Quick Facts about Marijuana Addiction
Dr. Sherry Lynch-Yearwood- MD, MPH
Manager of Medical Services
Crossroads Centre, Antigua
Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant which contains the mind- altering chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other similar compounds (Know the Risk of Marijuana, 2020). This chemical can be smoked as a joint, in pipes or water pipes (bongs) or even used as a vapor by extracting the THC from the marijuana and adding it to a vaporizer. Others may smoke THC- rich resins extracted from the marijuana plant which is known as dabbing or use marijuana edibles prepared in brownies, cookies, and teas (Know the Risk of Marijuana, 2020).
The questions that lurk in the mind of many individuals are, when would an activity or behavior be considered an addiction? When and how is the line drawn to prevent a downward spiral on the road of Addiction? Many have considered and contemplated the thin line between addiction and habitual use. Therefore, to bring clarity to the forefront, let us begin with the definition of addiction. Addiction is defined as the repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes because that involvement was and may continue to be pleasurable and/ or value to you (Understanding Addiction, New Insights into the Causes of Addiction, n.d.).To better understand addiction, let us underscore a few operative points.
- Both substances and activities.
- It leads to substantial harm.
- There is repeated involvement despite substantial harm.
- One continues to use because it was or is pleasurable and/or valuable.
Marijuana use disorder does fit many if not all the criteria in keeping with the definition of addiction therefore, marijuana is an addictive drug. Marijuana use disorder becomes an addiction when the person cannot stop using the drug even though it interferes with many aspects of their life. More and more marijuana users are seeking help as the THC concentration has increased from about 2-4% in the 60-80’s to up to 40% currently. Advocates for the legalization of marijuana thought that they voted for the 2-4% concentration of THC not the 40% that the cannabis industry are currently manufacturing.
Facts about Marijuana Addiction:
Marijuana is the most used addictive drug after tobacco and alcohol. It is commonly abused by young people and approximately 1 in 10 people who use marijuana will become addicted (Know the Risk of Marijuana, 2020). Smoking marijuana before the age of 18 years increases the rate of addiction to 1 in 6 (Know the Risk of Marijuana, 2020). The cannabis industry has developed strains of marijuana and concentrated marijuana products with significantly higher concentrations of THC, which is the psychoactive component that causes addiction (Stuyt, 2018). With increase concentration, there is an increase likelihood of addiction to this drug.
Marijuana can cause permanent IQ loss of as much as 8 points when initiation of its use is at a young age most commonly teenage years and the IQ points do not come back even after quitting marijuana (Volkow, Baler, Compton, & Weiss, 2014).
Marijuana use was shown to increase the risk of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation and plans. Further, cannabis use disorder is associated with increased severity of and duration of manic phases (bipolar disorder) and higher level of anxiety. There are studies which showed increase psychotic episodes and worsening symptoms of Schizophrenia with heavy use, average use, and frequent use of cannabis (Memedovich, Dowsett, Spackman, Noseworthy, & Clement , 2018). Cannabis use disorder is associated with transition to psychosis in those at extreme risk of psychosis and its use has shown increased relapse, readmission to hospital and decrease treatment adherence. Many of these mental health issues which have arisen over the years and are worsening with cannabis use have been attributed to the current high potency THC marijuana which is readily available to all.
Marijuana use during pregnancy may cause fetal growth restriction which results in low birth weight. There is an increased risk of stillbirth, premature birth and problems associated with brain development which can lead to hyperactivity and poor cognitive function (Volkow, Baler, Compton, & Weiss, 2014). The tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) along with the other chemicals from marijuana can also be passed from the breast milk to the baby and further hamper brain development and overall health development (Know the Risk of Marijuana, 2020).
The use of marijuana is noted to be associated with slower reactions time which can lead to impaired motor coordination, interfering with driving skills and increasing risk of injuries (Know the Risk of Marijuana, 2020).
Many studies support the fact that marijuana use affects timing, movement and coordination which can significantly affect an athlete’s performance (Volkow, Baler, Compton, & Weiss, 2014).
People who use marijuana are more likely to have relationship problems, worse educational outcomes, lower career achievement and reduced life satisfaction (Know the Risk of Marijuana, 2020). Further, the altered judgment associated with marijuana use disorder increases the risk of sexual behaviors that facilitate the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (Volkow, Baler, Compton, & Weiss, 2014).
Long Term Effects of Marijuana
Long term marijuana use disorder can result in addiction and it has been associated with symptoms of chronic bronchitis and other respiratory symptoms such as increase phlegm production and chronic cough. Also, there is an increased risk of chronic psychosis particularly exacerbated symptoms of schizophrenia, mania, and dependence on cannabis. These psychotic episodes are more likely to manifest in persons with a predisposition to such disorders. The psychotic episodes can manifest as paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations. In addition to the above, there is altered brain development which is irreversible when marijuana use occurs in the teenage years. Chronic insomnia as well as sleep disturbances have been associated with marijuana use disorder especially among young adults (Conroy, Kurth, Strong, Brower, & Stein, 2016).
- Conroy, D. A., Kurth, M. E., Strong, D. R., Brower, K. J., & Stein, M. D. (2016). Marijuana Use Patterns and Sleep among Community- Based Young Adults. J Addict Dis., 135-143.
- Health Effects of Cannabis. (2017). Retrieved from Government of Canada: https://www.canada.ca
- Know the Risk of Marijuana. (2020, December 16). Retrieved from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: samhsa.gov
- Marijuana Drug Facts. (2019, December ). Retrieved from National Institiute on Drug Abuse, Advancing Addiction Science: drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana
- Memedovich, K. A., Dowsett, L. E., Spackman, E., Noseworthy, T., & Clement , F. (2018). The adverse health effects and harms related to mairjuana use: an overview review. CMAJ Open, E339-E346.
- Stuyt, E. (2018). The Problem with the Current High Potency THC Mairjuana from the Perpective of an Addiction Psychiatrist. Mo Med, 482-486.
- Understanding Addiction, New Insights into the Causes of Addiction. (n.d.). Retrieved from Help Guide, Harvard: helpguide.org/harvard/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain.htm
- Volkow, N. D., Baler, R. D., Compton, W. M., & Weiss, S. R. (2014). Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use. N Engl J Med., 2219-2227.