Can a person suffer from marijuana addiction? A drug is addicting if it causes compulsive, often uncontrollable drug craving, seeking, and use, even in the face of negative health and social consequences. Marijuana meets this criterion. More than 120,000 people enter drug addiction treatment per year for marijuana addiction as their primary abused drug. In addition, animal studies suggest marijuana causes physical dependence, and some people report withdrawal symptoms.
According to one study, marijuana use by teenagers who have prior serious antisocial problems can quickly lead to marijuana addiction. That study also found that, for troubled teenagers using tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana, progression from their first use of marijuana to regular use was about as rapid as their progression to regular tobacco use, and more rapid than the progression to regular use of alcohol.
Researchers have found that THC changes the way in which sensory information gets into and is acted on by the hippocampus. This is a component of the brain's limbic system that is crucial for learning, memory, and the integration of sensory experiences with emotions and motivations. Investigations have shown that neurons in the information processing system of the hippocampus and the activity of the nerve fibers are suppressed by THC. In addition, researchers have discovered that learned behaviors, which depend on the hippocampus, also deteriorate. Recent research findings also indicate that long-term marijuana addiction produces changes in the brain similar to those seen after long-term use of other major drugs of abuse.
What are the effects of marijuana addiction on learning and social behavior? A study of college students has shown that critical skills related to attention, memory, and learning are impaired among people who use marijuana heavily, even after discontinuing its use for at least 24 hours. Researchers compared 65 "heavy users," who had smoked marijuana a median of 29 of the past 30 days, and 64 "light users," who had smoked a median of 1 of the past 30 days. After a closely monitored 19- to 24-hour period of abstinence from marijuana and other illicit drugs and alcohol, the undergraduates were given several standard tests measuring aspects of attention, memory, and learning. Compared to the light users, heavy marijuana users made more errors and had more difficulty sustaining attention, shifting attention to meet the demands of changes in the environment, and in registering, processing, and using information. These findings suggest that the greater impairment among heavy users is likely due to an alteration of brain activity produced by marijuana.
Longitudinal research on marijuana addiction among young people below college age indicates those who used marijuana have lower achievement than the non-users, more acceptance of deviant behavior, more delinquent behavior and aggression, greater rebelliousness, poorer relationships with parents, and more associations with delinquent and drug-using friends. Research also shows more anger and more regressive behavior (thumb sucking, temper tantrums) in toddlers whose parents use marijuana than among the toddlers of non-using parents.
Additional long term marijuana addiction consequences include the same respiratory problems that tobacco smokers have. These individuals may have daily cough and phlegm, symptoms of chronic bronchitis, and more frequent chest colds. Continuing one’s marijuana addiction can lead to abnormal functioning of lung tissue injured or destroyed by marijuana smoke. Regardless of the THC content, the amount of tar inhaled by marijuana smokers and the level of carbon monoxide absorbed are three to five times greater than among tobacco smokers. This may be due to the marijuana users inhaling more deeply and holding the smoke in the lungs.
In early stages of marijuana addiction, almost every marijuana addict believes that they can end their marijuana use without help. Unfortunately, most attempts at ending marijuana addiction without professional help result in failure. The individual is never able to achieve long-term abstinence. Research has shown that long-term marijuana use results in significant changes in the user’s brain function that persists long after the individual stops using drugs. These marijuana-induced changes in brain function may have many behavioral consequences including the compulsion to use marijuana despite adverse effects. This is the defining characteristic of addiction.
Marijuana addiction treatment can greatly improve an individual’s prospects for future employment. Gains of up to forty percent have been show after a marijuana addict attends treatment. In the end, an individual’s success in marijuana addiction treatment greatly depends on three key elements. The first is the extent and nature of the individual’s addiction problem. The second is the proper fit of the marijuana addiction treatment facility with the individual’s addiction recovery needs. The third element is the individual’s involvement with their personal treatment program.