Within the past 20 years, marijuana use has switched gone from a federally illegal substance to one that has been decriminalized for both recreational and medical use in numerous states. Currently, marijuana use has been legalized in 38 states in some form and for recreational use in 19 states.

Marijuana is one of the most commonly used drugs in the United States, and despite its popularity, few people understand the addictive nature of the drug and the effects of long-term marijuana use. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about this widely used substance.

Marijuana basics

Marijuana (commonly called weed, cannabis, pot and other slang terms) is known as a soft drug, less harmful and addicting than opioids or other substances. It can be smoked, inhaled, consumed through foods or drinks or taken orally. It can also be applied topically through lotions and oils.

Marijuana is a substance that contains a psychoactive component called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol – you might know it as THC. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this chemical is found in resin produced by female marijuana plants (called Cannabis Sativa). The plants also contain over 500 other chemicals with properties related to THC, which are called cannabinoids.

When THC is consumed, regardless of the method, some portion of the chemical enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain. The substance can cause a wide range of reactions that differ based on an individual’s metabolism, size, the amount taken, method of ingestion and frequency of use. Generally, individuals experience a period of elation, relaxation or euphoria, sometimes accompanied by anxiety and paranoia.

Is marijuana physically addictive?

While many people are aware of the basic uses and terms for marijuana, very few could explain the addictive nature of marijuana. When people consider addiction, most think of the powerful draw of opioids, which interact with the brain’s reward center and require larger and larger amounts of the same substance to feel the same pleasure.

While marijuana isn’t nearly as addictive as drugs categorized as opioids, marijuana still has addictive properties in the same way that alcohol, gambling or pornography does.

While marijuana is far from the most addictive drug, there are numerous reasons that this drug can lead to a full-fledged substance use disorder.

  • The chemicals present in marijuana send pleasure signals to the brain, creating a positive association with the substance
  • The pathways that are first carved associating marijuana with pleasure become more entrenched with each use
  • Over time, tolerance builds, leading a person’s system to require increasing amounts of the drug each time in order to feel the same pleasurable effects
  • Over time, the tolerance to the drug will continue to build, requiring an exorbitant amount of marijuana to achieve the desired sensation
  • If a person who frequently uses marijuana attempts to go without marijuana for a period of time, withdrawal symptoms will set in
  • An individual caught in a marijuana addiction will feel an uncontrollable urge to use again
  • A marijuana addiction will cause negative effects on a person’s relationships, career and daily life

While marijuana is typically sought as a more mild drug, when consumed regularly, it fits all the hallmarks of a true addiction.

What is considered heavy marijuana use?

Many users of marijuana begin recreational use on a casual basis. These individuals often find themselves using marijuana more frequently, or consuming a larger volume of the drug with each use. You may find yourself wondering, “what is considered heavy marijuana use?”

Heavy marijuana use generally refers to individuals who use the substance on a daily basis, or more than once a day. It’s likely that at this point a person has developed a chemical dependence on the drug. If you’re struggling to refrain from marijuana use for at least a week, it’s likely an addiction is at play.

What are the effects of long-term marijuana use?

Marijuana is well-known and commonly enjoyed for its short-term and pleasurable effects. Few understand the long-term effects of this drug, however. Marijuana can cause serious physical, mental and emotional side effects, ranging from acute psychosis (hallucinations, delusions) to migraines, irregular heart rate to an increased risk of schizophrenia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists several long-term side effects of marijuana usage. Marijuana negatively impacts memory, attention, mood, decision-making coordination and reaction time. Marijuana usage also increases heart rate and has been linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart disease.

Marijuana’s side effects are severe and increase with increased usage. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that usage decreases academic performance, lowers career achievement and impaired social skills.

Marijuana has been touted for its pain relief qualities, but there is limited evidence that it is effective in the treatment of chronic pain. One positive is that marijuana has been shown to assist in the treatment of glaucoma and decrease vomiting in patients undergoing cancer treatment.

If you are ready to get help for an addiction, Real Recovery can help. Offering a variety of inpatient and outpatient options, Real Recovery makes treatment realistic for your schedule. Find freedom from drugs and pursue the life you’ve always wanted with support from Real Recovery when you call (855) 363-7325.