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Marijuana Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Effects and Treatment

Are You Addicted to Marijuana?

Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug, with 22.2 million current users.2 While there has been much controversy about whether marijuana is habit-forming, research on its impact on the brain and body lends strong support to it being addictive.

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Is Marijuana Addictive?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) considers marijuana to be an addictive drug. NIDA estimates that around 9% of users will eventually develop a marijuana dependency. 1 Some recreational marijuana users are able to use the drug occasionally without experiencing problems. However, other users may go on to develop an addiction – what professionals call a cannabis use disorder.3

This subset of marijuana users will develop the signs of substance dependence, and may experience physical and emotional symptoms when trying to quit or limit their use.

Research has found that marijuana can be addictive and harmful for several reasons:4

  • Experiencing strong urges for continued drug use is a central feature of addiction. People find marijuana to be pleasurable, which can lead to cravings for the drug.5
  • Stopping marijuana after using for a period of time can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including irritability, anxiety and sleep problems. Withdrawal symptoms can feel uncomfortable and, in some cases, trigger a relapse.
  • Long-term marijuana use can cause changes in the brain that affect certain functions, including the ability to problem solve, organize and plan for the future.6

Marijuana Addiction Signs and Symptoms

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) uses the term cannabis to refer to substances derived from the cannabis plant (marijuana, hashish), as well as synthetic cannabinoid compounds such as Spice and K2. A cannabis use disorder is diagnosed when cannabis impacts a person’s ability to function and at least 2 of the following symptoms are present: 3

  • Taking cannabis in larger amounts over time.
  • Unsuccessful efforts to reduce cannabis use.
  • Spending long amounts of time obtaining, using or recovering from cannabis use.
  • Cravings, or strong urges, to use.
  • Problems fulfilling roles at work, school or home because of cannabis use.
  • Continuing to use despite relationship problems.
  • Giving up important activities in favor of cannabis use.
  • Using in unsafe situations, such as while driving.
  • Continuing to use cannabis despite physical or psychological problems.
  • Tolerance.
  • Withdrawal symptoms.

Paying for Treatment

The cost of treatment for marijuana addiction varies from program to program. Typically, the cost of inpatient treatment ranges from $2,000 to $25,000 (some luxury rehab programs can cost up to $50,000 or more) for 30 days. Outpatient programs range from free to $10,000 for 30 days.

Health insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare, may cover all or a portion of the costs of addiction treatment. If you have insurance, call the number at the top of this section to find out which programs your insurance covers and the costs that you will be responsible for, including co-pays and deductibles.

Paying for Rehab Without Insurance

There are also ways to pay for treatment without health insurance:

  • Set up a payment plan with the treatment program.
  • Finance treatment through a healthcare credit card.
  • Borrow money from friends or family.
  • Use personal savings or 401(k) funds.
  • Take out a personal loan.

If you need help finding marijuana rehab programs in your area that cater to people without insurance, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s toll-free helpline.

Getting Treatment and Starting Recovery

group therapy meeting about marijuana addictionOnce you decide that you or someone you care about has a marijuana addiction, the next step is finding a treatment program. Treatment programs that are recommended for marijuana addiction include:

  • Inpatient drug rehab programs allow you to live at a facility while attending group, individual, and family therapy. A benefit of inpatient treatment is that you can take a break from work and home responsibilities and focus exclusively on recovery.
  • Outpatient drug rehab programs allow you to live at home or at a sober living facility and attend treatment for a few hours during the day or evening. Outpatient programs typically offer group and individual therapy.
  • Dual diagnosis recovery programs treat both mental health disorders and addiction. People with depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders can benefit from a team of mental health professionals who are also qualified to treat addiction. Dual diagnosis treatment can occur on either an inpatient or outpatient basis.

In addition to treatment programs, self-help groups are available to provide support and tools that can help with quitting marijuana:

  • Twelve-step programs focus on the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous. They offer a supportive and spiritual approach that involves connecting with other sober people.
  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a 12-step program that is open to anyone struggling with drug addiction, including marijuana. NA helps people recognize their powerlessness over their addiction, build a support network of other sober individuals and connect with a higher power. NA meetings are widely available in the United States and around the world.
  • Marijuana Anonymous (MA) is similar to Narcotics Anonymous but focuses solely on helping people recover from marijuana addiction.
  • SMART Recovery is a self-help group that focuses on changing unhelpful thinking and on teaching tools to prevent relapse.
  • Nar-Anon is a 12-step program that provides support to family and friends of people addicted to drugs.

Recovery from Marijuana Addiction

The number of people who recover from marijuana addiction is unknown. This is because surveys on addiction recovery often focus on other drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Marijuana is often seen as a secondary addiction and thus often goes unreported. Despite the lack of information on marijuana addiction recovery rates, the same treatments that are effective for treating other addictions – including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and relapse prevention techniques – are also effective for marijuana addiction.

Tips for Finding a Recovery Program

Here are some things to keep in mind as you begin to look for a substance abuse treatment program.

  • The length of treatment varies depending on the program. Many programs start at 30 days, but may last for 90 days or more, as needed.
  • Quitting marijuana may be more difficult for people who have been using for a long time, who take large amounts and who also struggle with mental health issues. Inpatient rehab program are often sought in these more complicated cases.
  • Many people who use marijuana struggle with mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.3 Dual diagnosis treatment programs specialize in treating both mental health disorders and drug addiction.
  • Some people who are dependent on marijuana are also dependent on other drugs. Treatment can help users quit multiple drugs, including tobacco.

Marijuana Dependency: Short- and Long-Term Side Effects

Dependence on marijuana can result in several short- and long-term effects that may negatively impact your ability to function at work or at school or maintain relationships with other people.

The short-term side effects of marijuana can include:1, 6

  • Unusual sensory experiences.
  • Mood swings.
  • Slowed movement and thinking.
  • Problems with decision-making.
  • Short-term memory problems.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Paranoia.
  • An increase in risky behaviors.

The long-term effects of marijuana are evident in users who use marijuana frequently, in large amounts and over a long span of time. Such side effects can include: 6, 7, 8, 9

  • Inability to make decisions.
  • Difficulty learning new information.
  • Impaired short- and long-term memory.
  • Impulsivity.
  • Low motivation.
  • Mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.
  • Chronic cough, throat irritation, and, in severe cases, emphysema.

The short- and long-term side effects of marijuana are related to the amount of THC that is consumed. 2 Ingesting edible marijuana or dabbing (smoking a wax-like form of cannabis) often results in the consumption of higher levels of THC. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these methods can increase the severity of side effects and further promote dependence. 1

Marijuana Recovery Stories

Robert Downey Jr., Lady Gaga, David Letterman, Eric Roberts and Macklemore are just a handful of celebrities who have admitted to having problems with marijuana in the past.

Watch Lady Gaga discuss her addiction to marijuana in an interview with Elvis Duran on the Z100 Morning Show on Friday, Nov. 8, 2013.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Marijuana Addiction Increase the Risk of Mental Illness?

Long-term marijuana use has been linked to a higher risk of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and psychosis.10 However, research has found that a person’s genetics play a role in whether or not marijuana will lead to mental illness.

People who carry the AKT1 gene have been found to be at higher risk of experiencing psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, after using large amounts of marijuana.

Can Smoking Marijuana Change Your Personality?

Long-term marijuana use may impact aspects of a person’s personality and mood. Marijuana use has been found to decrease motivation, increase impulsivity and affect a person’s school, work and social life.10 Trying to quit marijuana can also lead to irritability and anxiety.1

Fortunately, when people quit using, it is possible for these symptoms to diminish or go away completely, especially when treatment addresses mental health symptoms.

Finding a Recovery Center

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may have a marijuana addiction, call our helpline at to speak with a recovery support specialist who can answer your questions, provide information on treatment options and assist you in finding a way to pay for treatment.

[1]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Marijuana.

[2]. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 16-4984, NSDUH Series H-51).

[3]. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

[4]. Budney, A. J., Roffman, R., Stephens, R. S., & Walker, D. (2007). Marijuana dependence and its treatment. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 4(1), 4-16.

[5]. Filbey, F. M., Schacht, J. P., Myers, U. S., Chavez, R. S., & Hutchison, K. E. (2009). Marijuana craving in the brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(31), 13016-13021.

[6]. Crean, R. D., Crane, N. A., & Mason, B. J. (2011). An evidence based review of acute and long-term effects of cannabis use on executive cognitive functions. Journal of Addiction Medicine, 5(1), 1-8.

[7]. Khalsa, J. H., Genser, S., Francis, H., & Martin, B. (2002). Clinical consequences of marijuana. The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 42(S1), 7S-10S.

[8]. Ashton, C. H. (2001). Pharmacology and effects of cannabis: a brief review. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 178(2), 101-106.

[9]. Hall, W., & Degenhardt, L. (2009). Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. The Lancet, 374(9698), 1383-1391.

[10]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Research Report Series: Marijuana. NIH Publication Number 15-3859.