Marijuana Addiction in College
With the acceptance of marijuana, or “weed,” for medicinal and recreational purposes increasing around the country, the perception of risk associated with the drug is decreasing, particularly among youth. It is a widely held belief that marijuana is not addictive; however, this could not be further from the truth.
Higher THC levels and more potent, faster-acting routes of administration are leading to an increase in marijuana-related injury and interpersonal difficulties—including addiction—among users. Though its legality varies from state to state, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug at the federal level, meaning it is viewed as having a high addiction potential and no currently accepted medical use. The majority of states, however, have legalized the use of marijuana for medical and/or recreational purposes.
Marijuana has most commonly been smoked, or sometimes ingested in food items or tea. More recently, marijuana extracts that can be vaped or ingested orally—a practice known as “dabbing”—have become popular. These extracts are far more potent than leaf forms of marijuana (3-6% THC content on average), with THC content in extracts ranging from 50% to 80%. The exponentially higher potency of these extracts leads to increased and exacerbated rates of addiction, illness, injury, and psychosis among users.
Marijuana is a dangerous, addictive drug
Though many scoff at the notion that marijuana is addictive—particularly as hundreds of thousands of individuals are dying from opioid-related overdoses—it is important to know that marijuana addiction is a very real and dangerous, though treatable, condition. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 4.2 million people over the age of twelve met the criteria for marijuana use or addiction problem in 2013.
Teens and college students who use marijuana are particularly vulnerable to developing a substance use disorder later in life. This is because the brain is not fully developed until age 26, on average, and substances like marijuana can alter the way the brain develops. For example, studies have shown that adolescent marijuana use changes the brain’s reward system, making users more dependent on chemicals to experience pleasure than their non-using peers.
Professionals look for the following symptoms in diagnosing a marijuana use disorder, according to the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V):
- Using more of the drug than intended. For example, purchasing enough marijuana to last a week and using it all in two days.
- Failed attempts to reduce or cease marijuana use, such as attempting to use only on weekends but ending up using several times during the week.
- Excessive time spent in obtaining the drug, or in activities related to obtaining it.
- Craving: a strong physical and/or mental urge to use marijuana.
- Failing to meet home, work, or school obligations due to marijuana use, such as frequent absences or missed deadlines.
- Continuing to use marijuana in the face of recurrent psychosocial problems caused or worsened by use of the drug, such as arguments with a spouse or failing to attend children’s activities.
- Decreased or ceased involvement in important social, recreational, or work activities in favor of use, such as sports or other hobbies.
- Using marijuana in physically dangerous situations, such as while driving a vehicle or operating machinery.
- Tolerance, which can involve:
- Requiring larger quantities of the drug to achieve the same effect.
- Not achieving the same effect with the same amount of marijuana.
- Withdrawal: uncomfortable physical symptoms resulting from not using marijuana after a period of consistent use.
The professional will diagnose a marijuana use disorder as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the number of symptoms reported over a twelve month period.
Statistics show that rates of marijuana use are high in America. A recent poll by Marist College found that more than half of American adults report having tried marijuana at least once, and nearly a quarter (22%) report using it regularly.
It appears that youth are using the drug at similar rates. NIDA’s Monitoring the Future 2017 study found that 45% of twelfth graders report having used marijuana in their lifetime. Further, 22% reported having used in the past month, and 5.9% of twelfth graders reported daily marijuana use. More than half of 18- to 25-year-olds reported having used marijuana in their lifetime, and 20% reported use in the month prior to taking the survey. The rate of daily marijuana use among college students increased from 3.5% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014.
For all its potential benefits, research paints a grim picture of the impact of marijuana both for individuals and society at large:
- Car Accidents. A 2015 report found that 35% of fatally-injured drivers tested for drugs tested positive for marijuana. From 2012 to 2015, marijuana-related DUI charges in Washington, where recreational marijuana use is legal, doubled.
- Legal Consequences. In 2010, marijuana-related infractions accounted for more than half of all drug arrests in the country.
- Dangers to Children. In states where marijuana is legal for medical or recreational purposes, emergency room visits due to pediatric marijuana intoxication increased by 30% each year from 2005 to 2011, as reported by CNN.
- According to NIDA, the THC potency in samples of confiscated marijuana, on average, doubled from the 1990’s to 2014.
What is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical in marijuana that accounts for most of its psychological effects. THC mimics natural chemicals in the brain, known as cannabinoids, which are involved in pleasure, memory, movement, coordination, sensory processing, and cognitive processing. Compared to natural cannabinoids, THC binds to receptors in the brain at artificial levels, creating abnormal effects and impairment.
Chemicals in marijuana
THC is just one of many chemicals found in marijuana and its byproducts. In fact, there are more than 500 chemical ingredients in marijuana, more than 100 of which are cannabinoids—chemicals that act on the endocannabinoid system in the brain. Some of these chemicals have health-promoting properties, which account for some of the medicinal uses of marijuana. Researchers are working toward separating these chemicals from THC so that patients can benefit from them without experiencing the euphoric and impairment-causing components of the drug.
Is marijuana a depressant?
Marijuana is a central nervous system depressant, which means it slows activity in certain parts of the brain. This occurs by slowing chemical messages in the brain, resulting in decelerated mental and motor function. Other CNS depressants include benzodiazepines like Xanax, alcohol, and certain sleep medications.
Is marijuana a stimulant?
In addition to its depressant properties, marijuana also acts as a stimulant. Stimulant properties of marijuana lead to increased heart rate and appetite, among other effects. Other stimulant drugs include amphetamines, such as Adderall or Ritalin. Stimulant drugs increase levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, which affects movement, attention, pleasure, and reward.
Effects of marijuana
The speed with which marijuana’s effects become noticeable depends on the quantity and route it is consumed. For example, THC absorbs more slowly when eaten than when smoked. Short term effects of marijuana include euphoria, altered senses and sense of time, changes in mood, and decreased inhibitions. Some users experience increase appetite and mild to severe anxiety. In larger quantities, users sometimes experience hallucinations, delusions, or even psychosis.
Marijuana effects on the brain
The long-term effects of marijuana on the brain depend on the amount and frequency of use, as well as the age of the user. Marijuana has a substantial impact on the developing brain, resulting in impairment to learning, memory, and other higher cognitive functions. The areas of the brain impacted by marijuana include:
- The hypothalamus, which regulates appetite, hormones, and sexual behavior.
- The basal ganglia, which is involved in control of motor function and planning.
- The ventral striatum, which helps with anticipating and experiencing rewards.
- The amygdala, which controls emotions, particularly fear and anxiety.
- The brain stem and spinal cord, which control reflexes and pain sensations.
- The neocortex, which is involved in higher cognitive functions and sensory processing.
- The hippocampus, which controls memory and aspects of learning.
- The cerebellum, which is involved in coordinator and motor control.
Does marijuana kill brain cells?
Marijuana’s impact on the brain is more complex than simply “killing brain cells,” especially for youth. One study found that individuals who use marijuana in their teens and had an ongoing marijuana use disorder lost 8 IQ points on average from age 13 to 38. Marijuana also has long term impacts on memory because THC alters the part of the brain responsible for memory formation.
Marijuana side effects
When smoked, marijuana can cause many of the same breathing issues experienced by tobacco smokers, ranging from cough and phlegm to lung infections. Additionally, marijuana use can increase the user’s heart rate for several hours after use, increasing the likelihood of a heart attack, particularly among older people and those with existing heart conditions.
There are also a number of grave risks associated with marijuana use during pregnancy. Babies who are exposed to marijuana in utero have been found to be born with lower birth weights and an increased risk for brain and behavioral conditions. These risks may also be present when breastfeeding mothers use marijuana.
Marijuana use can also cause or exacerbate other mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, suicidality, and others, particularly among youth and teens.
Long term effects of weed
Over time, many adverse physical, emotional, psychological, and social effects are reported among regular marijuana users. According to NIDA, individuals who frequently use marijuana in large quantities experience poorer physical and mental health, more relationship problems, and lower general satisfaction with life. Studies have found that heavy marijuana users are more likely to be absent from work, to drop out of school, and to sustain accidents and injuries on the job.
Additionally, long-term users can develop Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, a condition involving regular bouts of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.
Recognizing marijuana symptoms and signs of use
Some indicators that an individual may be using marijuana include red, bloodshot eyes, dizziness or poor coordination, poor memory, laughing at inappropriate times, altered perception of time, and more. If an individual is smoking marijuana, you may be able to smell it on their person, in their car, or in their home. Paraphernalia, including bongs, rolling papers, and grinders, are also an indication of marijuana use.
When someone ceases to use marijuana after a period of regular consumption, he or she might experience withdrawal symptoms. These can include nausea or lack of appetite, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and heightened anxiety. Marijuana dependent individuals will also experience strong cravings in the absence of the drug.
In addition to physical and psychological withdrawal, it will take time for marijuana users to feel emotionally “normal” again after quitting. For a period of several months after stopping, marijuana users may experience a lack in pleasure from everyday activities they once enjoyed. It will take time away from the drug for the brain to produce feel-good chemicals at natural rates on its own.
Being engaged in an outpatient treatment program for the first several months can help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with weed detox. In a program like this, individuals receive group and individual support, education, and accountability to help them stop using and learn new skills and habits to support them in their recovery journey.
Studies have found that as much as 30% of marijuana users may develop a marijuana use disorder. These disorders can be mild, moderate, or severe, and are characterized by a pattern of use that results in psychological, social, and physical difficulties and an inability to manage use in light of these adverse consequences.
Individuals can also become physically dependent on marijuana, experiencing the withdrawal symptoms mentioned above in its absence.
Rehab for weed
Marijuana addiction is treatable, and you don’t have to wait until you’ve lost a job, failed out of school, or alienated friends and family to get help. The Recover can help you find the right treatment program to get you back on track and enjoying your life to the fullest. Visit our website today where we have information about local rehabs for weed, alcohol, and other drugs. Our centers page has local rehabs and treatment centers nationwide.