Signs of Marijuana Use, Abuse, and Addiction

Summary

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Contrary to many reports, marijuana is an addictive drug. Signs that a person is abusing marijuana may be evident to loved ones. Signs of abuse relate to the psychological, physical, and behavioral changes in the person who is abusing marijuana. The following are some of the most commonly observed signs:

  • Red eyes
  • Eating or excessive eating outside of regular meal or snack times
  • Diminished performance in school, at work, and/or in meeting responsibilities at home
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, coworkers, and/or classmates
  • Spending time with people who use marijuana or other drugs
  • Buying certain products, such as bongs and rolling papers, in order to smoke marijuana
  • Doing online research on different types of marijuana and highs (e.g., waxes, tinctures, edibles, etc.)
  • Using slang terms for marijuana, such as weed, pot, bud, trees, cannabis, kush, and mota

Research shows that approximately 30 percent of individuals who abuse marijuana have a problematic relationship with it. When the marijuana abuse stops, or the familiar amount is reduced, a person may notice signs of withdrawal, including difficulty sleeping, nightmares, appearing and/or sounding depressed, and/or demonstrating an urge to use marijuana again.

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MarijuanaIt comes as no surprise that the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in America. In 2014, there were 22.2 million Americans in the 12+ age group who used marijuana in the 30 days prior to the survey. Many movies and songs portray what it’s like to be high on marijuana, but there still may be little general recognition of the signs of marijuana abuse.

From a clinical standpoint, the terms physical dependence and addiction have been replaced with substance use disorder. This new term comes directly from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). In addition to a general substance use disorder category, the DSM-5 has diagnostic categories for nine drugs of abuse, including cannabis use disorder. Cannabis, also known as THC, is the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana, hash oil, and hashish.

Synthetic Marijuana

It is helpful at this early juncture to make a distinction between marijuana and synthetic marijuana. Mainly made abroad and sent to the US disguised as incense, synthetic marijuana is sprayed with psychoactive chemicals. These drugs go by names such as Spice and K2. There are no safeguards in place to protect synthetic marijuana users against the chemicals that may be inside. These drugs are much more potent than regular marijuana.
The chemicals in synthetic marijuana are called cannabinoids, because they are like the natural chemicals found in real marijuana. These drugs are relatively new. Research supports that treatment for substance abuse disorder can be applied to synthetic marijuana abuse. Individuals are likely to start abusing these drugs because they think they are like marijuana. Synthetic marijuana is also readily available, often at gas stations and convenient stores. It’s usually bagged, like incense, and labeled with any number of different names.

Signs of a Cannabis Use Disorder

In order to be diagnosed with a cannabis use disorder, a person must manifest at least two of the 11 symptoms that the DSM-5 sets forth, and they must occur in the same 12-month period. The number of symptoms determines whether a person is diagnosed with a mild, moderate, or severe cannabis use disorder. For people concerned about their own marijuana use, or for those concerned about someone else’s use, these 11 criteria can be thought of signs to watch for. The 11 criteria, paraphrased, are as follows:

    Loss of control: using more marijuana or using it for a longer period of time than intended

    Social impairments: not engaging in important work, social, hobbies, or recreational activities because of marijuana use

    Inability to stop: having the desire to quit or to reduce the amount of marijuana used but not being able to do it

    Ignoring risks: ongoing use of marijuana despite dangers that arise around it

    Cravings: Experiencing an urge to use marijuana when not using it

    Frustration of existing issues: ongoing use even though marijuana use is worsening an existing physical or psychological problem

    Troubles in main spheres of life: due to the marijuana use, not being able to perform to one’s familiar standard at home, work, or school

    Tolerance building: over time, needing more marijuana in order to get the desired, familiar effect

    Disregarding problems caused by use: despite the negative impact that the marijuana use is having on relationships, continuing to use the drug

    Withdrawal: when not taking the familiar amount of marijuana or when stopping use completely, the emergence of withdrawal symptoms

    Disproportionate focus: dedicating too much time and too many resources to marijuana use

As the 11 listed symptoms reflect, there is a physical and biological component to cannabis use disorder. A concerned person may see a symptom emerge, but not know where it places within the progression from recreational use to abuse to a cannabis use disorder. But the important thing is recognizing that the person may be increasingly sliding down the slippery slope from smoking marijuana to “have fun” to abusing it out of necessity and familiarity. The person may not realize that the use has been problematic, or even clinically significant. For this reason, it is especially helpful to know some additional signs associated with marijuana abuse.

As noted, two or more of the 11 criteria for cannabis use disorder must occur within a 12-month period. The DSM-5 does not base a diagnosis on the side effects that occur immediately after using marijuana, but these side effects can tip a person off to another’s marijuana use.

Per Mayo Clinic, the following is a list of physical and psychological symptoms as well as signs of recent use of marijuana:

  • A sense of euphoria
  • Increase in one’s taste, visual, and auditory senses
  • Red eyes
  • Problems with concentration and/or memory
  • Increased appetite
  • More rapid heart rate than normal
  • Sensation that everything has slowed down
  • Having paranoid thoughts
  • Dry mouth
  • Diminished coordination

Marijuana use is also associated with a host of long-term side effects that include mental dullness, poor work or school performance, social withdrawal, and lack of interests. Again, people may become aware of another’s marijuana abuse, or the extent of their own, at different times. At some point, some people who use marijuana may awaken to the fact that they have an addictive relationship with this drug. Or they may not be able to maintain the illusion that they have full control over their marijuana abuse when they experience trouble with cognitive tasks, such as problem-solving. However uncomfortable the recognition of a cannabis use disorder may be, it is helpful to keep in mind that recovery is always possible.

A fair amount of the literature available on the detection of marijuana abuse targets concerned parents; however, the advice can apply with equal force to anyone. The behavioral signs of marijuana abuse may be observed at home, in public, during social or family functions, at work, or at school. For individuals who live with a person whom they suspect is abusing marijuana, the following potential signs of abuse may be helpful:

  • Items that are associated with some facet of marijuana use go missing, such as knives, plastic bags, cotton swabs, matches, lighters, rubbing alcohol, and air deodorizers.
  • The home smells heavily of deodorizers, as if the person is trying to mask the smell of marijuana.
  • The individual’s clothes, bedroom, furniture, carpet, or curtains smell of marijuana.
  • There are suddenly items around, such as Visine, that help the person to cope with side effects of the marijuana use.
  • The individual may complain about side effects of marijuana abuse, such as dry mouth (without mentioning the marijuana abuse). The concerned person may observe the individual trying to deal with these side effects, such as by drinking an uncharacteristically high volume of beverages.
  • The individual may change eating patterns, such as eating large amounts of food outside of mealtimes.
When people develop a cannabis use disorder, there will naturally be a concomitant shift in their behavior. As use of marijuana takes firmer root, the individual will need to increasingly cater to it, which takes time, money, and effort. As a result, a host of behavioral changes may be observed. Notes Medical News Today, the following are some telltale behavioral signs of substance abuse:

  • People who have abuse marijuana may seek to ensure that they always have an ample supply of it, which can result in stashing the drug in their home, at work, or at school; spending time obsessing about getting marijuana; and spending money and other resources to buy it.
  • People may engage in risky behaviors after using marijuana, such as drugged driving.
  • Some people take risks in order to fund the marijuana abuse, such as stealing.
  • People may become increasing secretive and socially withdrawn.
  • They may spend time with new people, particularly those who also abuse marijuana. Drug use can be isolating, but it can also be a point of social interaction among people who use drugs.
  • They may get defensive about marijuana use if asked about it. This is a way of protecting the abuse.
  • They may get into trouble with the law. Since marijuana use impairs judgment, a person may engage in reckless activities, such as drugged driving, which can lead to run-ins with law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
  • People may experience financial difficulties as a result of money and any other assets being used to buy, use, and maintain marijuana abuse.

Behavioral signs can emerge at any point with continued marijuana abuse. They provide a significant tipoff to a problem and can be the catalyst needed to start a conversation about the abuse or to seek professional help. Marijuana abuse may be occurring at the same time as abuse of other drugs (polydrug abuse). When people seek treatment at a rehab center, they typically identify a primary drug of abuse that needs treatment; however, a team of addiction specialist will address all the drugs of abuse involved.

Though the types of drugs are relevant, rehab works at the level underlying the abuse in general.


Recovery from a cannabis use disorder and polydrug abuse, if present, is always an option for those who are ready to achieve a healthier life and embrace a more positive future.


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