While often known by other names (such as bud, herb, pot, or weed), marijuana refers to the dried flowers of the Cannabis plant, which can be smoked, vaporized, or combined into foods.1, 2 Smoking or vaping marijuana introduces the active chemical components of the drug into the bloodstream, which can result in the rapid onset of relaxation and a pleasant sense of euphoria. In contrast, eating edible forms of marijuana can take much longer for such effects to kick in.1, 2
Even though marijuana is becoming more socially acceptable, particularly as it is being legalized in many states, it remains one of the most prevalently used addictive substances, other than tobacco and alcohol. More than 48 million Americans aged 12 or over reported that they used marijuana in 2019 and nearly 5 million reported addiction to marijuana—or a marijuana use disorder—within the last year.4, 5
Marijuana may be seen as relatively less risky than certain other substances, but many may not realize that its use can be problematic and may increase the risk of addiction and other potential health effects.2 Understanding how it affects the brain and body, including dependence and withdrawal as well as other signs of marijuana addiction, can be helpful if you or a loved one feel you are struggling with compulsive marijuana use and are seeking treatment.
Is Marijuana Addictive?
Marijuana can be addictive, but that doesn’t mean that anyone who uses marijuana will become addicted. Regular marijuana use can potentially progress to problematic levels of use and the eventual development of marijuana use disorder.1
The primary psychoactive chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, found in marijuana, interacts with a person’s endocannabinoid system to give rise to the intoxicating effects that many people seek when using marijuana.1
Via this same interaction, THC also activates the reward centers of the brain by creating an increase in dopamine activity, which thereby reinforces the experience of using marijuana. This reward system activation can perpetuate continued, problematic use and additionally contribute to the development of marijuana use disorder.1
Marijuana is also associated with physiological dependence and a distinct withdrawal syndrome. Dependence develops as the body and brain grow accustomed to the presence of marijuana with regular use.1 As dependence develops, people may experience withdrawal symptoms when attempts are made to quit using marijuana or use less than they are used to.1, 6, 7 Since withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant, this can make it even more difficult to stop using and contribute to continued, compulsive use and addiction.
What Are the Health Effects of Marijuana?
Regular use of marijuana can potentially affect the body, brain, and a person’s ability to function in important areas of their
life.1, 2 The higher the dose, the more likely a person is to be affected in their cognitive functioning, which may result in difficulties with daily activities such as school or work.3
Some marijuana extracts with higher THC concentrations can place people at particularly increased risk of experiencing harmful effects on the brain and may contribute to addiction development.1, 8, 9
Marijuana use can have both short- and long-term effects on multiple systems in the body, including: .1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11
- The brain, such as impaired short-term memory, judgment, focus, and coordination, and short-term distortion of perception and senses. Long-term effects can lead to issues with learning and coordination, and disrupt sleep patterns.
- The heart. Using marijuana can cause the heart to beat faster while a person is intoxicated. Over time, it may increase a person’s risk for heart disease or stroke.
- The lungs. Over time, smoking or vaping marijuana can potentially lead to the development of cough, wheezing, bronchitis, pneumonia, or other respiratory issues.
- Mental health. Potential for short-term increases in anxiety, paranoia, or panic. Marijuana has been linked to psychotic symptoms while under the influence, and an increase in the risk of developing depression, anxiety, and psychotic disorders, especially in people who are predisposed.
Signs of Marijuana Addiction
Like other substance use disorders (SUDs), a diagnosis of a marijuana use disorder (or, a cannabis use disorder) is best made after an evaluation by a doctor or other healthcare professional.
However, if in the past 12 months you or a loved one have displayed or experienced at least 2 of the signs or symptoms of a substance use disorder as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition), it may be time to get help for marijuana use that has become problematic.3
Termed diagnostic criteria, these signs and symptoms represent characteristic changes in a person’s thoughts, behaviors, and body as addiction develops. Examples of these diagnostic criteria include: 3
- Using more marijuana than planned or used for longer periods of time than intended.
- An inability to control marijuana use or inability to stop using.
- Cutting back or completely quitting social activities or hobbies as a result of marijuana use.
- Experiencing strong desires to use marijuana.
- Having trouble completing important tasks at work, school, or home because of marijuana use.
- Inability to stop using marijuana even after it has created or worsened medical, mental health, or interpersonal problem.
- Spending a significant amount of time getting, using, or coming down from marijuana.
- Using in situations that can be dangerous, such as before driving.
- Developing tolerance, which means needing to use more marijuana to feel the same effects.
- Withdrawal symptoms occur if you a person stops using marijuana.
Frequent marijuana users may be at risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop or lessen their use.1, 3 These symptoms can differ depending on the person and how much they use, but often make it difficult to stop using.3 Marijuana withdrawal symptoms may include:1,15, 13
- Sleep problems (including insomnia, nightmares).
- Decreased appetite.
- Depressed mood.
- Physical symptoms such as headache, fever, chills, sweating, tremor, and abdominal pain.
How to Quit Marijuana
If you or a loved one are trying to quit using marijuana, and are struggling to do so, it may be time to seek help. Though rarely requiring emergency medical attention, withdrawal can be unpleasant—presenting a challenge to early recovery efforts. These symptoms may arise within a week of stopping or slowing use and take 1-2 more weeks to resolve.1, 3
Though they might not be inherently dangerous, supportive medical care and behavioral strategies can help people manage withdrawal, helping them to be more comfortable at the start of treatment.13
Some people who have marijuana use disorder may also have co-occurring mental health disorders, which are best addressed at the same time with an integrated treatment approach.7 If not well managed, co-occurring disorders can influence the treatment outcomes of both, potentially impacting recovery progress if they aren’t treated together.1, 7
Though relapse in recovery is not uncommon, it shouldn’t signal the end of continued recovery efforts. If relapse occurs, it may mean that a person and their recovery program need to be reassessed and potentially readjusted to provide the appropriate level of care.7
If you’ve tried to stop using marijuana in the past and haven’t been successful, it doesn’t mean that you won’t ever be able to stop using. Recovery takes effort and sometimes repeated attempts. However, addiction is treatable, and learning about different treatment options can be an important first step on the path to recovery.1, 7. 12
Marijuana Addiction Treatment Programs
Substance use can affect everyone, from the person who is struggling with substance use to the loved ones of that individual.12 However, treatment programs can help people recover from marijuana addiction, and may lead to improved relationships and a better quality of life.7, 12
Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications to specifically treat marijuana withdrawal or addiction, although some medications may be used to manage specific symptoms if they are particularly problematic, such as anxiety or inability to
sleep.2, 13 The most effective treatment for marijuana addiction and other SUDs is a treatment that meets the unique needs of the individual, rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all approach.7
Treatment options for marijuana addiction are similar to treatment for other substance use disorders and may rely heavily on evidence-based behavioral therapies conducted in both individual and group counseling sessions.7, 12 Though their techniques may vary somewhat, in general, behavioral therapies can help people in recovery to: 7, 12
- Resolve any hesitation to stop using.
- Encourage engagement with their treatment program.
- Improve their ability to cope with cravings and stressors.
- Develop relapse prevention skills.
- Strengthen interpersonal skills.
- Build a peer group that is supportive of sobriety.
- Explore healthy hobbies.
- Improve functioning.
Some behavioral therapeutic techniques that a person might encounter at some point during treatment include the following:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches people skills to quit using marijuana and manage problems that can lead to relapse, including stressors, cravings, and high-risk situations.1, 7, 12 This type of therapy can help people learn how to avoid or cope with situations that can trigger drug use, improve problem-solving skills, and develop drug refusal skills and can be provided in individual and group settings.1, 7
- Contingency Management: Contingency management is a method that positively reinforces desirable behaviors such as maintaining abstinence and attending program sessions with tangible rewards.1, 7, 12 As a person continues to progress in treatment and consistently remains abstinent, the rewards may increase in value.7
- Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): Motivational enhancement therapy addresses any uncertainty that a person may have about quitting marijuana and attending treatment and help increase a person’s motivation to create positive changes in their life.1, 7, 12 Rather than directing you through the process of recovery, MET works to increase your innate desire to make changes.1, 7, 12
Types of Marijuana Rehab
These helpful therapies may be experienced in both outpatient and inpatient settings, which are determined when a person’s level of care is assessed by a professional.
- Inpatient rehab is a setting of care that involves living at a facility while receiving supervision and support around the clock, along with group and individual therapy.7 These programs can be short- or long-term, lasting anywhere from a few weeks to months depending on the care a person needs.7 Inpatient treatment may be a good option for a person with:
- Co-occurring physical or mental health conditions.
- Severe substance use disorder or who is using multiple substances.
- Struggles maintaining sobriety in a less restrictive level of treatment.
- An unstable living situation, or without strong support in their community.
- Outpatient rehab allows a person to receive marijuana addiction treatment while still living at home. They can attend regularly scheduled group and individual counseling appointments at a treatment facility and receive other services based on their needs.7 Outpatient treatment can be a good option for 7
- People with a strong support system.
- Individuals who still need to work, go to school or care for the family.
- Those who need a more affordable treatment option.
- People with relatively less acute substance use disorder treatment needs.
Cost of Marijuana Addiction Treatment
The cost of marijuana addiction treatment can vary depending on a wide range of factors, which can include:
- The type of program. Inpatient rehab programs cost more than outpatient programs since they offer room and board as well as 24-hour supervision.
- The amenities offered. Programs that offer basic amenities will likely cost less than luxury programs with spa-like amenities.
- Insurance coverage. Many programs accept insurance coverage for marijuana treatment, although you should always check to make sure that the facility is covered under your specific plan. Covered treatment programs are likely to result in less out-of-pocket payments than those that aren’t covered by insurance.
- The type of facility. Public facilities generally cost significantly less than private facilities.
Does My Insurance Cover Treatment?
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) ensures that most individual and small group health insurance plans offer coverage for essential health benefits (EHBs), which includes mental health and substance use disorder care.14 Each insurance plan is different, and coverage may depend on:
- The insurance company.
- Type of plan (HMO, PPO, EPO).
- Geographic location.
- Specific types of treatment and services.
It is always a good idea to contact your insurance provider to check what their specific coverage is for addiction treatment and verify your insurance with the treatment facility you choose.
If you or a loved one don’t have health insurance, or cannot afford the copayment, there may still be ways to access treatment. Some programs offer sliding scale fees, where the cost is adjusted according to your income, payment plans, financing, or scholarships to make treatment accessible.
Find Marijuana Addiction Treatment Near Me
If you or a loved one is struggling with marijuana addiction, there is hope for recovery. Reaching out is a courageous step in starting your new life and our caring admissions navigators are ready to help. Contact us 24/7 at 1-888-319-2606 Helpline Information to confidentially discuss your treatment options and answer any questions that you may have.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Marijuana research report.
- National Institute on Drug Use. (2020). Commonly used drugs charts.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Marijuana fast facts and fact sheets.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Key substance abuse and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Tolerance, dependence, addiction: What’s the difference?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (Third edition).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). DrugFacts: Marijuana concentrates.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Health effects.
- Volkow, N.D., Swanson, J.M., Evins, A.E., DeLisi, L.E., Meier, M.H., … & Baler, R. (2016). Effects of cannabis use on human behavior, including cognition, motivation, and psychosis: A review. JAMA Psychiatry, 2016.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). How do I know if I am addicted to marijuana?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Drugs, brains, and behavior: The science of addiction.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2015). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4131. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Information on essential health benefits (EHB) benchmark plans.
- Hesse, M., & Thylstrup, B. (2013). Time-course of the DSM-5 cannabis withdrawal symptoms in poly-substance abusers. BMC psychiatry, 13, 258.