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Marijuana Addiction and Recovery

Overview of Marijuana Use and Abuse

  • Marijuana is most commonly used by smoking and leads to elevations in mood and changes in perception.
  • Side effects can include anxiety, agitation, paranoia, and difficulty thinking or problem-solving.
  • Long-term effects include impaired learning, difficulties with problem-solving, and short-term and long-term memory problems.
  • Signs and symptoms of marijuana addiction include difficulty at school or work, unsuccessful attempts to stop using the drug, and using the drug even when you know that it causes problems.
  • Marijuana withdrawal symptoms include irritability, muscle pain, difficulty falling asleep, and decreased appetite.

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana is a mixture of dried plant materials derived from the cannabis sativa or hemp plant. The main psychoactive chemical in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is believed to be responsible for producing its mind-altering effects.

Several areas of the brain have higher concentrations of cannabinoid receptors than others. Some of these areas are involved with processes such as concentration, memory, coordination, pleasure, and sensory and time perception–helping to explain why that these functions of the brain can become so severely impaired when using marijuana. 15

How Marijuana Is Used?

Marijuana is most commonly smoked in rolled cigarette paper (a “joint”), in a pipe, or in a water pipe (a “bong”). The dried leaves may also be smoked in a cigar.

Additionally, marijuana can be mixed with food or have its extracted THC applied to other edibles. Individuals can make an herbal-infused tea from the drug to drink.

Marijuana Effects

The drug’s action on the cannabinoid receptors in the brain is thought to be the primary source for its psychotropic effects. Marijuana users report that using the drug produces improvement in mood, an overall sense of relaxation, and altered perceptions.

However, a portion of individuals who use marijuana may experience symptoms such as extreme anxiety or paranoia and visual and auditory hallucinations.

Effects of marijuana include:

  • Euphoria.
  • Relaxation.
  • Increased appetite.
    • Altered perception.
    • Increased heart rate. 8

Learn more about marijuana effects.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Marijuana addiction may occur as a result of someone first developing a marijuana dependence.

  • Physical dependence to marijuana occurs when your brain and body adapt to the presence of the drug. Once a physical dependence has been established, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using.
  • A psychological dependence exists when you believe that you must continue to use marijuana to function on a daily basis.

Some of the most common signs of addiction include:

  • Difficulty at work or school.
  • The development of tolerance with repeated use.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when use slows or stops.
  • Unsuccessful attempts to stop taking marijuana or to reduce its use.
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the use of marijuana.
  • Using marijuana even when you know that it causes problems. 4

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, you may be suffering from an addiction to marijuana if your use has begun to cause significant interference in your life.4 This may occur in the form of health problems, disability, or difficulty meeting demands at work, home, or school.

How Addictive Is Marijuana?

Using marijuana can lead to alterations in the reward circuits in the brain, which can reinforce a pattern of persistent use, laying the groundwork for marijuana dependence. 17

Withdrawal Symptoms

It is a common misconception that marijuana use does not lead to withdrawal symptoms. Frequent marijuana users can develop signs of physical dependence and may experience a number of withdrawal symptoms when they stop using, including:

  • Irritability.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Intense cravings for marijuana.
  • Difficulty falling asleep.
  • Decreased appetite. 16

Learn more about marijuana withdrawal.

Overdose Symptoms

It is possible to overdose on marijuana – consuming so much of the drug that you become incapacitated and increase your risk of accidents and other bodily harm.

If you or someone you know may be suffering from marijuana overdose, call 911 immediately or visit the local emergency room.

Symptoms of Marijuana Overdose

      • Distorted perception
      • Elevated heart rate
      • Dry mouth
      • Red eyes
      • Agitation
      • Wildly erratic behavior or mood changes
      • Paranoia
      • Hypertension
      • Visual and auditory hallucinations

Marijuana Rehab Options

Marijuana addiction recovery options include:

  • Inpatient or residential rehabilitation centers. You stay at a treatment facility, where you participate in a program that often includes detoxification, therapy, and 12-step meetings.
  • Outpatient rehab centers. You live at home but attend a treatment facility for therapy sessions on a part-time basis.
  • 12-step programs. You meet with other recovering drug users to share experiences and work through a recovery program – in many cases, with the help and support of a sponsor who is further along in his or her recovery journey.
  • Dual diagnosis treatment facilities. You participate in a treatment program that is specifically designed to help you recover from marijuana addiction and a co-occurring mental health issue.

Marijuana Statistics

Man covering face
  • Addictive potential: It has been estimated that 10% of people who smoke marijuana eventually become addicted to it.3
  • Addiction rate: Nearly 4 million people age 12 or older struggled with a marijuana use disorder in 2015, similar to previous years.11 In 2013, 17% of treatment admissions were people seeking treatment for marijuana as their primary addiction.7
  • Frequency of use: In 2015, more than 117 million people age 12 or older reported use of marijuana at some point in their lifetime, more than 36 million reported past-year use, and more than 22 million reported use in the past month. Rates of use in 2015 were very similar to rates in 2014. 11
  • Gender: Rates of marijuana use among men were higher than rates of use among women. In 2015, almost 64 million men and 55 million women age 12 or older reported use at some point in their lifetime, nearly 21 million men and 15 million women reported use at some point in the past year, and more than 13 million men and 8 million women reported past-month use of marijuana.11
  • Teen marijuana use: In 2015, nearly 16% of 8th graders reported using marijuana at some point in their life, 12% in the past year, 7% in the past month, and 1% use it every day, similar rates to previous years. About 31% of 10th graders reported use at some point in their life – a significant decrease from 2014. Around 26% of 10th graders reported use within the past year, 15% reported use within the past month, and 3% reported daily use. Among 12th graders in 2015 use rates were the highest, with approximately 45% reporting use at any point, 35% reporting past-year use, 21% reporting past-month use, and 6% indicating daily use.12 


[1]. Marshall K, Growing L, Ali R, Le Foll B. Pharmacotherapies for cannabis dependence. Cochrane Database Sys Review 2014;12: CD008940.

[2]. Johns A. Psychiatric effects of cannabis. Brit J Psychiatry 2001;178:116-122.

[3]. Copeland J, Swift W. Cannabis use disorder. In Rev Psychiatry 2009;21:96-103.

[4]. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. Arlington, VA American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013.

[5]. Morgan CJ, Curran HV. Effects of cannabidiol on schizophrenia-like symptoms in people who use cannabis. Br J Psychiatry. 2008;192(4):306-307.

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

[7]. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS): 2003-2013. National Admissions to Substance Abuse Treatment Services. BHSIS Series S-75, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4934. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

[8]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What are marijuana effects?

[9]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). DrugFacts: Marijuana.

[10]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What are marijuana’s long-term effects on the brain?

[11]. 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).

[12]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs.

[13]. Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E. & Miech, R. A. (2016). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2015: Volume 2, College students and adults ages 19-55. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.

[14]. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2011: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4760, DAWN Series D-39. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.

[15]. Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Fact Sheet: Marijuana.

[16]. Haney, M. et al. (2004). Marijuana Withdrawal in Humans: Effects of Oral THC or Divalproex. Neuropsychopharmacology 29: 158-170.

[17]. Bailey, J. et al. (2016). Cannabis use disorder: Epidemiology, comorbidity, and pathogenesis. UptoDate.