Although many states have already legalized marijuana, it can still cause abuse, addiction and dependence. Marijuana has steadily become more potent over the past several decades as well, leading to a higher risk of side effects and dependence. Fortunately, help is available if you struggle with marijuana use and are looking to quit.
What Is Marijuana?
Marijuana is the most common psychoactive drug in the United States. It is derived from the leaves of the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plants. Marijuana contains more than 480 chemicals, but THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main component that creates psychoactive effects. Marijuana often has a potent smell and looks like a dry, green-brown shredded mix of flowers, leaves, seeds and stems.
The drug is usually smoked in hand-rolled cigarettes called joints or water pipes called bongs. Alternatively, marijuana may be mixed in foods and consumed orally as an edible or brewed as a tea.
Marijuana concentrates are cannabis extracts and are generally much stronger than marijuana. They look like honey or butter and are generally smoked or vaped, but they may also be consumed orally.
Marijuana is a Schedule I federally-controlled substance in the United States, meaning that it is an illegal drug and the federal government has identified no legitimate medical use for it. That said, marijuana is sometimes taken medicinally to treat pain, and some small studies have suggested it may help nerve pain. Some state governments have approved marijuana for medical and/or recreational use, including Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, California and Colorado.
Is New Jersey Ready for Legal Weed?
Medical marijuana has been legal in New Jersey since 2010 and is set to expand to include recreational use. A referendum to legalize marijuana in the New Jersey state constitution is on the ballot for 2020, with 61% of likely New Jersey voters in favor of legalization. Importantly, the referendum would not result in an immediate change; it would go into effect on January 1, 2021. Additionally, the state legislature would still need to pass bills to regulate the marijuana industry.
The referendum would legalize recreational marijuana for adults aged 21 and older and legalize the retail growth, processing and sale of marijuana. Further, records for past marijuana possession convictions in the state would be expunged.
Side Effects of Marijuana
When someone has been abusing marijuana, there are often telltale symptoms. These include:
- Problems with memory and learning
- Distortion in perception
- Troubles thinking and problem-solving
- Loss of coordination
- Bloodshot eyes
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Coughing (from lung irritation caused by inhaling marijuana)
- Increased appetite
Over the long term, these signs can worsen. Serious, chronic lung conditions like emphysema and asthma can result from long-term use of inhaled marijuana. Further, long-term marijuana use has been linked to worsening mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.
Long-term marijuana abuse can also impact brain development, especially in teens. Marijuana stunts the growth of connections in the brain. As a result, thinking, memory and learning may be impaired. Experts are not sure if the damage is permanent, but it does not appear that adults suffer this same impairment. However, pregnant adults may risk brain damage to their babies.
About 20% of pregnant women aged 24 and younger use marijuana, with some perhaps taking the drug to treat morning sickness. Marijuana use in a pregnant mother can impair the child’s attention, memory and problem-solving skills later in life.
The Problem With Increasing Potency and Marijuana Concentrates
The THC component of marijuana has been increasing for the past several decades. In contrast to marijuana from the 1960s to 1980s, which had a THC content of less than 2%, some marijuana now contains up to 20% THC. Marijuana concentrates can be even stronger — up to 80% THC. Exposure to higher THC levels may lead to a higher risk of side effects, especially among people new to marijuana. Further, marijuana-containing edibles are typically digested slowly in the body, leading to a slower high. To compensate for this, people may attempt to consume greater quantities in an attempt to feel a quicker high, which may increase the risk of side effects.
Signs of Marijuana Abuse and Overdose
There are often signs that occur when a person starts to struggle with marijuana, such as behavior changes. Some symptoms include:
- Withdrawal from social circles
- Mood swings and irritability
- Changes in sleep habits
- Missed appointments or deadlines
- Problems at work or school
- Reckless behavior
- Legal problems
You may also find marijuana paraphernalia if a loved one is using marijuana. This can include a variety of items, including:
- Bongs: Also known as a water pipe or a bubbler, a bong is a pipe that filters marijuana smoke through water before it is inhaled.
- Hookahs: This piece of equipment is similar to a bong, except with a bowl on top and multiple mouthpieces so that more than one person can smoke at once.
- Pipes: Also called a piece or a bowl, this item is used for smoking marijuana. Variations may be called Gandalfs, Sherlocks, spoons, chamber pipes, steamrollers, chillums, sneak-a-tokes or bats.
- Grinders: This item is a small box used to grind marijuana for smoking.
- Rolling paper: This is cigarette paper to roll your own joints.
- Vape pens: Also known as dab pens or hash pens, these electronic devices are used to vape marijuana.
No evidence exists that marijuana overdose on its own is deadly. However, the risk for a heart attack increases by a factor of 4.8 for an hour after using marijuana. Additionally, there may be an increased risk of accidents after marijuana use due to unpleasant side effects. These can include:
- Confusion, delusions or hallucinations
- Anxiety or panic
- Fast heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Severe nausea or vomiting
Although marijuana alone may not be deadly, vaping marijuana can be. Multiple reports of deaths due to lung damage have occurred in people who vaped marijuana. Doctors are not sure what the specific cause of death has been, but they have warned people not to buy vape products on the street or modify store-bought vape products.
Marijuana Withdrawal and Detox
Despite common reports that you can’t become dependent on or addicted to marijuana, marijuana dependence and addiction are very real. Physical dependence can occur when your body is used to marijuana, meaning that suddenly ending marijuana use can cause withdrawal symptoms. Marijuana withdrawal is a recognized medical condition with criteria that can be diagnosed by a doctor.
Withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Sleep problems
- Decreased appetite
A person who is heavily dependent on marijuana may begin to have withdrawal symptoms one to two days after stopping use. These symptoms often last for seven to 14 days but may last up to five weeks. Taking part in a marijuana detox program like the one offered at The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper can help prevent and treat withdrawal symptoms.
Marijuana Addiction Treatment
Up to 30% of people who take marijuana develop a marijuana use disorder. Those who start taking the drug as adolescents are at the highest risk and are up to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults. Overall, about 10% of people who start marijuana as adults — and about 17% who start marijuana as adolescents — will develop a full-blown addiction to the drug. Fortunately, some treatment strategies have been proven to help people recover from marijuana use. This includes therapy and motivational counseling, which rewards people for staying marijuana-free.
Many New Jersey residents are seeking treatment for marijuana, as 12% of addiction treatment center admissions were for marijuana in 2018. The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper offers multiple treatment options to help you stop marijuana use and start a new life without the drug. Types of treatment include:
- Medical detox: Medical detox is the first step in marijuana addiction recovery. In detox, you are slowly weaned off marijuana in a comfortable setting with round-the-clock medical supervision. As a result, any withdrawal symptoms can be quickly treated.
- Residential rehab: After detox, the intense work of rehab begins. In residential rehab, you live on-site so you can focus on your recovery without outside distractions. Here, you take part in therapy to explore why you became reliant on marijuana and begin to learn coping skills to live life without the drug.
- Outpatient rehab: Outpatient rehab follows residential rehab. If you have a milder marijuana addiction, you may attend outpatient rehab instead of an inpatient setting. In outpatient rehab, you continue the hard work of therapy while learning to go about your everyday life without marijuana. Teletherapy may also be an option.
- Aftercare: When rehab is complete, aftercare keeps you focused on your recovery from marijuana over the long term. Aftercare can consist of support groups and relapse prevention programs.
- Dual diagnosis: Mental health problems can be common in people struggling with substance use. This is especially true of marijuana, as worsening mental health problems are a known side effect of chronic marijuana use. In dual diagnosis, mental health issues are treated at the same time as addiction, giving you a better chance of recovering from both challenges.
Get Help for Marijuana Addiction
Marijuana addiction is real and can have lifelong consequences. If you or a loved one are struggling with marijuana, don’t wait — seek help today. Our caring representatives at The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper can answer any questions you may have about marijuana treatment plans and recovery programs. Contact us to learn more about what we offer, and take the first step toward a happier, healthier, substance-free future.
Answers to some frequently asked questions about alcohol addiction are provided.
Common street names include:
- Aunt Mary
- BC Bud
- Mary Jane
Street names for concentrates include:
- Wax, or ear wax
- Honey oil
- Butane hash oil
- Butane honey oil, or BHO
- Dabs, or dabbing
- Black glass
Depending on what is being tested, marijuana can be found in your system for different lengths of time. Generally, marijuana tests are looking for breakdown products of THC — mainly, THC carboxylase. Some tests for marijuana include:
- Urine: Marijuana can be found in a urine sample for up to ten days if marijuana is taken once weekly. If the person uses marijuana daily, however, it can be found in the urine for up to 30 days.
- Hair: Marijuana can be found in a hair sample for up to three months. However, a hair test may not return a positive result unless the marijuana has been used for several weeks.
- Saliva: Marijuana can be detected for up to 24 hours in a saliva sample.
- Blood: Marijuana can be found for a few hours after use in a blood sample.
It is important to note that some substances can cause false positives for marijuana. These include dronabinol, efavirenz, proton-pump inhibitors like omeprazole, hemp seed oil, baby wash products and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen.
Synthetic marijuana is not marijuana at all. Instead, it is made of chemicals that are similar in structure to marijuana. The chemicals are then sprayed on plants that are shredded or liquified. These synthetic substances are often much more potent than marijuana and can be more dangerous. They are often misleadingly marketed as safe and legal alternatives to marijuana. Some synthetic substances have been made illegal; however, manufacturers have been able to keep selling their products by slightly tweaking their formulation. Some brands of synthetic drugs include K2, Spice, Joker, Black Mamba, Kush and Kronic.
Although no overdose deaths have been reported from marijuana, it is still possible to have side effects from using too much.
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Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.