Marijuana Addiction

Yes, you can become dependent on marijuana.  Just like any drug, regular use over time can result in both physical and psychological dependence.  Clients who come to us with marijuana addiction are often addicted to other substances as well, such as anti-anxiety medications (Xanax, Valium, other benzodiazapines).  They smoke marijuana to self-medicate their mood. Unfortunately, the use of marijuana to treat symptoms of anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder can result in backlash: the user becomes more anxious or more depressed. Speak Confidentially with a Promises Scottsdale Recovery Advisor at 888-478-0036.

Although most people who occasionally use marijuana do not develop problems, just as most people who drink alcohol do not, the rate of marijuana addiction is estimated to be around 8-10% among those who use regularly over time.
Denial about dependence on marijuana is often more difficult to overcome. This is because of the long period of time THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana responsible for the “high,” is stored in the body.  Withdrawal may not kick in until about seven to 10 days after quitting use.  For this reason, many people believe they can “quit anytime I want to.”  They notice no withdrawal symptoms in the first four to six days, so they believe they are not dependent.  They begin smoking or ingesting again before the withdrawal symptoms begin.

Marijuana is the most widely used, well-known form of cannabis, a plant-based drug source also used to create two other substances called hashish and hashish oil. The social acceptability of marijuana use has spiked dramatically in recent years. However, anyone who uses the drug runs a substantial risk of developing problems with marijuana addiction. Doctors diagnose this form of addiction as part of a more broadly defined condition called cannabis use disorder.

The Basics

Like all other forms of cannabis, marijuana is typically used because of the recreational drug effects of an ingredient called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). When THC enters the brain, it boosts the levels of a chemical responsible for producing euphoria, an intense combination of pleasure and related sensations. In 20 states, it’s also legal to receive marijuana as a treatment for a range of medical conditions. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved the use of THC for a limited number of health concerns, including cancer-related nausea and AIDS-related loss of appetite. Critically, FDA approval does not extend to marijuana itself, only to certain products that contain standardized amounts of THC. As of 2014, two states (Colorado and Washington) have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

Marijuana Addiction

Popular myth holds that marijuana has no real adverse side effects when compared to alcohol or nicotine, the two most popular legal recreational substances in the U.S. However, researchers and addiction specialists know that almost 1 out of every 10 people who use marijuana will eventually develop an addiction. Like all other forms of substance addiction, marijuana addiction becomes a possibility when users’ brains undergo long-term chemical changes and start to treat continued substance use as a prerequisite for “normal” function. The people with the highest risks for addiction use marijuana on a daily basis; roughly 25 to 50 percent of these individuals will become addicts. Teenage users also have heightened addiction risks, even if they only use marijuana occasionally; about 17 percent of these users will become addicted.

Cannabis use disorder, which includes the symptoms that characterize both marijuana addiction and non-addicted marijuana abuse, was established as an official diagnosis in May 2013. It takes the place of two previous diagnoses which treated cannabis abuse and cannabis addiction as separate physical/psychological issues. A person minimally affected by cannabis use disorder only has two or three symptoms of serious impairment stemming from abuse or addiction. A person severely affected by the disorder has a maximum of 11 possible symptoms. Since marijuana, hashish and hashish oil contain the same addiction-producing substances, the cannabis use disorder diagnosis applies to problematic use of all three of these drugs.


Medication does not currently play a role in the treatment of marijuana addiction. Instead, addiction specialists treat the condition with behavioral therapies meant to change the habitual actions of recovering addicts. One therapy, called contingency management (CM), uses cash incentives or redeemable vouchers to encourage recovery program participants to discontinue marijuana intake and establish a long-term pattern of abstinence. Specific behaviors that typically merit a cash or voucher reward in CM-based programs include staying marijuana/cannabis-free, attending and actively participating in therapy sessions and following general program guidelines. Speak Confidentially with a Promises Scottsdale Recovery Advisor at 888-478-0036.

Another behavioral therapy option for people recovering from marijuana addiction is called motivational enhancement therapy (MET). This therapy employs a series of individualized counseling sessions to overcome any lingering doubts or objections that a recovering addict may have about the importance of discontinuing marijuana use. A third option, called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), seeks to identify specific situations in which stress or some other trigger leads to marijuana intake. After identifying these situations, a CBT practitioner introduces the recovering addict to healthier alternative behaviors that he or she can gradually learn to rely on instead of resorting to drug consumption.