What Is Marijuana Misuse?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on December 18, 2022
2 min read

Marijuana misuse 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 misuse 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.

Marijuana misuse 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 misuse 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.

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 misuse, 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 misusing marijuana.

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

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