Do you find it hard to settle down for the night without smoking weed? Or do you continue to use marijuana regularly even though it makes you feel out of it and unable to focus on your life’s purpose? Or maybe you’ve noticed that a social joint with friends has turned into a need for marijuana that feels out of your control?
If any of these things sound familiar to you, you could be experiencing marijuana addiction. Just like with alcohol or even coffee, dependence or addiction to marijuana can start with occasional use and slowly become life-consuming.
The good news is that you can get your life back. Keep reading to learn more about how you can holistically treat marijuana addiction.
What is Marijuana Addiction?
Because marijuana is becoming increasingly legal across the US, many people use it casually without a second thought. It’s the second most used drug, with alcohol being the first. Over 48 million people in the US used marijuana at least once in 2019 alone. But just like alcohol, some people become dependent on marijuana, especially if they’re using it to cope with stressors or traumas in their life.
While many people claim that marijuana isn’t addictive or habit-forming, the science just doesn’t back that up. Research shows that about 30% of all marijuana users have marijuana use disorder.
What is Marijuana Use Disorder?
Marijuana use disorder is a DSM-5-recognized diagnosis of ongoing cannabis use for at least one year despite its negative effects on your life.
Other aspects of marijuana use disorder are:
- Needing more and more marijuana to achieve the same high
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms including irritability, difficulty sleeping, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and cravings when not using
- Feeling a lack of control over marijuana usage
- Spending a lot of time buying, using, and coming down from marijuana
- Giving up or losing personal and professional responsibilities because of marijuana use
- And ongoing use of marijuana despite knowing it is negatively affecting your life
Taking any substance without being fully aware of the adverse effects it can have on your body and mind can lead to addiction. Weed is no exception.
How Do You Know if You’re Addicted to Marijuana?
If you are beginning to explore your relationship with marijuana, ask yourself the following questions to investigate its impact on your life:
When regularly consuming marijuana,
- Is your mind clear?
- Are you able to be creative?
- Are you able to focus and motivate yourself?
- What happens if you don’t have it?
- Are you able to fulfill your life’s purpose?
- Are you able to maintain personal and professional relationships to the best of your ability?
- Are you able to fully engage with life?
Marijuana was once seen as a dangerous gateway drug. But now weed is widely used and seen as no big deal. In fact, during the big push for legalization in the 2010s, many advocates for the legalization of marijuana claimed that weed isn’t addictive or unhealthy at all.
The reality is that it exists somewhere in the middle. While some can use marijuana without it negatively impacting their lives, others cannot. Marijuana dependence is a very real issue despite its widespread use and acceptance.
Like anything you continuously take part in–whether it’s weed, alcohol, or exercise–it can be an unhealthy coping strategy. If using marijuana is negatively impacting your life and your ability to work through your trauma, there are many different holistic treatments available to help you overcome your addiction.
How Marijuana Addiction Works
There are two different factors at play when discussing how marijuana addiction works: the physical effect marijuana has on your brain and the social, mental, and behavioral triggers that can influence you to use marijuana.
How Marijuana Physically Affects the Brain to Cause Addiction
The main active ingredient in marijuana is THC. Once in the brain, THC attaches itself to cannabinoid receptors (CBRs) on the surface of nerve cells. CBRs are part of one of your brain’s communication networks called the endocannabinoid system, which is partially responsible for brain development and function.
Through the endocannabinoid system, CBRs play a big role in the parts of the brain responsible for memory, thinking, concentration, coordination, and pleasure. When THC binds with them, it excites them, causing the “high” people experience while using marijuana. This high can feel joyful, relaxing, and all-around pleasurable.
The issue is that continuous excitement of the CBRs can cause them to not function properly on their own. This change in function is what can cause physical marijuana dependence in the brain.
Because THC can have such a brain-altering effect, people who begin using marijuana in their teen years have an even higher risk of developing an addiction. Your brain continues to develop through young adulthood. Continuously using marijuana as your brain is still developing can permanently change the function of important brain communication receptors.
Another factor is the strength of the marijuana you consume. Ongoing testing of DEA confiscated marijuana samples show that potency has been increasing steadily over the past few decades. From 1994 to 2012, the potency of THC increased from 3.5% to 12.3%. Studies have shown a link between the use of high strength marijuana and an increased risk of developing a dependence on marijuana.
How Social, Mental, and Behavioral Triggers Can Cause a Marijuana Addiction
Marijuana addiction can also stem from environmental factors. Reliance on marijuana in social settings, using it to ease mental health symptoms, and behavioral triggers can all lead to marijuana addiction.
Your Social Life’s Role in Marijuana Addiction
Many people start using marijuana in a social setting. Sharing a joint at a social event can be a way to connect with people. And it can be entirely unproblematic. However, some people can start to rely on marijuana to be able to socialize if they struggle with social anxiety or shyness.
Instead of targeting the root cause of these feelings, like a lack of confidence or low self-esteem, people use marijuana to relax and ‘turn off’ their anxieties. This may work in the short term. It could, however, lead to a marijuana addiction if you do not investigate why you need to turn off your brain to talk to people.
Another way your social life can lead to a marijuana addiction is if that’s all that your social circle does. If hanging out with friends always means using marijuana, you can develop an addiction through continuous use. Even if you notice this use beginning to cause issues in other parts of your life, it can be difficult to stop if you feel like you could lose your friends because of it.
How Using Marijuana to Cope With Mental Health Symptoms Can Lead to an Addiction
Because cannabis can induce feelings of relaxation and joy, many people use marijuana to cope with symptoms of anxiety and depression. And while low doses of marijuana can reduce stress, higher doses can actually do the opposite.
Just like with social anxiety, using marijuana to ease feelings of stress or hopelessness can lead to a dependence on the drug to regulate your emotions and reactions to life. This is why it’s more important to get to the root causes of your anxiety or depression rather than taking a drug to cope with the symptoms.
We also see people using marijuana to distract themselves from the increasingly negative effects it’s having on their lives. If you start to experience a lack of motivation from smoking too much weed that affects your performance in school, you might be tempted to use marijuana to forget these troubles. The cycle continues as the drug starts having more of an effect on your life, quickly turning into an addiction.
How Behavioral Triggers Can Lead to a Marijuana Addiction
For many people with a marijuana addiction, it becomes a necessary part of their daily routine. If you always smoke weed before you go to sleep or eat a meal, it can be hard to do those things without it.
It’s not easy to break a habit, especially one that results in a “high” feeling of happiness and relaxation. It becomes part of your day without you even having to think about it. Mindlessly using marijuana as you go about your day can easily turn casual use into an addiction.
Long-Term Side Effects of Marijuana Use
Because of the way that THC interacts with your brain and the popularity of smoking it, continuous marijuana use can have a lasting impact on your physical and mental health.
The physical effects of marijuana use are:
- Hyper-inflated lungs
- Long-term bronchitis
- Higher risk of respiratory infections like pneumonia
- Altered brain and child development in unborn babies if a parent uses marijuana while pregnant
- Lowered fertility for males and females
The mental effects of marijuana use are:
- Worse judgment
- Memory and learning issues
- Altered brain development
- Lower IQ amongst teenagers who use marijuana
- Worse performance in school and work
- Increased feelings of depression or anxiety
How to Overcome Marijuana Addiction
Like any addiction, a marijuana addiction often results from larger issues in your life like unresolved traumas. Studies have specifically shown how trauma can interact with endocannabinoid system genes leading to a higher risk of marijuana dependence. We believe by addressing these underlying issues, you can overcome your marijuana addiction.
Here at The Sanctuary, we use a variety of holistic treatment methods in a non-12-step program to assist you in recovering from your addiction. We believe that because marijuana addiction and dependence affect all aspects of your life, it’s important that your treatment does too.
Our entire program is entirely integrated with a wide range of treatments options that incorporate all aspects of holistic health–physical, energetic, nutritional, mental, and scientific.
Our Treatment Options for Marijuana Addiction at The Sanctuary
The Sanctuary’s approach to treatment is highly personalized and dependent on what you find works best for you. Our therapists will explore different treatment options with you so you can determine your own journey towards healing.
At The Sanctuary, you will meet one-on-one with therapists twice everyday for guidance, discussion, and a safe place to process. You’ll join a family-like community where each person is equal and rooting for the other. Our chefs will prepare nutritious meals for you to enjoy alongside your fellow guests and therapists.
You can take in the natural beauty of Sedona with hikes and walks. Movement therapies like yoga or tai chi allow you to reconnect with your body in a healthy, loving way. Addiction classes and small group processing sessions will help you learn more about your marijuana addiction.
We help you dig deeper into the reasons why you are using marijuana to cope with life’s traumas and stress. It’s not simply about removing the drug from your life, but about reconnecting with your life fully again.
Don’t let the widespread use of marijuana prevent you from seeking help for your marijuana addiction. Using a combination of holistic, Western, and Indigenous approaches, we can work through the underlying issues causing you to reach for marijuana to cope. That way, you won’t feel the need to “check out” from your life through marijuana.
So if you’re ready to start your journey toward healing, contact us today to learn how.
He is the Founder, Administrator, Counselor at the Sanctuary at Sedona.
He has a BA in Political Science and is currently Senior teaching staff at Four Winds Society, an international school of energy medicine. His credentials also include being an Ordained Minister; a Certified Shamanic Breathwork® Facilitator; a Founding Member Society for Shamanic Practitioners; a Member of Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology; a Member of the National Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies. [email protected]