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Marijuana abuse

Marijuana comes from the dried flowers, seeds and leaves of the cannabis plant, most commonly the sativa or indica strains. Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the United States.

Other names for marijuana include dope, ganja, grass, hemp, home grown, herb, MJ, Mary Jane, pot, reefer, roach, Texas tea and weed. Hash, short for hashish, is a more concentrated form of the drug. Cannabis is a broader term used to describe both marijuana and hashish, which contain the psycho-active ingredient delta-9-hydrocannabinol (THC).

Most people use cannabis by smoking marijuana or hash. When marijuana is wrapped in a rolling paper, it is known as a joint; there is some regional variation in terminology, but when pot and tobacco are combined in the rolling paper to be smoked, it is often called a spliff; when marijuana is rolled into a cigar wrapper, with or without cigar tobacco, it is known as a blunt. Some people prefer to smoke marijuana or hash using pipes or water pipes, and concentrated hash oil can be added to tobacco and smoked. Electrically-powered vaporizers are becoming a common method for smoking cannabis products. The drug can also be mixed into food or brewed as tea, but THC enters the blood system and affects the brain faster when smoked.

Marijuana is a psychoactive drug that can produce mood changes and alter perception. When cannabis is smoked, THC rapidly enters the bloodstream and then crosses the blood-brain barrier, binding with cannabinoid receptors. There are at least two different cannabinoid receptors, and the ones in the brain, CB1 receptors, play a role in the release of dopamine, which is part of the brain’s reward system. Overstimulation of these receptors creates the high, and associated feelings of euphoria and pleasure.

The federal government reports that the potency of marijuana has increased significantly, from an average THC content of just under four percent in 1983 to an average of 12.98 percent in 2012.

Burden of marijuana abuse in the U.S. population

Marijuana remains the most widely used illicit substance in the United States and Europe, as reported by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In 2012, almost 19 million people over the age of 12 (7.3 percent of the population) reported having used marijuana in the past month, up from 14.4 million people (5.8 percent) in 2007. Federal statistics say that about 17 percent of those users consumed marijuana on 300 days in the previous year.

It became increasingly popular as an ingredient in unregulated patent medicines, tonics and elixirs. In 1886, a civil war veteran and morphine addict named John Pemberton created a soft drink, Coca-Cola, that included cocaine as a stimulating ingredient, although cocaine was removed from the soft drink in 1903. In 1914 nonmedical use of cocaine was banned under the Harrison Narcotics Act. However, by 1905, sniffing and snorting cocaine had become popular. Today, cocaine is classified as a Schedule 2 Controlled Substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act and is illegal in most circumstances.

Use by people in the 18-25 age group went from 16.6 percent in 2008 to 18.7 percent in 2012.

The years 2011 and 2012 saw some decline in use in grade 8, with 10th and 12th grades leveling in 2012. In 2012, the use reached levels of 1.1 percent, 3.5 percent, and 6.5 percent of students in grades 8, 10, and 12, respectively, according to the Monitoring the Future Survey 2012.

Medical marijuana

Although use of marijuana is still a federal offense, since 1996, 20 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the use of marijuana for various medical purposes, although the specifics vary from state to state, and sometimes from county to county or city to city within a state. Another 15 states have legislation or ballot measures pending to legalize medical use of marijuana. Colorado and the State of Washington have legalized recreational use of marijuana.

Adverse effects of marijuana use

Although there has been some debate about whether marijuana is addictive, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) definitively says that about 9 percent of people who use the drug will become dependent on it. The rate is about one in six who start using it in their teens become dependent, and anywhere from 25-50 percent of daily users become dependent. The debate about marijuana addiction has been based on a distinction between physical addiction and psychological dependence. Long-term marijuana use leads to psychological addiction, in the sense that users have difficulty controlling their use, and rely on it as a crutch or coping mechanism for dealing with problems.

However, research shows that marijuana users experience physical withdrawal similar to that of nicotine withdrawal when they try to quit. Symptoms include irritability, difficulty sleeping, cravings and anxiety. Therefore, it is important to undergo marijuana withdrawal treatment at a marijuana rehab center. Adults who enter treatments for marijuana addiction on average have used it almost daily for more than 10 years, and have tried to quit more than six times.

Although the rates of marijuana smoking in adults have remained more or less stable since the 1990s, the rates of addiction have risen sharply. Tolerance develops with heavy use, so the user feels the need to consume larger doses to get the desired impact. Suddenly stopping use of marijuana produces withdrawal symptoms that can include irritability, anxiety, nervousness, anger, aggression, loss of appetite, excessive sweating, and disturbed sleep with nightmares.

About 50 percent of marijuana users are adolescents and young adults, whose brain systems are still developing. This is the reason why marijuana use affects the development of the users both physically and psychologically. Adolescents and young adults using marijuana are prone to lose control over their lives and themselves, drop out of school, and become underachievers.

Physical effects of marijuana use

The immediate physical effects following marijuana use include:

  • Relaxation of bronchial passages
  • Increased heart rate by about 20–50 beats per minute
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased rate of breathing
  • Red eyes due to relaxation of blood vessels in the eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased appetite
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of physical coordination
  • Delayed reaction time

Marijuana’s effect on the brain

Marijuana use alters the consumer’s sense of perception and in large doses is reported to induce psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions. One study linked this psychosis to people with a specific variant of a gene that controls an enzyme (catechol-O-methytransferase) that acts on dopamine and norepinephrine.

The immediate sense of euphoria following marijuana inhalation/consumption may be followed by calmness, anxiety, or paranoia. Its use also causes distorted sense of time and place, magical or "random" thinking, short-term memory loss, anxiety and depression. Marijuana use heightens sensory perception, and can induce uncontrollable laughter. Once the euphoria subsides, the user may feel sleepy or depressed. Marijuana use can also cause feelings of anxiety, fear, distrust or panic. The ability to form new memories and to shift focus is significantly harmed. Activities like learning, performing skilled tasks, and driving are significantly impaired.

Brain imaging of a small sample of heavy cannabis users who began using it at a young age had lower levels of dopamine in a specific area of the brain, the striatum. Dopamine plays a key role in the brain’s reward system, which also affects motivation, and the study may help explain the stereotype that chronic marijuana users lack motivation.

The effect of marijuana on cognitive function has always been a controversial topic of debate between advocates and opponents of its use. The medical literature contains extensive evidence to support the fact that cannabis causes cognitive decline. Significant cognitive decline has been noted in cannabis abusers compared to non-abusers and healthy controls. Cannabis has a significant adverse effect on prospective memory – the intention to remember something in the future – in people, particularly young adults. Cannabis also affects visuomotor and oculomotor skills with chronic use.

Long-term effects of marijuana use


  • Dependence
  • Dependence
  • Lowered sexual drive
  • Deterioration of sperm count in males
  • Irregular menstrual cycles in females
  • Memory loss
  • Increased risk of respiratory disorders like chronic bronchitis and cancers of lung, mouth, throat and tongue
  • Learning disability
  • Mood swings
  • Psychosis and psychotic symptoms
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Low birth weight babies

Marijuana Addiction Treatment at Drug Treatment and Rehab Centers

Drug Treatment and Rehab Centers (DTRC) offers marijuana rehabilitation services that help people recover from addictions to marijuana, as well as alcohol and other drugs. Patients are screened and treated for all underlying and co-occurring conditions in order to reduce the risk of relapse. Through customized programming that combines individual and group psychotherapy and complementary alternative therapeutic activities such as yoga, meditation, art therapy, equine therapy, and music therapy, the programs at DTRC provide balanced, holistic treatment for the person, not the disorder. Call our Admissions team at (305) 615-2028 for marijuana addiction help.

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