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Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana is a mix of flowers, leaves, and stems from the cannabis sativa plant. Because the drug is plant-like in appearance, some people call it weed, pot, grass, or herb.

Struggling with Marijuana Addiction? Get Help Now

Marijuana is a hallucinogenic drug that comes from the flowers, leaves, and stems of the cannabis sativa plant. The drug is known by many names, such as weed, pot, grass, or herb

Marijuana addiction is real, and it can develop quickly. Evidence-based programs can help users regain control.

What Is Marijuana

Quick Answer

Marijuana is a mind-altering drug derived from the cannabis sativa plant. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says marijuana has over 480 chemical compounds, but one of them (THC) typically causes the drug’s effect.[1]

Marijuana, or weed, is a psychoactive drug created from plant materials. People who use it claim the drug makes them feel relaxed and in touch with the world.  For many young people, this is the top choice among intoxicants. 

Experts say marijuana use is widespread among young people. In 2018, for example, more than 11.8 million young people used marijuana at least once. [2]

For most people, marijuana is a drug that is used to help them get high. But many people use marijuana to address medical conditions.

Key Facts About Marijuana

  • People who use cannabis have a 10% likelihood of developing an addiction.[3]
  • Two large studies suggest that ongoing marijuana use can alter cognitive abilities. But the damage done depends on when the person started using marijuana and how long the abuse lasted.[4]
  • Regular marijuana use has been linked to several mental health issues, including depression, social anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Some people develop schizophrenia.[5]
  • Cannabis is the most widely trafficked and abused illicit drug worldwide.[6]

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A Quick History of Marijuana

Marijuana isn’t a new drug. People have grown plants in the cannabis family for millennia. But the use of marijuana has changed with time. [7]

Ancient cultures used marijuana as an herbal medicine, and these early formulations had very little THC. Instead, these hemp-based formulations were not necessarily capable of making people high.

Later, people discovered that marijuana could make people high. In some cultures, the drug became a way for shamans and religious leaders to connect with ancestors or the divine. 

Marijuana didn’t become a recreational drug in the United States until the early 1900s when some immigrants brought the practice with them to their new homes. Since then, officials have tried to get people to stop using marijuana, but those efforts haven’t always worked.

The Rise in Marijuana Use: Is Legalization Popularizing This Substance?

More than 19 states have legalized marijuana for adult recreational purposes. Colorado and Washington came first in 2012, and other states followed. Some believe this push to make marijuana legal is responsible for higher drug use rates.[8]

In years past, people who wanted to use marijuana needed to know a trusted dealer, and they needed a willingness to break the law. They could face fines or jail time for their drug use if caught. These laws potentially kept some people from experimenting with marijuana.

But now that the drug is legal in so many states, it’s relatively easy to walk into a store and walk out with drugs. Many people even feel comfortable using drugs openly. 

Two-thirds of Americans say marijuana should be legal, further proving that laws make marijuana seem permissible. [9]

Causes of Marijuana Addiction 

Several overlapping factors can contribute to the development of a marijuana addiction. The more of them you have, the more likely your experiments with weed will become dangerous in time. These are risk factors for marijuana addiction: 

Biological Factors

Researchers say that genes could play a part in marijuana addiction risks. If you have them, the drug could work on your brain receptors in a novel way, making it harder for you to control or curb your drug use. [10]

Environmental Factors

Living in a state with legalized recreational marijuana means accessing the drug without knowing a dealer. Recurring use is closely associated with developing substance use disorders. 

Social Factors

Spending time with people who buy, use, or sell marijuana normalizes the drug. Social connections like this could encourage you to use the drug regularly and believe that everyone else is doing so too. Your use could rise accordingly. 

Psychological Factors 

Underlying mental health problems, such as depression or schizophrenia, could make marijuana experimentation more dangerous too. You may use marijuana to ease mental health concerns, but you could develop a substance use disorder in time. 

How Does Marijuana Affect the Mind & Body?

The human body is filled with THC and cannabinoid receptors. Hallucinogenic properties originate in the brain cells, but the drug has a much larger impact.

Endogenous cannabinoids can work directly on brain cells, altering portions of the brain that control the following: [11]

  • Pleasure
  • Memory 
  • Thinking
  • Concentration
  • Movement
  • Coordination
  • Time perception

These substances are responsible for the hallucinogenic effects of marijuana

THC in marijuana can also work directly on the hippocampus in the brain and orbital cortex. These brain areas control the ability to make new memories and shift attention to new topics. Changes in this area could impair a person’s ability to learn and perform complicated tasks. [11]

Marijuana can also change the following:

  • Heart: Your heartbeat may speed up or become erratic. 
  • Blood vessels: Sensitive channels relax, allowing your eyes and skin to flush.
  • Mouth: Salivary glands stop working, leading to dry mouth.
  • Digestion: Some people feel nauseated or vomit while using marijuana. 

How Is Marijuana Abused?

Marijuana is a versatile plant, and it’s an old one. People have experimented with the leaves, stems, and flowers for decades. As a result, several different forms of marijuana exist with varying levels of potency. 


Dried marijuana can be combined with tobacco, smoked in paper, or placed into a water-based pipe. Smoking marijuana puts active ingredients into immediate contact with lung tissue, allowing for quick bloodstream distribution.

Marijuana smoke is an irritant, and many people with a chronic habit develop a heavy cough. Some marijuana products also contain volatile chemicals and tar. [12]


Marijuana leaves or concentrates can be distilled into butter, baked into foods, or put into candies or ice cream. Edible marijuana doesn’t impact the user immediately, raising the risk that someone will take another dose too quickly and feel sick later.

Edible forms of marijuana can also be attractive to kids and pets, leading to severe toxicity. A child or dog that eats marijuana brownies or gummies may need hospital monitoring due to the side effects of edibles


Commercial producers can distill marijuana into waxes, soft solids, or firm solids. These products can be consumed via vape pens or through a dabbing tool. The lungs distribute the drug immediately.

Marijuana concentrates like this can have a THC level higher than 80%, raising the risk of intense toxicity and negative side effects. Traditional preparations don’t have nearly this concentration. [13]

Symptoms of Marijuana Addiction 

Marijuana addiction is a serious disorder that can change several factors within a person’s life. Spotting the signs can mean offering help before the problem progresses. Symptoms can be separated into three groups: 


Marijuana is a powerful hallucinogenic drug, but most people can hide their hallucinations from others. They may not be able to hide their sedation, relaxation, or lack of coordination from outside observers. 

Marijuana also comes with a sickly-sweet smell when it’s smoked. Regular marijuana users may smell like weed, or they may use powerful substances like incense to cover up the odor. 


As marijuana addiction progresses, people spend most of every day thinking about or using the drug. They may seem anxious or distracted between doses, especially if they must buy the drug from dealers. 

While people are high, they may display poor judgment or impulsivity. And they may have memory problems due to the ongoing abuse. 


Some people are secretive about their marijuana use and spend long periods in bathrooms, closets, and other hidden areas while getting high. Withdrawing from activities once enjoyed and displaying a lack of motivation to tackle hard projects are common.

Comparing Symptoms of Marijuana Use Disorder by Type

DrowsinessPreoccupation Need for privacy 
Sedation Anxiety Secretiveness 
Lack of coordinationPoor judgmentWithdrawal from activities once enjoyed
Scent of marijuana on clothing or hair ImpulsivityLack of motivation 
CoughingMemory lapses Long periods spent using or recovering from drugs

Is Marijuana Considered an Addictive Drug?

Marijuana is addictive. Regular use alters brain cells, and in time, those cells don’t function without the drug. When people with marijuana addiction are sober, they feel sick. They may keep using the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms. And they may escalate their use even when they know the drug is harming them.

Can You Overdose on Marijuana?

People can overdose on marijuana. Using too much of the drug (sometimes called greening out) can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. In extreme cases, people experience hallucinations during an overdose. 

A marijuana overdose is rarely fatal, but people experiencing severe vomiting can become dehydrated. You can help someone recover from an overdose by offering water and your calm support. The symptoms typically fade within about 24 hours. 

The Health Impact of Marijuana Abuse 

Researchers know a great deal about marijuana’s impact on the brain and body. [14] While using the drug just once can be dangerous in some instances, people who keep using it over the long term can develop chronic, serious illnesses.

Short-Term Impact 

Marijuana works directly on portions of the brain responsible for attention and coordination. Users can hurt themselves while under the influence. If they drive while high, they could hurt others too.

The heart can also get hit hard during a marijuana use episode. Often, heart rates increase, leading to an increased risk of stroke or heart attack. 

Long-Term Effects

Marijuana’s impact on the brain can persist, particularly in people with underlying mental health issues such as schizophrenia. Some people may also struggle with learning, attention, and memory due to their continued marijuana use.

Smoking marijuana can harm lung tissues. While those cells can heal, it takes time, and people must stop smoking for tissue repair. 

Some people develop cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, intense vomiting that persists even when they are sober. 

Marijuana Withdrawal 

Dependence describes a physical state caused by long-term drug use. Cells become accustomed to marijuana’s presence, and they don’t function properly without it. People who are dependent can struggle to quit using drugs due to the sickness they feel while sober.

Marijuana withdrawal can cause the following:[2]

  • Irritability
  • Mood alterations
  • Insomnia
  • Appetite changes
  • Restlessness

People often feel the worst within the first week of quitting marijuana use, but many people feel unwell for longer. Some people relapse to pot use to make the discomfort stop. This creates a cycle of abuse from which they feel like they can’t escape.

Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?

A gateway drug works as an introduction to other substances. For example, Vicodin can work as heroin’s gateway drug. For years, people have claimed that marijuana is a gateway drug, but the truth is a little more complicated.

Researchers say the majority of people who use marijuana don’t go on to use other, harder drugs. Some do, of course. But most stick with marijuana or move back and forth between legal intoxication with marijuana or alcohol. [15]

Mixing alcohol and weed or mixing Klonopin and marijuana can be incredibly dangerous. Multiple sedating drugs can slow breathing rates to a life-threatening level. But mixing anything, including alcohol, with marijuana isn’t smart. 

Treatment Options for Marijuana Addiction 

Some people struggle to quit using marijuana without help. On average, people who enter marijuana treatment programs have tried to quit more than six times. [16] Treatment programs can help people to turn their lives around and succeed in their efforts to stay sober.

Marijuana detox starts the process. Here, people get the help they need to stop taking drugs without feeling sick. Medications, nutrition, and counseling are all critical. 

For many people, the next stage of recovery involves treating underlying health issues like depression or anxiety. [16] With these issues under control, people may no longer need to self-medicate with marijuana. 

Counseling programs can help people to understand why they started using marijuana, and they can practice relapse prevention skills to avoid returning to marijuana in the future. In treatment, they’ll develop a support system that helps them to build a healthier life in recovery and avoid substance misuse.

Marijuana’s legality means that it can be difficult to avoid marijuana-related triggers. You may continue to encounter marijuana triggers daily. But with counseling and support group work, people with addictions can lead a new life that does not include drugs. 

Support Resources for Marijuana Addiction

Learning all you can about marijuana use disorder can help you understand what to do next. These five resources may be helpful:

  • Marijuana Anonymous: Find peers also struggling with marijuana abuse. You can also attend other meetings under the Anonymous umbrella, but this branch is specifically devoted to marijuana use. 
  • Al-Anon: Family members and friends can join support group meetings and learn more about how to support someone in recovery. People in these meetings have loved ones who struggle with all different kinds of substance abuse.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse: Research about marijuana is ongoing, and you can read the latest results from this organization. 
  • Secular Organization for Sobriety: Join marijuana support groups in this model that doesn’t rely on a higher power (like Alcoholics Anonymous or Marijuana Anonymous does). 
  • SMART Recovery: This organization also uses a secular approach toward recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions About Marijuana Addiction 

We’ve compiled many of the common questions about marijuana abuse and addiction.

What type of drug is weed considered?

Marijuana is difficult to classify, as it doesn’t fall neatly into one category. It could be considered a depressant, stimulant, and hallucinogen.

How long does marijuana stay in your system?

Regular users clear the drug quickly, but frequent drug users need up to 13 days to clear the drug. How long marijuana stays in your system can vary according to other factors, including your age and health. 

How long do marijuana edibles stay in your system?

You may feel marijuana edibles for up to eight hours. But marijuana edibles can stay in your system for much longer. 

What is the best way to quit using weed?

The best way to quit using weed is to enter a treatment program. A medical team can offer medication support and therapy to help you get sober safely. If you attempt to stop use on your own, relapse is more likely.

What are the common nicknames for marijuana?

Common nicknames for marijuana include weed, cannabis, grass, pot, and Mary Jane

Does smoking marijuana cause cancer?

Researchers say that marijuana can increase a person’s cancer risks. It’s closely tied to cancer of the testicle. 

Is marijuana a good treatment option for glaucoma?

Marijuana cannot treat glaucoma, but it can lower eye pressure.

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated March 25, 2024
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