Marijuana is by far one of the most used substances in the United States. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), reports that there are approximately 22.2 million users each month.
At its root, marijuana is essentially leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers from the cannabis plant. Usually, these come in shades of brown and green. There are two main types of cannabis plants. One is Cannabis sativa and the other is Cannabis sativa L.
More recently, research reported by both the CDC and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has suggested that it is actually possible to be addicted to marijuana. For a long time, most experts and the general public agreed that no one was really getting addicted to marijuana. Turns out that this isn’t the case. Currently, data shows that about 1 in 10 weed users will become addicted to the substances.
This is why finding addiction treatment or addiction programs, even if it is for cannabis use, is so critical. Also, weed side effects can vary greatly from person to person and even based on how much is used.
So, what does marijuana addiction treatment even mean?
Starting With The Basics: What Is Cannabis?
As we said before, cannabis is a plant. It is made up of seeds, stems, and leaves. The plant comes in two varieties essentially.
Cannabis sativa is what is truly known as weed and is lauded for its medicinal and psychoactive properties. To have psychoactive effects means that it is considered mind-altering. It is commonly what people smoke or use for the euphoric, or good, feelings it gives. It is also a variety that is addictive.
On the other hand, you have Cannabis Sativa L, also known as hemp. Hemp is nonpsychoactive, or not mind-altering, and is more commonly used in manufacturing and production. It has been used in things like cloth, oil, and other fuels. It can even be found in some craft supplies like the hemp rope or string used to make friendship bracelets by children. It is a safe and environmentally friendly option for a lot of materials used commercially today.
The active ingredient in marijuana, which is the ingredient that is responsible for the effects of marijuana, is known as THC. This stands for delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol. This is the chemical that your brain will slowly develop a tolerance for over time with prolonged use of marijuana. It is also what your brain starts to become dependent on over time leading to addiction.
Where Did It Come From?
Like most plants used in medicine in history and today, cannabis use was first started in ancient Asia. The cannabis plant was only used for medicinal purposes and studies have suggested that cannabis of the past had very low levels of THC.
This means that those psychotropic effects that we talked about before were very minimal in the cannabis of the past. Historically, cannabis use has been traced all the way back to 500 BC.
In the United States, cannabis use can be traced to colonial times. Our first colonies, like Massachusetts, Virginia, and Connecticut were big in the hemp trade. This made sense at the time since it was such a readily available and easy to grow source of material for textiles and ropes. In the early 1800s, medicinal uses of cannabis started to make waves around the world.
One doctor from Europe found and published the medicinal value of marijuana and CBD extracts. By the end of the 1800s, extracts of cannabis were available all over the place, from pharmacies to doctors’ offices across the world.
Marijuana didn’t actually come into existence from a recreational standpoint until the 1900s. It was a crutch for a lot of people during the era of the Great Depression but by the prohibition age, weed was outlawed in 29 states across the country.
Shortly after, in 1937, the U.S. created its first federal law regulating the use of cannabis and limiting it to only be used commercially for materials. In the 1970s, the “War on Drugs” led to the formal and legal criminalization of marijuana. It also led to some common misconceptions like how cannabis “kills” brain cells or fries them, like an egg. This was coined in an infamous PSA that displayed your brain and your brain on drugs.
Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved cannabis in the form of two medications. But, how do marijuana and the medications made from it play a role in the health of our brains since we know they don’t “kill” brain cells.
How Does Marijuana Impact Brain Health?
Marijuana, like all substances, is made up of a series of chemicals that impact our brain’s neurotransmitters, or messengers. Marijuana—and THC specifically—mimic cannabinoid neurotransmitters. This is how it impacts parts of the brain that are responsible for memory, learning, attention, and more.
THC is a chemical that changes the functioning of the hippocampus, a memory center in the brain, and the orbitofrontal cortex. These are brain areas that enable a person to form new memories and shift attentional focus. This system can be—and sometimes is—activated or altered by more than just substances that get misused. Sometimes this means that we may have trouble focusing or even remembering certain things due to the effects of the drug.
Also, THC can mess with the functioning of the cerebellum and basal ganglia. These are brain areas that regulate balance, posture, coordination, and reaction time. So, if you’ve ever heard someone talk about or joke about not being able to drive while high on marijuana, this is why.
It can also change emotions that we feel by impacting all these areas at the same time. Plus, it may trigger the brain’s reward system. That’s right, the brain has its very own system for rewarding certain feelings.
Cannabinoids trigger the reward circuit in the brain when it wouldn’t otherwise be triggered. It does this by changing the way the brain’s messengers, known as neurotransmitters, work.
The Brain’s Messaging System
In the normal brain, dopamine is the usual reward chemical. It is naturally produced and released into the brain by what is known as a neuron. The dopamine then finds its way to its receptor. Think of the receptor system in the brain like a puzzle, the jagged edges find their way into the right open spot.
Once they match up, they do their job, whether the message they are sending and receiving is about happy feelings or more negative feelings such as sadness or anger.
So usually, the reward system in the brain relies on dopamine and its receptors but every so often the cannabinoid receptor system that THC impacts also triggers that response.
Once the initial messenger, or neurotransmitter, has gotten into place with their unique receptors, a protein comes along and removes the messenger chemical from the receptor. Think of this as taking apart the puzzle. This makes it so you can use the puzzle again another time. This allows your brain to regulate emotions and so much more. It also is the sign of a healthy brain when this is being done correctly and in a special sequence.
When using drugs or alcohol, this communication process can get all out of whack. This can cause the neurotransmitter to stay connected to its receptor longer.
And when the puzzle doesn’t get reset, then chemicals start to rush the brain continuously. This causes an amplified signal, also known as euphoria or a “high”. This is why we see individuals want to keep using substances that provide that high feeling. But, is it actually addictive?
Is Marijuana Really Addictive?
According to recent studies, like those conducted with the support of NIDA, the answer is yes.
Yes, you can be addicted to, or dependent on, marijuana.
Part of this may be due to the increase in the THC level in modern weed. This makes addiction or dependence much more likely than ever before.
Using marijuana or cannabis can have both physical and psychological effects and lead to some really specific symptoms. However, it is important to remember that there is still no evidence that links marijuana to life-threatening overdoses.
On the other hand, cannabis, or marijuana, has been linked to extreme feelings of anxiety and paranoia that can lead to panic attacks which are a result of overuse. Sometimes these lead people to seek care in the local emergency clinic which allows them to get care for the psychotic episode triggered by the overuse of marijuana.
Scientifically, Marijuana dependence occurs when the brain adapts to large amounts of the drug by reducing production of, and sensitivity to, its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters. This is a fancy way of saying that yes, it is addictive and part of that is because the brain starts to adapt to it. However, the scientific agreement on this wasn’t always so steadfast.
This is the one thing about THC that some researchers have a hard time agreeing on for years. The potential for it to be addictive can be seen as a contentious, or controversial issue, especially as more states move to legalize it.
According to research conducted by, and with, the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), THC can lead to marijuana use disorder. This is a type of substance use disorder which is characterized by dependence on a substance, in this case marijuana.
Some researchers actually suggest that the real cause of the increase in marijuana use disorder is from the increased potency of marijuana today. What that means is that some scientists have found that today’s marijuana has a higher concentration of THC than before. For example, in the early 90s, the average THC in confiscated samples of marijuana was approximately 4%. By 2018, it was more than 15%. That is a 10% increase in concentrations of THC. This can lead to the signs and symptoms related to marijuana dependence.
Marijuana use disorder becomes an addiction when the person cannot stop using the drug even though it interferes with a lot of different aspects of everyday life. Estimates of the number of people addicted to marijuana are controversial. Yet, some studies as reported by NIDA suggest that 9% of people who use marijuana will become dependent on it, rising to about 17% in those who start using in their teens.
Also, NIDA has recently reported that anywhere from 9-30% of marijuana users will develop some dependence on the drug. Those who begin at younger ages are more likely to experience this type of dependence as well, although not many of those people seek treatment or detox for their dependence. In fact, in 2015, only 138,000 of the 4 million people that met the criteria for marijuana use disorders actually sought care.
Marijuana, like other substances, impacts the brain by changing its chemistry as we saw above. This comes with a price, however, and having an addiction to marijuana—which is possible—can lead to some side effects.
The Symptoms And Side Effects Of Marijuana Addiction
When using the drug, people will often experience a “high”, thus characterized by the side effects or symptoms like:
- increased senses
- a different sense of time
- feeling humorous
- mood changes
- decreased body movement
- impaired thinking and memory
If too much is had, then it is possible to also have hallucinations, delusions, and other types of psychosis. But, these aren’t the only reasons to keep in mind caution when using marijuana. Marijuana is often responsible for both long-term and short-term effects. Some short-term effects include:
- altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors) or an altered sense of time
- changes in mood
- impaired body movement
- difficulty with thinking and problem-solving, impaired memory
- hallucinations, delusions, and psychosis (when taken in high doses)
This is directly because marijuana over-activates parts of the brain that contain the highest number of the receptors that we were talking about earlier. So when these receptors get overloaded, sometimes they end up sending mixed messages and mixed signals.
Not all the effects are short-lived when it comes to marijuana use, which is critical since we know that cannabis use can lead to dependence on it. These longer-lasting impacts include:
Breathing problems – This makes sense when you consider that it is usually smoked. Marijuana smoke irritates the lungs, and people who smoke marijuana frequently can have the same breathing problems as those who smoke tobacco.
Increased heart rate – Marijuana can actually raise a person’s heart rate for up to 3 hours after smoking.
Intense nausea and vomiting – Regular, long-term marijuana use can lead some people to develop Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome. This causes users to experience regular cycles of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration, sometimes requiring emergency medical attention.
So, what do you do when the side effects become too much but you want to keep using?
Addiction Treatment For Marijuana
The good news is that treatment is available for marijuana addiction. Current science and evidence-based treatments focus on things like binge use, cravings, underlying mental health conditions, and more.
Some treatments focus on the withdrawal from marijuana. This is important because more and more studies are showing that withdrawal from marijuana can happen, and it can have some pretty hard-to-handle side effects. These side effects include:
- sleeping difficulties
- decreased or increased appetite
These symptoms usually peak within the first week after quitting and last up to two weeks. Long- term use and withdrawal from marijuana can also be related to a few mental health impacts in certain people as well. These include:
- temporary hallucinations
- temporary paranoia
- worsening symptoms in patients with schizophrenia (a severe mental disorder with symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, and disorganized thinking)
This explains why someone may be feeling things like anxiety, grouchiness, sleepiness, or other emotional moodiness when going through withdrawal from marijuana. Unfortunately, some of this can lead to relapse.
Relapse is common when it comes to addictions. In fact, some studies done by NIDA have shown that as many as 60% of those struggling with addiction will relapse at least once. This is part of why it is so critical to seek addiction treatment at a professional facility, like Pathways Recovery.
What Does Rehab and Treatment for Marijuana Look Like?
Most of the time, treatment for marijuana looks like most other types of addiction treatment.
At Pathways Recovery, our programs have been operating within the Roseville California area since 2010. We focus on men’s treatment that prioritizes intensive care in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Our inpatient program features:
- medically-supervised for safety and comfort of the effects of stopping drugs or alcohol
- private rooms available with comfortable full-size beds
- clinical and medical support staff to ensure safety and comfort while detoxifying from substances
- registered nurse and medical doctor available 24/7
- delicious and fresh chef-prepared meals
- whole food protein smoothies
- individual and group therapy sessions
- certified addiction treatment counselors and Master’s-level trauma therapy
- yoga and meditation sessions
Our outpatient programs, in Sacramento, consist of three classes each week. These sessions are three hours long. The typical set up is one individual session and two group sessions during the week. Our sessions focus on important skills and growth. We promote how you can live a sober and happy life while identifying the root cause of the addiction.
This type of session is most appropriate for:
- anyone who no longer needs detox and can participate in a group setting
- individuals who have completed our detox treatment program
- recovering addicts who finished residential treatment at another facility
- working professionals who need to maintain their work schedule but need help learning sobriety skills and receiving therapy to overcome and addiction
Another important piece of Pathways Recovery ,in Sacramento, and what makes us stand out is that we offer family education programs as well. We know that recovery is a full family program, so we created programs that help mend the whole family.
We know all too well how deeply one person’s addiction can affect an entire family, as well as how the family often misunderstands alcoholism and drug use. Therefore, we offer a weekly family education program that is free and open to anyone over age 16 who would like to better understand addiction and how to support anyone who needs help learning how to help a loved one with a drug or alcohol addiction. The classes are offered once a week at our counseling center in Roseville. We also offer private individual family counseling sessions.
It is important to recognize when you are a family member may need to seek care.
How Do I Know if I Need Marijuana Addiction Treatment?
Society has become more and more accepting of marijuana and that has led to some reluctance to give it up. This is similar to the cycle that a lot of those who struggle with an addiction to alcohol experience.
Those with a marijuana addiction often have all the traditional signs of addiction. Sometimes that is seen as the need, craving, or desire to use despite the consequences.
Other signs of addiction to marijuana are:
- distorted perceptions
- impaired coordination
- difficulty in thinking and problem-solving
- ongoing problems with learning and memory
- anxiety, paranoia, or fear
- red, blurry, bloodshot eyes
- constant, mucus-filled cough
- rapid heartbeat
- dry mouth
- poor memory
- poor coordination
- slow reaction time
- loss of control
These are the most common signs and symptoms. Should you recognize these in yourself or your loved ones, we recommend that you seek treatment today. Of course, we also know that there are always still more questions, so we made a list of FAQs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where did marijuana originate?
Marijuana, or cannabis, can trace its roots back to ancient Asia. Within the U.S., it comes from the sister variety of the hemp plant which was used in the first 13 colonies to make much-needed materials.
How long does marijuana stay in your system?
This can depend on a variety of things. In the past, the “rule” was 30 days and it would be out of the system. However, we now know that marijuana today is considerably stronger than in the past. Drug testing labs now say that in some instances they can trace marijuana in someone’s system for as long as three months. In urine screens, the first 3-5 days is the most likely for a large amount to still be in your system, but it is detectable in urine for almost a month.
When did marijuana become illegal?
Marijuana first became illegal in the U.S. in 1931, with 29 states. By 1937 it was made illegal at the federal level. In 1970, it was added to the FDA’s scheduling system of drugs and classified as a Schedule I drug.
Start Your Recovery Journey at Pathways
Pathways Recovery recognizes that there are many tools in the toolbox of drug and alcohol addiction treatment. We offer exposure to most of these programs but do not base our program solely on a 12-step process. Because of our holistic addiction treatment approach, we believe there is so much more to long-term recovery and utilize as many recovery tools as needed to customize each person’s treatment plan.
Each person’s treatment plan at our drug and alcohol addiction treatment center will be individualized to your history and needs. Addiction is generally a symptom of deeply-rooted pain and trauma. We believe each person is unique with a unique past. For some, this includes grief, trauma, abuse, neglect, mental illness, and low self-esteem. Most often there is also a family history of addictive behaviors that can span several generations. Our holistic addiction treatment approach will address all of these factors.
If you are unsure which type of programming is best for you or a loved one, please contact us anytime, and one of our counselors will be happy to help you with more information regarding our addiction treatment centers.
Pathways Recovery Sacramento is here to help you continue to receive high-quality treatment that is flexible and adaptable to your life and needs. Keep receiving the secure treatment you deserve to remain healthy while not sacrificing time from work or family. Call us at 916-735-8377 to get started on your customized treatment today.