Marijuana is a plant once widely grown in the American colonies for paper, clothing, and rope. Around 1920, marijuana caught on as a drug to smoke for relaxation. The stems and leaves of the plant are dried and then rolled into cigarettes. Some users empty cigars and refill them with a combination of marijuana and tobacco. Marijuana can also be consumed as a tea or an ingredient in food.
Its main active ingredient is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, a chemical that attaches itself to cannabinoid receptors in nerve cells in the brain. These receptor cells are particularly abundant in the cerebellum, hippocampus and cerebral cortex, which are areas of the brain involved in pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, perception of time and coordinated movement. THC is fat soluble and remains in the bloodstream up to 30 days, accumulating in the liver, lungs and testes.
People take marijuana to relax and for its psychoactive effects, which last one to three hours. Colors seem brighter, the sense of time is altered and the person may feel relaxed, silly and “high.” Individual biology and genetics, the strength of the marijuana, whether it is smoked or eaten, whether it is used with alcohol and other drugs, and the person’s expectation and previous experience with the drug all influence its effects. Eating or drinking marijuana provides two or three times more drug potency than smoking it.
Experts in the United States have been debating for a long time whether marijuana is addictive. The most current research indicates that it is, and that people abuse marijuana because they are addicted to it. About 9% of people who use marijuana become serious addicts, compared to 17% of those who use cocaine and 23% of those who use heroin, according to research from the Institute Of Medicine of the National Academies. In other words, marijuana is addictive, but not among the most highly addictive substances. Factors that help determine whether you will become addicted to marijuana are your genetics, the age at which you experiment with it, whether you use other drugs and the quality of your relationships with others.
Marijuana addiction treatment and recovery
There are very few drugs available to help people who are withdrawing or recovering from marijuana addictions. Among the drugs that have been tested are Buproprion, Nafazodone, Lithium, and cannabinoid antagonists. Taking THC orally and reducing the amounts gradually also had no effect on cravings. Lofexidine seemed to help recovering addicts sleep.
One challenge in recovering from marijuana addiction is that the drug takes away motivation, even the motivation to stop using drugs. Motivational interviewing and motivational incentives, which involve specialized therapy and/or offering people money for goods and services if they remain abstinent, are two techniques that have been shown to improve motivation and outcomes.
The vast majority of people with severe addictions to marijuana have comorbidities such as severe mental disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, or other underlying psychiatric problems such as childhood trauma, anxiety, depression and so forth. These issues need to be addressed separately from their addiction, and sometimes certain medications are helpful. Cognitive behavioral therapy, learning relaxation techniques, setting goals with the help of a trained therapist, nutritional therapy and attending support meetings such as Marijuana Anonymous can be helpful.