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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.