the scent of marijuana on them at all times
  • Trying to regularly cover up the smell of marijuana with deodorizers
  • Excessive side effects of marijuana, like dry mouth
  • Lying about marijuana use or getting extremely defensive about using it
  • Consuming large amounts of food outside of regular mealtimes
  • Stealing cannabis from friends and family if they do not have any available
  • Constantly running out of lighters and materials needed to smoke weed

Behavioral signs of abuse can be witnessed at home or in public. All you have to do is to pay attention to the individual in question. Addiction is often associated with a shift and behavior, and paying attention to behavioral signs will give you further insight into the severity of the abuse.

Side Effects of Marijuana Use

The physical signs of marijuana abuse are also common side effects. Other than the distinct smell of marijuana, those who have consumed cannabis will exhibit some really obvious physical signs. While this may not necessarily be an indication of abuse, it could give you a good idea as to whether someone is using marijuana way too frequently.

Some of the signs of marijuana use and abuse include:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Distorted perception
  • Euphoric sensations and reactions
  • Impaired motor movements and overall coordination
  • Impaired judgment and cognitive function
  • Increased appetite, also known as the munchies
  • Increased phlegm production
  • Lack of motivation
  • Memory impairment
  • Nervous or paranoid behavior
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Sleepiness
  • Weight gain, likely from the increased appetite

If you’ve noticed that a loved one appears to be constantly intoxicated, it may be wise to stage an intervention to get them to stop taking marijuana for some time. Those who cannot quit on their own may need professional assistance and help.

Long-Term Side Effects of Marijuana Use

In comparison to many other substances, the long-term side effects of marijuana abuse are not as damaging. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that long-term use of cannabis is healthy for the body. Some of the most common long-term side effects that are witnessed amongst regular marijuana users include:

  • An increased tolerance
  • Mood swings
  • A reduced ability to learn
  • Inhibited mental development
  • Panic attacks
  • Memory loss
  • Lung damage

The severity of the long-term side effects will vary from one individual to another, based on their physiological condition and the way that cannabis interacts with the endocannabinoid system in their body. Some long-term users may never experience any side effects, other than an increased tolerance to the substance.

Fortunately, most of these long-term side effects will disappear or can be treated once the user decides to quit using marijuana altogether. They are usually not permanent amongst adults that already have fully-developed bodies.

Cannabis Tolerance

Like with most other substances, it’s possible to become tolerant to the effects of THC. Base tolerance is mostly affected and influenced by one’s genetic predisposition. It really depends on how THC interacts with one’s endocannabinoid system, as well as how long it takes for the body to balance itself once again.

When it comes to cannabis, tolerance can build up rather quickly with use. Those who use cannabis on a regular basis will notice that their baseline tolerance will increase by quite a bit even within a week. They will need to consume more cannabis in order to feel the same effects. Many consumers will solve this problem by changing the form of cannabis that they are consuming. For example, instead of smoking flowers, these users may move onto concentrates, as they have a higher THC content.

A higher tolerance to cannabis can be one of the first signs of marijuana addiction. Those who find that they constantly need larger doses to feel an effect should consider taking a break from this substance. This allows the body to heal and return back to its natural state.

After some time, one’s cannabis tolerance will go down once again. Those who smoke again will be able to feel the effects of cannabis even after taking a very small dose.

Side Effects Tend to Be More Pronounced in Young Children

a young child sleeping on a hospital bed

Although the side effects of marijuana use are relatively mild, these effects are much more pronounced if the marijuana is ingested by young children. More importantly, cannabis use can have profound effects on their brain and can result in permanent damage to neural activities and connections. This is due to the fact that marijuana will have a negative impact on developing brains. It interferes with normal development.

Some of these effects are linked to cognitive differences. For example, regular marijuana consumption amongst children can lead to permanent white matter damage. White matter is responsible for enabling communication between different brain cells. Other studies found that marijuana consumption can have a negative effect on overall brain volume. The younger the individual is when they start consuming marijuana, the more severe the damage is.

Due to this reason, it is vital that those who have not yet reached the legal age for consuming marijuana to avoid consuming this substance. As there isn’t a lot of research in the field, there may be other permanent side effects when consuming marijuana during developmental stages.

Effects of Smoking Marijuana When Pregnant

Another thing worth looking into is the effects of marijuana use during pregnancy. As many as 5% of women in the U.S. report using marijuana when pregnant, so it’s definitely worth looking into whether this substance can cause any side effects.

At this current moment, most experts recommend avoiding marijuana altogether when pregnant, as this substance is correlated with poor fetal development. In fact, studies show that marijuana use can cause health problems in newborns, like low birth weight. This is because THC can pass through the placenta and enter the baby’s body; thus, interfering with normal development. It could also lead to developmental issues arising as the baby gets older.

Marijuana use can also impair mothers so that they cannot properly care for their baby. They may not make the best decisions if they are intoxicated after consuming marijuana.

It’s also important to note that new mothers should not consume marijuana when they are breastfeeding, as many cannabinoids can be passed to the baby through breast milk. These cannabinoids can have a negative effect on development, particularly brain development.

On top of that, THC is a unique compound because it can be stored in fat. Even if you stop using marijuana, your tissues may eventually release the THC that they hold, and this THC can then be passed to your baby. With that said, the data on marijuana consumption while breastfeeding is still at its early stages. There are many conflicting studies out there.

Be Mindful of Marijuana Usage

a woman practicing mindfulness meditation in a field

To avoid becoming dependent on marijuana, be mindful of your overall marijuana usage. If you notice any signs and symptoms of addiction, take a break from the substance. The withdrawal symptoms aren’t typically too strong, so this is one of the only drugs that users can wean off in the comfort of their own home without any professional help.

Those who would like additional support during this time should consider outpatient addiction treatment options that are available. Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), and standard outpatient programs can help keep you focused and motivated on a complete recovery.

Marijuana Addiction Resources

At RehabAid.com, we are dedicated to helping people recover from problematic substance use and associated mental health disorders. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone. Information on treatment and support options is readily available through the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-4357. To further assist you along the path to recovery, the treatment center locator on our website allows you to easily find rehabilitation programs and services in your local area.

We provide our readers with factual, evidence-based content concerning the causes and nature of addiction, as well as available treatment options. However, this informative content is intended for educational purposes only. It is by no means a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. With regard to any addiction-related health concerns, you should always seek the guidance of a qualified, registered physician who is licensed to practice medicine in your particular jurisdiction. You should never avoid or delay seeking professional health care advice or services based on information obtained from our website. Our authors, editors, medical reviewers, website developers, and parent company do not assume any liability, obligation, or responsibility for any loss, damage, or adverse consequences alleged to have happened directly or indirectly as a result of the material presented on RehabAid.com

About the Author

Michael Couchman, PhD

Michael Couchman holds a Ph.D. in History from Queen’s University, where his research was focused on the origins of international drug control and legislative responses to problematic substance use. His award-winning doctoral thesis comparatively analyzed different official approaches to addictions treatment and their resultant public health implications. He has also written extensively about cannabis legalization in Canada, as well as the opioid crisis in the United States. In his current role at RehabAid.com, he researches, writes, and edits helpful and informative content concerning the best available, evidence-based treatment options for those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

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