Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Addiction

Young man

Every year, marijuana becomes more pervasive in America. By 2020, nearly 50 million people were using this drug every year.1 That’s nearly 18% of all Americans aged 12 and older. The drug keeps getting more potent as well, which means those people using the drug today are consuming a far more addictive substance that will make more changes in their bodies and minds than those who used the drug a decade or two ago.2

It is difficult to tell how many people are addicted to marijuana for a few reasons. One is that some people who use marijuana also use other drugs, or they begin with marijuana use and progress to the use of more potent, more highly addictive drugs. Another reason is the growing acceptability of marijuana use, especially in states where use is legal. Even people who have lost control of their use of this drug may not see a reason to seek treatment.

A third reason is that statistics on the number of people being admitted into treatment for marijuana addiction have not been updated since 2016. At that time, the Treatment Episode Data Set Report noted that 13.4% of treatment admissions were primarily using marijuana.3 This statistic could be quite different by now.

Physical Signs of Marijuana Addiction

The signs of marijuana addiction vary by the quantity of consumption and the potency of the particular product consumed.

Because marijuana does not create the dramatic effects that some other drugs do, you might be able to determine if they are chronic, addicted users of this drug by comparing their behavior to their behavior in the past.

Here are some physical signs you may notice:

  • Reduced physical activity or mental exertion
  • Sedation
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Coughing from lung irritation
  • Greater appetite
  • Poor coordination
  • Enhanced sensory perceptions
  • Restlessness
  • Relaxation
  • Drowsiness

If the individual happens to get a medical exam, higher blood pressure may be noticed, although prolonged use can cause a decrease in blood pressure.

Chronic use of high potency marijuana comes with its own dramatic set of symptoms. It can trigger non-stop vomiting and stomach pain that does not respond to treatment. The only way to get relief is sitting in a very hot bathtub or taking a very hot shower. Some people end up in the emergency room with a doctor trying to diagnose the cause of their vomiting. Normal medications for nausea and vomiting won’t work and the person can become seriously dehydrated. Ceasing marijuana use resolves the symptoms.

Behavioral, Mental and Emotional Signs of Marijuana Use

The effects on a person’s mind, behavior and emotions are many. Looking for these signs may be the easiest way to detect addiction to this drug, rather than by trying to assess physical signs.

Frustrated Woman

Mental Effects

  • Poor memory
  • Losing sense of time and time distortion
  • Having a hard time problem-solving
  • More indulgence in imagination
  • Paranoia
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Disconnected conversation
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Uneasiness

Behavioral Effects

  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Greater sociability
  • More talkative
  • More laughter
  • Poor judgment
  • Increased risk-taking

Emotional Effects

  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Greater sociability
  • Changeable emotions

At higher doses, these effects may be noted:

  • Illusions and delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Panic attacks
  • Psychotic episodes

The Long-Term Physical Damage of Marijuana Addiction

There is some evidence that long-term use of marijuana damages the cardiovascular system. The drug can also be harmful to the lungs when the drug is smoked or vaped.

Research has found that the following problems have been traced to the long-term use of marijuana:

  • Vascular inflammation resulting in lesions or tissue death
  • Cerebrovascular accidents
  • Heart attack
  • Blood clot formation in small arteries
  • Lung irritation
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Reduced immunity
  • Reduced sperm count in men
  • Reduced volume of brain areas associated with memory and learning

The Long-Term Emotional and Mental Damage of Marijuana Addiction

Long-term use of marijuana, especially potent marijuana, increases the risk of the following mental and emotional changes:

  • Loss of cognitive function
  • Dissatisfaction with life
  • Reduced verbal ability
  • Reduced ability to plan and make decisions
  • Reduced ability to control emotions
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidality

Special Note: Academic Changes

Because marijuana use often starts at a young age, it has the potential to affect a person’s academic progress. Observations of marijuana use by students found that use was associated with lower GPA and class attendance. A study published in 2018 supported the oft-communicated concept of “amotivational syndrome” as a result of using cannabis.4 This study confirmed that marijuana use was associated with lower initiative and persistence by college students. Reduced performance and educational success are likely to follow.

Additional Signs a Person Has Become Addicted to Marijuana

In addition to the signs above, you may notice changes like these in their life:

People outside smoking

  • They have much more focus on getting and using the drug than they did previously
  • They plan their activities around using the drug or are consistently sure to use it before they go out
  • They spend much of their time obtaining, preparing, sharing or consuming this drug
  • They have many items in the house that are devoted to the use of marijuana such as rolling papers, cigarette rolling devices, grinders, bongs, smaller glass pipes or rigs for smoking concentrates, small flavored cigars, electronic vaporizers and cartridges containing THC
  • They use marijuana at unsafe times such as before driving, operating machinery or doing other risky activities
  • They comment that they are doing poorly at work or at school
  • They have terminated relationships with family or friends who disapprove of or don’t also use this drug
  • They have abandoned goals or activities that were once important to them
  • If they run out of this drug, they become irritable and anxious and start having trouble sleeping
  • They continue to use marijuana despite adverse changes in their life

A Note about Cannabis Products

If a parent is trying to determine if their teenage or adult child is addicted to marijuana, they should realize that marijuana may not look the same as it did when they were a teenager. It’s not just joints and pipes. Instead, there are hundreds of cannabis-infused products on the market, some that are extremely potent and some that may not even look like cannabis products until you look closely.

Shatter, wax and marijuana buds

These include:

  • Shatter: an amber, glasslike substance
  • Wax: a sticky, brown substance
  • Hash oil: a golden or brownish oil or sticky substance
  • Hashish: a crumbly, dark brown substance
  • Edibles including candies, drinks, cookies, etc.
  • Gummies
  • Blunts made from hollowed-out cigars that are filled with leafy material
  • Electronic vape devices and cartridges
  • Crystalline THC: clear, white or off-white crystals

Withdrawal from Marijuana

People who use marijuana frequently often report:

  • Irritability
  • Mood and sleep disorders
  • Reduced appetite
  • Cravings for the drug
  • Restlessness

These signs tend to decrease after two weeks although cravings can last much longer.

Finding Help for Marijuana Addiction

A person who is addicted to marijuana may need help to quit consuming this drug. While they won’t run into the same deadly overdose problems with marijuana as they might with heroin or cocaine, they can easily ruin their lives with heavy and chronic use of cannabis products.

It has not been proven that marijuana use causes people to progress to the use of more deadly drugs, however, when someone uses marijuana, they generally associate with other drug users. Other drugs tend to be available and may tempt a person that so far has only been using marijuana. There is also some evidence that early marijuana use is more likely to be followed by an alcohol use disorder.5

Helping a person addicted to marijuana break free preserves their emotional, cognitive, mental and physical health. The earlier it can happen, the better.

Sources:


  1. SAMHSA. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health, 2021. SAMHSA. SAMSHA Publication (PDF) ↩︎

  2. NIDA. “Marijuana Research Report, Is marijuana addictive?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020. NIDA. NIDA Article ↩︎

  3. SAMHSA. “2016 TEDS Annual Report.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2017. SAMHSA. SAMSHA Article (PDF) ↩︎

  4. PubMed.gov. “The academic consequences of marijuana use during college.” PubMed/National Library of Medicine, 2015. PubMed. PubMed.gov Article ↩︎

  5. NIDA. “Marijuana Research Report, Is marijuana a gateway drug?” National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2020. NIDA. NIDA Article ↩︎