Marijuana Abuse Symptoms, Effects, & Treatment



Overview of Marijuana Abuse

After alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly used substance by teens and young adults. In 2015, 7.3% of adults in the US had used marijuana in the past month and 58.2% of high school seniors reported having used it in the past year. Known by many names and found in many forms, marijuana is the most common name for the Cannabis plant. Other popular nicknames include weed, pot, ganja, grass, and Mary Jane. The psychoactive (or mind altering) chemical in Marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol, abbreviated as THC. When THC enters the body, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and passes to the brain, where it attaches to specific neurons with “cannabinoid receptors”. These neurons are a naturally occurring part of our body that is part of our inner brain communication system. Most cannabinoid receptors are found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. Marijuana triggers an increase in the activity of the endocannabinoid system, and causes the release of dopamine in the brain’s reward centers, creating pleasurable feelings, heightened mood and the feeling of being  “high.”

Marijuana Treatment Programs

While THC is often smoked, it can also be inhaled in vapor form or eaten. During smoking, the flowers of the plant are dried and burned, and the smoke then inhaled via pipes, through water (a bong), or rolled in paper alone (a joint) or with tobacco (a spliff or blunt).  THC is also often concentrated into a high potency resin, forms of which include hash, shatter, or wax. These are then then heated and the vapors inhaled.  THC can also be dissolved into fats and used in baking, making psychoactive foods often called “edibles”.  When smoked or vapor inhaled, the effects can begin a few minutes after inhalation and last for several hours. When eaten, it generally takes longer for THC to affect the system and can last for upwards of 5 hours. The THC content of many marijuana products has increased greatly over the past several decades (up 244% from the 1980’s), due to advances in plants’ genetic selection and cannabis technology.

Marijuana THC Smoke

Is Marijuana Addictive?

Consistent marijuana abuse can lead to the development marijuana use disorder, which in severe cases takes the form of marijuana addiction. Recent research indicates that individuals who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults.

Marijuana abuse is often associated with marijuana dependence which is described as a chronic marijuana user who experiences withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug.  These marijuana withdraw symptoms may include irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, cravings, restlessness, and/or various forms of physical discomfort and typically peak within the first week after quitting and last up to 2 weeks following the last use.  Over time, marijuana dependence develops as the brain adapts to large amounts of marijuana use by reducing the production and sensitivity of its own endocannabinoidneurotransmitters.

Marijuana dependence becomes marijuana addiction when individuals are unable to stop using the drug even though it interferes with many aspects of their lives.  Recent studies indicate that up 17% of teenagers who use marijuana will become dependent on it.

Potential Effects of Marijuana on the Body:

  • Stress on the lungs including coughing, sputum and bronchodilation
  • Potential contributor to cardiovascular disease
  • Weight gain: an increased appetite and decreased desire for physical activity are both common effects of THC use
  • Decreased attention to hygiene and bodily cleanliness

Potential Effects of Marijuana on the Brain:

  • Feelings of anxiety, panic, impaired attention and memory, both in the moment and long term
  • Increased potential of psychosis, including psychotic episodes while “high” and a potential to trigger latent psychotic disorders and mental health issues
  • Dependence
  • Withdrawal symptoms including craving, irritability, boredom, anxiety and sleep disturbances.
  • Heavy, chronic use in teens may result in a lower IQ later in life.
  • Emotional stunting and inability to process emotions, which can lead to deeper emotional distress and potential self harm/suicide.
  • The creation of reward-seeking patterns (like the dopamine release from THC interaction) in a brain that is still growing (generally until about age 25) can result in a permanently decreased ability to delay gratification or exercise impulse control.

Potential Effects of Marijuana on a Young Person’s Social System:

  • Legal: fines, imprisonment, and permanent record issues. These can be substantial, expensive, and potentially long lasting.
  • Decreased ability to fulfill responsibilities.
  • Decreased achievement in academics as a teen’s attention, memory, and focus is compromised.
  • Damaged relationships with friends and family if marijuana replaces those relationships or becomes a stand-in for emotional processing.

Further cautions: with illegal substances, there is no governing body overseeing a drug’s purity or potency. When buying Marijuana, there is no guarantee of what one is actually purchasing.  The plants might be grown with toxic pesticide and herbicides, or the drug can be laced with additional substances including amphetamines, “synthetic marijuana” and/or other chemicals.

While federally illegal, several states in the U.S. have legalized both medical and recreational Marijuana in the past few years, increasing the societal acceptance of the drug and prevalence. However, even in states where Marijuana is legal, such as Colorado, the minimum age for recreational consumption is 21, like alcohol.

Marijuana Can Be Used By Teens and Young Adults

Why do Teens and Adults Use Marijuana?

  • Peer pressure / to fit in with others.
  • To connect with friends; many substance users bond over their clandestine connection to the substance and the culture surrounding it.
  • Experimentation / identity creation. Adolescence and young adulthood is often a time of testing: family boundaries, societal expectations, and personal beliefs. Marijuana is a common way to fulfill these desires: it is easy to obtain and, aside from potential legal troubles, it has lower risk in short term use than many other substances.
  • In response to stressful life transitions such as a move, divorce, or teenage hormones.
  • Due to a chemical imbalance or genetic predisposition to substance use.
  • In response to popularization by film and music.
  • They enjoy the feeling of marijuana use, which can include euphoria, relaxation, change of perspective, and lowered inhibitions.

If you think your loved one might be using marijuana, but you aren’t sure, what are some indicators?

  • Red or half-closed eyes, a common result of current or recent marijuana use
  • Lack of energy, increased appetite
  • Presence of paraphernalia, including pipes, papers, small bags, pill containers, or marijuana-positive art and music
  • Change of social circle, or current social circle associating with marijuana paraphernalia
  • Increased financial demand: while marijuana is relevantly inexpensive, as a habit develops, the user will tend to need more capital to sustain their use

Marijuana Addiction Treatment Options in Colorado

If you or your loved one lives in the US, chances are you / they have been offered marijuana and may have tried it.  If you’re concerned about marijuana experimentation, use, or abuse, seek support and treatment. While marijuana use is often trivialized in American society, the detrimental effects are real and can be long lasting.  Talk to a professional about your concerns, get advice and coaching, and talk to your loved one about the potential risks and patterns of use and abuse. A strong bond created through an open, honest relationship built on positive experiences with your teen or young adult is the best way for your loving opinion to matter, and sometimes even that needs to be supplemented with outside support.  If you’re looking for a marijuana rehab center for teens in Denver or Boulder CO, a marijuana treatment center for young adults in Denver or Boulder, CO, or a marijuana counseling center for adolescents in Denver or Boulder, CO for you or your troubled teen, call us: 888-850-1890; our team is here to answer your questions and guide you to the best support system.

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