Marijuana addiction is a huge issue, even before it legalizes in twenty-three states. Most advocates of marijuana use, both medicinal and recreational, are skeptical or flat out deny the pot’s addictive properties. However, the National Institute of Health reports that cannabis dependence is twice as prevalent as dependence on other psychoactive drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. One of the reasons pot can lead to it is the brain’s chemistry.
- Part of the side effects of weed use is a psychological and physical dependency.
Statistically, 9% of people who use marijuana will become addicted to it. After continual use, it can become an intense obsession.
Cannabis Use Disorder
A bonafide condition is known as “Cannabis Use Disorder,” as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Approximately 15 million people meet the medical criteria for weed addiction and need treatment.
Altering the brain structure is a common denominator. In 2014, Harvard researchers recruited 20 weed users and 20 non-users to investigate whether marijuana discernibly modified brain volume. Results showed that subjects smoking weed experienced topography changes, density, and size in the amygdala and nucleus accumbens.
MRI scans revealed that the volume of gray matter in light and heavy weed smokers is lower. Regions of gray matter include a network of structures that control emotions, learning, reward, and, in particular, motivation.
There’s a collaboration between cannabinoid receptors and opioid receptors in the brain. For example, THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, triggers the same receptors as morphine, OxyContin, and heroin. These receptors release dopamine, which activates the brain’s reward or “feels good” centers. The close connection between opioid and cannabinoid receptors proves that marijuana has its potential.
Research on the long-term effects of marijuana abuse indicates some changes in the brain similar to those seen after long-term abuse of other major drugs. For example, cannabis withdrawal in chronically exposed animals leads to increased activation of the stress-response system and changes in nerve cells’ activity containing dopamine. Dopamine neurons regulate motivation and reward and are directly or indirectly affected by all abuse of drugs.
Several studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and increased mental illness such as anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and schizophrenia. In addition, some of these studies have shown age at first used to be a factor, where early use is a marker of vulnerability to later problems. However, at this time, it is not clear whether marijuana use can cause mental problems and exacerbates them in an attempt to self-medicate symptoms already in existence.
These were the numbers 2-3 years ago, and the laws have changed dramatically to make smoking pot much more accessible. According to the U.S. government statistics (SAMHSA).
- Marijuana is the most-used drug after alcohol and tobacco in the United States
- In 2014, about 22.2 million people ages 12 and up reported using marijuana during the past month
- Also, in 2014, there were 2.6 million people who had used marijuana for the first time
- People between the ages of 12 and 49 report first using the drug at an average age of 18.5
- In the past year, 4.2 million people ages 12 and up met the criteria for a substance use disorder
- In 2013, 5.7 million persons aged 12 or older used marijuana daily
- In 2016, 8.1 million persons aged 12 and up used on 20 or more days in the past month