According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, marijuana use has become more mainstream over the last decade, with 33 states legalizing pot in some form, including 11 that have legalized it for recreational use. In addition, a 2019 CBS News Poll found that 65% of United States adults agree that marijuana should be legal. However, just because marijuana use has become more accepted doesn’t mean the drug is without risk. Marijuana abuse is particularly common for those who start using it in adolescence. It is important to understand the dangers of marijuana, including when and why treatment might be necessary.
The Stats on Grass
However you refer to it – weed, pot, grass, Mary Jane – marijuana is the most commonly used drug in the United States after alcohol, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The Foundation for a Drug-Free World reports that over 94 million people in the United States have admitted using it at least once. What’s more, the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that in 2019, 11.8% of 8th graders, 28.8% of 10th graders, and 35.7% of 12th graders had used marijuana in the past year.
This is particularly concerning as marijuana is often seen as a gateway drug for those who start using in adolescence:
- Of adults 26 or older who used marijuana before age 15, 62% went on to use cocaine
- 9% went on to use heroin at least once
- 54% used mind-altering prescription drugs, per the Foundation for a Drug-Free World
Marijuana’s Highs and Lows
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical in marijuana that’s primarily responsible for effects that include euphoria, relaxation, heightened sensory perception, altered perception of time, and increased appetite.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that THC works by attaching “to sites called cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells in the brain, affecting how those cells work. Cannabinoid receptors are abundant in parts of the brain that regulate movement, coordination, learning and memory, higher cognitive functions such as judgment and pleasure.”
Research suggests that marijuana abuse in adolescence, a critical point in brain development, may cause long-term adverse changes in the brain, such as altered connectivity and reduced volume of brain regions that are involved in executive functions such as memory, learning, and impulse control.
The Difference in Dependence and Addiction
Whether marijuana is used legally or illegally, it is possible to become addicted. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 30% of those who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder. This dependence means that withdrawal occurs when not taking the drug, and it occurs when the brain starts relying on THC instead of sending its own messages between nerve cells.
Marijuana dependence becomes an addiction when you or your loved one can’t stop using it even though it negatively affects your life. Signs of abuse include withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Decreased appetite
- Feeling irritable or moody
- Being more anxious or restless than usual
- Not being able to sleep
There are various treatment options for marijuana abuse, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, and motivational enhancement therapy, but the first step is to admit that a problem exists. Often, family or friends initially come to this realization, which is why it’s crucial to have a trusted partner to help guide you.
As experts in marijuana abuse treatment, our master’s level clinical team works directly with families to assess your needs, develop a plan to meet them, and work closely with you throughout the recovery process.