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Is Marijuana Addictive?

By Neha Kashyap
Medically Reviewed by Nicole Arzt, LMFT on January 13, 2021
Marijuana can be addictive for some. Here’s how.

After alcohol, marijuana is the second most popular mind-altering drug in the U.S., according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Marijuana use disorder, also known as cannabis use disorder, is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as marijuana use that interferes with daily life. Untreated marijuana use disorder could disrupt your work, relationships, legal standing, and life goals. 

How Addictive Is Marijuana?

Marijuana use disorder affects about 30% of marijuana users, according to the NIDA. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says about 10% of users become addicted, or feel a compulsive need for marijuana despite how it affects their lives. 

Marijuana Addiction Symptoms

Marijuana use disorder is characterized by:

  • Intense cravings to use marijuana
  • Physical withdrawal symptoms after the last use
  • Giving up activities to use marijuana instead
  • Work or school problems
  • Relationship issues
  • Getting in dangerous situations because of marijuana (like driving while under the influence)
  • Increasing physical tolerance

Physical symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include:

  • Irritability
  • Cravings
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Chills

Increased tolerance, or needing more and more marijuana to get high, can contribute to marijuana dependence in heavy users, Jason Levine, PhD, a clinical psychologist based in Los Angeles, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

Dependence means that the central nervous system decreases its ability to experience the effects of the drug as a means to create balance,” Levine says. “More of the drug is needed to create the desired mind altering effect ... ”

Marijuana can also be psychologically addictive, meaning an addict might have an emotional attachment to the drug. Psychological signs of marijuana addiction include:

  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Relationship problems
  • An inability to stop using marijuana
  • Cravings

“On the psychological dependence side, the desire to smoke despite health or social consequences often takes the form of cravings,” says Pritesh Kumar, PhD, who specializes in cannabinoid pharmacology. “Cravings can be triggered through events, locations, social circles, or regular routines where smoking takes place.” 

Current rates of marijuana use disorder could be driven by the large amount of THC—the chemical that provides marijuana’s high—in marijuana sold today, says the NIDA. In the 1990s, marijuana confiscated by authorities contained about 4% THC. By 2018, confiscated marijuana contained about 15% THC. According to the CDC, it is unlikely that you could overdose on marijuana, but there are health consequences to long-term heavy pot use.

“Consuming weed habitually for a prolonged period of time can cause serious lack of motivation, hallucination, erectile dysfunction, bloodshot eyes, [and] chronic cough,” says Maria N. Vila, DO, a family medicine specialist in New Jersey.

Other effects of long-term marijuana use include:

  • Mental health issues like depression or anxiety
  • Heart problems 
  • Lung problems
  • Cognitive issues, like difficulty with judgment
  • Trouble with reflexes

And heavy marijuana use in young people, whose brains are still developing, could alter brain functioning long term, according to Vila.

“This is where ‘weed kills your brain cells’ myth comes from,” Vila says.

Get Help Now

It’s important to take care of a marijuana use disorder before it disrupts your daily life or long-term goals. If you or a loved one is struggling with marijuana addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.

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