Marijuana Abuse and Addiction

Written by MaryAnn DePietro | Published on December 4, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on December 4, 2013

What Are Marijuana Abuse and Addiction?

Marijuana refers to the seeds, dried leaves, and stems of the cannabis sativa plant. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. It is usually smoked in a pipe or a cigarette. It can also be eaten.

The mind-altering ingredient in marijuana is called THC, which stands for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. The amount of THC in marijuana varies. It is common for marijuana to contain anywhere from one to seven percent THC.

A doctor may prescribe marijuana to treat certain health conditions. Uncontrollable or overly frequent marijuana consumption without a doctor’s prescription may indicate abuse.

Abusing marijuana can have negative health effects. It can also lead to addiction.

What Are the Effects of Marijuana Abuse and Addiction?

When marijuana enters the body, THC passes through the bloodstream and to the brain. The chemical targets certain brain cells called cannabinoid receptors. A large percentage of these receptive cells exist in the parts of the brain that influence memory, coordination, sensory perception, and thinking.


Marijuana has several effects on the body and mind. Abusing marijuana can cause:

  • memory problems
  • difficulty solving problems
  • increased appetite
  • decreased coordination
  • decreased concentration

As with cigarettes, smoking marijuana causes damage to the lungs.

Long-term marijuana use can lead to learning problems even years after stopping the drug.


As with other types of illicit drugs, marijuana abuse can lead to addiction. According to the Office of National Control Drug Policy, about one in every 11 marijuana users will become addicted. It is difficult to say how much marijuana use causes dependence. It likely varies among individuals.

Marijuana potency has increased in the past 20 years. A stronger drug increases the chances of addiction. According to the Office of Alcohol and Drug Education, addiction is likely both physical and psychological. In physical addition, the user’s body craves the drug. In psychological addiction, the user consciously desires the drug’s effects.

Who Is at Risk for Marijuana Abuse and Addiction?

Anyone who uses marijuana can become addicted.

Additional risk factors for substance abuse include:

  • having a family history of addiction
  • having a psychiatric disorder
  • lack of family involvement

What Are the Symptoms of Marijuana Abuse and Addiction?

Symptoms of marijuana addiction are similar to symptoms of addiction to other drugs. Common symptoms are:

  • increased tolerance
  • continued use, even if it interferes with other areas of life
  • withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms generally start about three weeks after the last use. Marijuana addiction withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • nausea
  • tremors
  • anxiety
  • weight loss
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • depression
  • restlessness

How Are Marijuana Abuse and Addiction Treated?

Treatment for addiction may include counseling to deal with co-existing addictions or psychiatric problems. People who are addicted to marijuana are commonly addicted to other substances.

Types of counseling include:

  • individual or group cognitive behavioral therapy
  • family counseling
  • motivational enhancement therapy

Medication to treat marijuana withdrawal symptoms is not currently available.

What Is the Outlook for Marijuana Abuse and Addiction?

The outlook for marijuana addiction depends on how long a person has been using the drug and whether there is an addiction to other substances. Although treatment can work, relapse is common. Only about 50 percent of people in treatment go longer than two weeks without using marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Preventing Marijuana Abuse and Addiction

The best way to prevent marijuana abuse and addiction is to avoid using the drug, unless a medical professional prescribes it to you. Always use prescribed medications only as recommended.

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