How Marijuana Addiction Works

Is Marijuana Physically Addictive?

While marijuana isn’t inherently physically addictive, some users—especially those with prolonged and heavy marijuana use—do experience symptoms of physical withdrawal addiction.

What Causes Marijuana Addiction?

Much of the addictions to marijuana that occur come from psychological addiction and behavioral addiction—the repeated activating of the brain’s reward centers, and the operant conditioning towards marijuana use that often takes place with repeated use. Additionally, marijuana users like the escape and relaxation that marijuana provides and become used to these feelings. With regular use, marijuana addicted individuals get trapped in a cycle of use, turning to marijuana in times of stress, anxiety, boredom or depression—and eventually every day. Over time, psychological addiction can occur, as chronic users begin to believe that they cannot relax, function or handle stress or pain without marijuana.

Additionally, subtle changes in brain chemistry can occur over repeated exposures to marijuana. When ingested, marijuana affects the delicate balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. These chemical effects alter mood regulation, movement, memory and thought formation. When smoked, marijuana affects that pleasure centers of the brain, resulting in euphoric feelings of relaxation, reduced inhibitions, and arousal. In the absence of regular marijuana intake, there is a deficit of the appropriate neurotransmitters, resulting in depression and lethargy. When addicted individuals try to cease marijuana use, they often experience anxiety and depression, thought to be related to these chemical alterations.

What Are the Signs of Marijuana Addiction?

As with any drug, increasing time and attention spent thinking about obtaining marijuana and getting high is a salient sign of marijuana addiction. Other common signs of marijuana addiction are attempted reduction in use and unsuccessfully attempts at ceasing marijuana intake. Some marijuana addicted people report shorter attention spans, tremors and a marked decrease in coordination. Long-term marijuana addiction can result in users becoming increasingly unmotivated, disoriented, forgetful, and lethargic. Physical signs of marijuana addiction also include dry mouth and dry, itchy, red eyes.

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