What Is Marijuana Abuse?

Medically Reviewed by Brian Wind, PhD, Chief Clinical Officer of JourneyPure on January 14, 2021

Marijuana abuse can have dire consequences if left untreated. Changes in state laws mean marijuana is available to more people, for both medical and recreational use. But whether you use it legally or illegally, it’s possible to abuse it and get addicted to it. This is known as marijuana use disorder.

Marijuana has a chemical in it called THC. It’s a lot like one your brain makes (anandamide) that sends messages between nerve cells throughout your body. If you use marijuana regularly, your brain can stop making its own version and start to depend on THC instead.

About 30% of people who use marijuana may have some level of marijuana use disorder. Those who started using it before age 18 are 4 to 7 times more likely to than people who started later.

Signs of Marijuana Abuse and Addiction

Marijuana abuse is when you feel like you need it and you have withdrawal symptoms when you don’t use it. If you stop, you might:

  • Not be hungry
  • Feel especially irritable or moody
  • Feel more anxious or restless than usual
  • Not be able to sleep

Marijuana abuse turns into addiction when you can’t stop using the drug even though it’s affecting things like your job or your relationships. Almost 10% of people who use marijuana regularly will become addicted to it at some point.

Treatment for Marijuana Abuse and Addiction

This usually focuses on changing your behavior. Options include:

Talk therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy works well for a lot of people. It helps you understand the thoughts and behaviors that lead to your drug use and replace them with healthier ones.

Motivational incentives: Sometimes called “contingency management,” this is when you give yourself a reward for staying drug-free. You’ll work with a mental health therapist or addiction specialist to set your goals and rewards.

Motivational enhancement therapy (MET): This is designed to help you commit to changing your behavior. It usually involves only two to four sessions, and your counselor will work with you more like a partner than an expert. It’s often used along with the other types of therapy.

Medication: The FDA hasn’t approved any medicines to treat marijuana abuse, but studies are being done to see if ones used for sleep, anxiety, and other issues may help. If you have a psychological condition like anxiety or depression, treating it with medication may help you stop abusing marijuana.

Your doctor can help you decide which treatments would be best for you.  Learn about more treatment options for marijuana addiction.

The Earlier You Get Help, the Better.

If you or a loved one are struggling with marijuana abuse, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.

WebMD Medical Reference



American Counseling Association: “Motivational Enhancement Therapy: An Effective Approach for Counseling Unmotivated Adolescents.”

National Institute on Drug Abuse: "What is Marijuana," "What to Do If You Have a Problem with Drugs: For Adults," “How Does Marijuana Produce Its Effects?" "Available Treatments for Marijuana Use Disorders," "Is Marijuana Addictive?"

National Conference of State Legislatures: "State Medical Marijuana Laws."

Gallup Poll: "Support for Legal Marijuana Use up to 60% in U.S."

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