What is marijuana?
Marijuana comes from the cannabis plant. It appears as green, brown, or gray mixtures of dried, shredded leaves, stems, and seeds. It is usually rolled in cigarette papers and smoked (a joint) or smoked in a pipe (a bowl) or water pipe (a bong). Some users slice open a cigar and fill it with loose marijuana (a blunt). Marijuana is also known as dope, pot, weed, ganja, grass, reefer, MJ, Mary Jane, chronic, gangster, boom, doobie, cannabis tea, jive, Maui wowie, or ace. Derivatives of the cannabis plant also include hashish (or hash), which is the compressed resin of the plant’s buds, or hash oil, which is an oil extracted from the resin.
Is marijuana addictive?
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) uses the term “cannabis use disorder” to define a pattern of cannabis use that leads to significant physical, inter personal, medical, or work problems. Cannabis use disorder is rated as mild, moderate, or severe based on how many criteria are met. A person diagnosed with cannabis use disorder can also be classified as in remission, or what is commonly referred to as “in recovery.” Those with cannabis use disorder should receive treatment, and those who identify themselves as addicts often find the skills and support to stay sober through peer support groups like Narcotics Anonymous or Marijuana Anonymous.
Addiction is considered a brain-based disease characterized by abnormal drug-seeking behavior that leads to impaired control over one’s drug use. Addiction means a person will continue using alcohol or other drugs despite the harm it does to their health, family, work or school, and relationships. An addict may experience withdrawal symptoms (physical pain, fatigue, depression, trouble sleeping, irritability) if he or she stops using, and may need to keep using just to feel normal. “Curing” addiction is not a matter of willpower or moral strength any more than is curing diabetes or cancer. Like diabetes and cancer, addiction is considered a chronic disease which is beyond one’s control and fatal if left untreated.
Longterm marijuana use can lead to addiction or compulsive drug seeking and abuse, despite its known harmful effects. Longterm marijuana users trying to quit report withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety, and drug craving.
Many users are unaware of the effect of marijuana on the lungs. Marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke. Marijuana users usually inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than tobacco smokers do, which further increase the lungs’ exposure to carcino genic smoke.
How does marijuana use affect a co-occurring mental health disorder?
Co-occurring disorders, or dual disorders, occur when a mental health disorder, like depression or schizophrenia, is present along with addiction, alcoholism, or other substance use disorders. Screening for cooccurring disorders should be part of any good assessment or treatment plan.
A number of studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and schizophre nia. Some of these studies have shown age at first use to be a factor, with early use indicating vulnerability to later problems. However, at this time, it is not clear whether marijuana use causes mental problems or worsens them, or whether marijuana is used in an attempt to selfmedicate symptoms already in existence. In fact, some states have made marijuana use legal for medical purposes.
Chronic marijuana use, especially in a very young person, may also be a marker of risk for mental illnesses, including addiction, stemming from genetic or environmental vulnerabilities, such as early exposure to stress or violence.
How does marijuana use affect the brain?
The main active chemical in marijuana is delta9tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short. When someone smokes marijuana, THC rapidly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream, which carries the chemical to the brain and other organs throughout the body.
THC acts on specific sites in the brain, called cannabinoid receptors, kick ing off a series of cellular reactions that ultimately lead to the “high” that users experience. Research on the longterm effects of marijuana abuse indicates some changes in the brain similar to those seen after longterm abuse of other major drugs.
Long-term marijuana abuse can lead to addiction; that is, compulsive drug seeking and abuse despite its known harmful effects on family relationships, school, work, and recreational activities.
The effects of marijuana are subtler and less noticeable than the effects of other drugs. For users who have a co-occurring mental health disorder, symptoms of that disorder may be harder to recognize and treat.
Is addiction to marijuana treatable?
Yes. Outpatient and residential treatment programs are available. These programs combine detoxification, relapse prevention, group and individual therapy, and family therapy.
Behavioral interventions—including cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational incentives (e.g., providing vouchers for goods or services to patients who remain abstinent)—have shown positive results in treating marijuana dependence.
Addiction won’t go away, like a cold or the flu. It is a chronic disease, meaning you have it all your life. However, by staying sober and getting ongoing support, recovering people live normal, healthy, productive lives.
There are many resources out there. The websites for the following organizations were chosen for their usefulness and user friendliness.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) This government organization is dedicated to addiction research and education. Through its website you can access up-to-date publications about many different drugs of abuse as well as emerging trends.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): SAMHSA is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities. Its website offers information and resources about preventing and treating addiction and mental illness.