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Many people underestimate the addictive potential of marijuana. Perhaps that’s because they conflate physical dependence with psychological addiction, or even because they’re unaware of the potential for marijuana users to develop a physical dependency. Marijuana is natural, people say. Organic. Safe. According to popular myth, no one need fear the long-term effects of repeated use. That misperception has contributed to making marijuana the most widely used drug in the country. If only it were as benign as almost everyone seems to believe.
It’s true that marijuana (also known as pot, weed, cannabis, grass, and hash) does not have the same instant effect on the body as alcohol or heroin, yet users all over the world find themselves in thrall to the drug’s calming and euphoric effects. They live from high to high, constantly wondering when and where they will score next.
Regular users may also develop a tolerance to the drug, which forces them to increase the amount they use and the frequency with which they take it. Although researchers are still exploring how long-term marijuana use affects the brain and body, they do know that it’s possible for people to become fixated on the experience and to neglect their responsibilities and relationships in their constant search for a new high.
They also recognize the potential for marijuana users to become dependent on the drug and even to develop an addiction problem, which arises when they can no longer quit despite the adverse effect on their lives. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, initial studies reveal that up to nine percent of marijuana users will one day become dependent on the drug. That number jumps to 17 percent if someone starts using during adolescence.
Like most drugs, marijuana has both a mental and physical dimension. That’s because the active ingredient, THC, binds to receptors in the brain that govern everything from pleasure and relaxation to memory and time perception. Marijuana does not impact the body in the same way as hard drugs, but it can lead to the following physical symptoms:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Dry mouth
- Sluggish reflexes
- Impaired motor skills
- Increased appetite
- Increased heart rate
More noticeably, marijuana alters a user’s mood and cognitive abilities, producing the famous “stoned” effect that can manifest in the following ways:
- Dazed or “spacey” feeling
- Altered sense of time
- Memory difficulties
- Cognitive impairment
Occasional users typically find that the symptoms disappear as soon as the drug wears off. Heavy users—those who smoke or ingest marijuana on a daily basis—may notice that the effects linger long after their last hit.
Marijuana may be relatively mild, as far as illicit drugs go, but that doesn’t mean it carries no risk of complications. People who smoke marijuana over long periods of time may develop:
- Cognitive Impairments: Research suggests that heavy marijuana use, particularly at a young age, can permanently impair a person’s cognitive abilities, including their memory and their aptitude for learning new things. At the end of the day, that may have a significant impact on their ability to succeed in life.
- Mental Disorders: It’s not unusual for heavy marijuana users to experience chronic depression, anxiety, and paranoia. They may also lose their motivation to get ahead in the workplace or even to socialize with friends and family. In addition, those who already suffer from schizophrenia or other mental disorders may find that their condition worsens when they use drugs.
- Respiratory Illnesses: Medical science still hasn’t solved the debate over how dangerous marijuana smoke can be, but there’s no doubt that frequent inhalation can increase a person’s chances of developing lung infections or chronic coughs.
- Heart/Cardiovascular Problems: Marijuana raises the heart rate, which can aggravate pre-existing conditions. Older people or those who suffer from heart ailments could even put themselves at greater risk for a heart attack or cardiac arrest.
Marijuana withdrawals are nowhere near as dangerous as alcohol withdrawals or as uncomfortable as opioid withdrawals. Cessation can give rise to both physical and mental discomfort. Many people who have stopped smoking report:
- Irritability and agitation
- Trouble sleeping
- Decreased appetite
Withdrawal symptoms can last for up to two weeks. Typically, they peak during the first week and then slowly trail off. Unfortunately, many people would rather continue using than face the disruptive effects of withdrawing.
Relatively few people know that there is such a thing as marijuana rehab, or that they can reach out for help if they have trouble quitting on their own. The culture surrounding marijuana only makes it difficult for users to seek help. Some who need help may fear the judgment of friends or underestimate the power that marijuana has over their lives. Either way, it’s important that users know that dependency is real and recovery is possible.
Marijuana addiction treatment typically starts with a drying out period. At Yellowstone Recovery, we offer marijuana detox, followed by intensive behavioral therapies that have proven their effectiveness. We also provide continued sober living support, so clients can transition to sobriety gradually. Want to more information about our treatment programs? Read through a few of our testimonials to learn more about how we’ve helped thousands of clients on the road to
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