Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms and Addiction Treatment

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Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

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Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms And Treatment

Over the past couple decades, the legalization of marijuana has led to new conversations and issues. As of 2020, 15 states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, with many more having legalized the substance for medicinal purposes.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana is one of the most popular psychotropic drugs consumed in the United States, second only to alcohol. This is no doubt due to the legality of marijuana leading to more widespread availability of the substance.

For years, marijuana has been referred to as a “gateway drug.” Many people are surprised to find that marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the United States Government due to its falsely perceived harmlessness. Marijuana is commonly popular with teenagers and young people due to its fairly easy availability and acceptability in comparison to other drugs. This is especially true in states where marijuana is legal for recreational use. There are certainly negative effects of marijuana use and subsequent withdrawal, which we will explore in this article.

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana in its unaltered form refers to the dried leaves, buds, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant. The plant is native to the United States and can even be found growing in the wild in some climates.

The main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short. This is the chemical compound that is responsible for the majority of the plant’s mind-altering effects. The chemical is found in the highest concentrations in resin produced by the leaves and buds of the female cannabis plant. Most types of cannabis plants contain more than 500 other chemicals, including more than 100 compounds, called cannabinoids, that are closely related to THC.

Marijuana is colloquially called by many different names including weed, pot, ganja, Mary Jane, herb, and any number of other street names. The method of ingestion can vary widely, especially with the widespread legalization of marijuana.

Still, cannabis is most commonly smoked by a number of different methods. Some people roll cannabis into a thin paper cigarette or tobacco cigar wrap, while others may smoke the plant out of a glass pipe.

The medical application of marijuana has led to a number of new methods of ingestion that don’t involve the combustion of plant material. Marijuana can be brewed into a tea and drank or put into foods such as brownies, cookies, candy, and other baked goods. Extreme caution should be taken when ingesting THC edibles as the exact dosage is often hard to discern.

Purveyors of medicinal and recreation marijuana have also found ways to distill and isolate the plant’s psychoactive ingredients in order to create a more potent product. These products include the honey-like hash oil, waxy “budder,” and the hard glass-like “shatter.” We’ve also seen a very large increase in the popularity of products used to vaporize these extracts. This is similar to smoking but THC is infused with water vapor and inhaled.

Shatter and other extracts are not considered to be more addictive than non-concentrated marijuana, but they can contain higher amounts of cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marijuana flower can contain anywhere from 3 to 30 percent THC, whereas concentrates such as shatter may contain between 30 and 90 percent THC.

Like other cannabis concentrates, shatter may be addictive in some cases. Addiction to marijuana concentrates often depends on the personality type of the individual and if they have a co-occurring substance or mental disorder.

Unlike flower cannabis, shatter is consumed by inhaling the vapors produced by placing a small amount of cannabis extract on a heated surface, which is connected to a water pipe. This process is called “dabbing” and can be extremely dangerous.

Symptoms Of THC Intoxication

The use of marijuana can have both short- and long-term effects on the brain of its user. THC’s chemical structure is similar to the chemical anandamide, which is naturally found in the brain. Because of this similarity, THC is able to bind to the receptors in the brain that are meant for the natural chemical, causing the user to experience a “high” or the desired medical effects. 

THC, acting through these receptors in the brain, also activates the brain’s chemical reward system. This includes parts of the brain that govern the response to healthy pleasurable activities such as exercise and eating. Like many other drugs that people ingest, THC stimulates neurons in the reward system to release the signaling chemical dopamine at a much higher rate than naturally occurs. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for many feelings of pleasure and contentment. This unnatural flood of dopamine contributes to the pleasurable “high” that users experience.

Short-Term Effects

When a person ingests cannabis by smoking it, the psychoactive ingredient THC is quickly absorbed by the lungs and into the bloodstream. The circulatory system acts as a delivery service, administering THC to the brain and different parts of the body. This is the quickest method of ingestion.

When THC is eaten, it will take much longer to experience its psychoactive effects. This can vary for a number of reasons but it typically begins to affect its user in 30 minutes to an hour. Since everybody metabolizes food differently, the time it takes for marijuana to take effect can vary greatly depending on body mass and other factors.

As outlined above, THC acts on specific receptors in the brain. This causes the “high” that marijuana users typically experience. Some of the short-term effects of this state may include:

  • Altered senses (for example, seeing more vibrant colors)
  • Altered sense of time (slowing or quickening)
  • Changes in mood
  • Impaired body movement
  • Difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
  • Impaired short-term memory
  • Hallucinations (only when taken in high doses)
  • Delusions (only in high doses)
  • Psychosis (only in extreme cases)

Along with these effects, THC ingestion can also have the following physical effects:

  • Respiratory Issues: Cannabis smoke can irritate the lungs and people who smoke it frequently can suffer some of the same ailments that tobacco users suffer from. These problems may include chronic coughing and mucus build-up, more frequent lung illness, and a higher risk for lung infections.
  • Increased Heart Rate: THC intoxication can lead to a higher heart rate for up to 3 hours after smoking. This may increase the users risk of heart attack. This risk is increased with older people and people with existing heart conditions.
  • Intense Nausea/Vomiting: Long-term cannabis use can, in rare cases, lead to cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. This condition causes users to experience cycles of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration that may require immediate medical attention.

Long-Term Effects

Marijuana has been shown to affect how the brain develops. If a person begins to use marijuana during their teenage years, when the brain is undergoing significant development, it can affect how the brain builds connections between different areas. This can lead to difficulty with problem-solving, memory, and other issues going forward. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse is currently conducting a study titled the “Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development” (ABCD) study that is tracking a large sample of young Americans from late childhood to early adulthood. The goal of this study is to determine how, and to what extent, marijuana and other substances affect adolescent brain development. This is a relatively new area of research, but we will hopefully have more information in the future.

Long-term marijuana use has also been linked to mental illness in some people:

  • Temporary hallucinations
  • Temporary paranoia
  • Worsening symptoms in patients who suffer from schizophrenia, a severe mental disorder with symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, and disorganized thinking

Is Marijuana Addictive? Can You Experience Withdrawal?

While marijuana use doesn’t cause any physical dependence issues, its users can become psychologically dependent on the substance. This occurs when a person is unable to stop using marijuana even though its use has negatively affected their health, social, and professional life. Studies by the National Institute of Health have found that nearly 3 out of 10 marijuana users will develop a marijuana use disorder at some point.

Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

To better understand what a marijuana user may experience when they quit using the drug, it is important to understand what withdrawal is. A withdrawal syndrome is marked by the onset of specific, negative symptoms when a person ceases using a drug. These negative symptoms can be physical, emotional, mental, and even behavioral. Symptoms of withdrawal typically lessen over time, while the body and brain are chemically readjusting to life without the substance.

It is very important to realize that, as stated in the previous section, cannabis does not contain any physically addictive substances. Therefore, the withdrawal symptoms of cannabis use are nowhere near as serious or crippling as some other drugs such as opioids. In fact, unsupervised withdrawal from certain substances such as benzodiazepines and alcohol can be extremely dangerous—and even fatal—for users. This is not the case, by any means, for marijuana use.

Because everyone is different, your relationship with marijuana is unique and can present its own problems. That being said, there are a number of universal side effects that you may expect to experience when quitting marijuana use.

Withdrawal Symptoms

The American Psychiatric Association has found that the most prominent symptoms of marijuana withdrawal occur in people who have used the drug daily for multiple months and then ceased entirely.

The symptoms of marijuana withdrawal can appear within one week of ceasing marijuana ingestion and can include

  • Feelings of anger, irritability, and/or aggressiveness
  • Sensations of extreme nervousness or anxiety
  • Disturbances with sleep that can include insomnia or disturbing dreams/nightmares
  • A decrease in appetite that can lead to significant weight loss
  • Feelings of fatigue, restlessness, and general malaise
  • The onset of depression symptoms

For some individuals, there is always a risk that they will experience symptoms of lethargy, mild depression, motivation issues, and cravings for marijuana for weeks, or even months after they’ve stopped using the drug. As well as these risks, there is always a risk for relapse when dealing with any sort of substance use disorder. With cannabis, this relapse into old habits can happen quicker than it took to establish the habit in the first place.

Individuals experiencing intense withdrawal symptoms may benefit from an inpatient treatment program. Inpatient or residential treatment can provide the psychological services that may be needed when someone is going through withdrawal.

There are not currently any FDA-approved medications to help treat marijuana use disorders. However, a combination of detoxification and behavioral therapies can help individuals break their dependence on marijuana.

Marijuana Addiction Treatment And the Right Rehab Center for Marijuana Withdrawal

Many users scoff at experts when they call marijuana addictive, but the proof is there. Similar to the same effect as nicotine, it can cause irritability, anxiety, and sleep difficulties when attempting to quit. Addicts can either consider inpatient or outpatient treatment when it comes to marijuana, as there are no medical drugs to regulate or reduce cravings, and all cognitive behavioral therapy can be done outside of rehab.

Vertava Health Is Here To Help With Treatment Centers Across The United States

Because marijuana dependence typically co-occurs with other drug use, treatment should be sought from a program that can treat all addictions that the user might have. Also, since adolescents are the primary users of cannabis, many marijuana addiction treatment centers will specialize in teen rehabilitation.

If you or a loved one are dependent on marijuana and want to stop, contact us today. Rehab Center by Vertava Health is here to help you find a treatment center that is suited to meet your specific needs in treatment. Call us today at (888) 979-9592 to start on your road to recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How Long Do Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

The symptoms of marijuana withdrawal typically only develop is someone has been a daily user for multiple months. After stopping marijuana use, the user may experience the worst symptoms of withdrawal for up to a week. Some other symptoms such as lethargy and depression may be present for a longer time.

  • How To Relieve Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms?

Time is the best factor for the relief of marijuana withdrawal symptoms but it can be incredibly helpful to seek detox from a licensed substance use treatment center. Licensed medical professionals can help you cope with the symptoms of withdrawal and develop healthier lifestyle habits.

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