Marijuana and its use for different purposes are common topics of debate across the country. As more and more states legalize the drug for medicinal use and, more recently, for recreational use, Americans are attempting to sift through the myths and propaganda from either side and determine the truth.

The fact is that an estimated nine percent of those who use marijuana for any reason will develop a dependence upon the drug, according to the journal Addiction Science & Clinical Practice. Addiction to any illicit substance is devastating to the user, causing problems in every area of life, including:

  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Social function
  • Relationships at home
  • Job and career
  • Financial standing
  • Legal standing

If your loved one chronically abuses marijuana, don’t take the issue lightly. There are treatment measures that can help someone unable to manage their use of the drug to learn healthier coping mechanisms and learn to live a drug-free life. Here at Black Bear Lodge, we can help. Call now.

How Marijuana Works

The active ingredient in marijuana is called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and this chemical takes effect in the brain almost immediately. When smoked, THC travels through the lungs into the bloodstream and to the brain where it attaches to cannabinoid receptors and alters the user’s ability to:

  • Perceive time accurately
  • Concentrate
  • Think clearly
  • React quickly

Effects can last for up to three hours when smoked or up to four hours if consumed in food.

Side Effects

There are a number of consequences of marijuana abuse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). These can occur while under the influence of the drug, last well after the drug has worn off, or turn into long-term or permanent changes.

Under the influence:
  • Loss of short-term memory
  • Higher heart rate
  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Impaired judgment
  • Psychotic episodes
Lasting after the drug wears off:
  • Ongoing memory problems
  • Ongoing difficulty learning and retaining new information
  • Sleep disruption
  • Difficulty relaxing
Long-term:
  • Marijuana dependence
  • Higher rate of bronchitis or chronic coughing
  • Higher rate of schizophrenia among those who exhibit other risk factors for the illness
  • Increased rate of mental health issues

Does Marijuana Abuse Cause Mental Illness?

There is usually no one specific cause for the development of a mental illness, but there are a number of mental health issues that can result from or be worsened by the abuse of marijuana, according to the journal The Lancet. These issues can include:

  • Later development of psychosis
  • Worsening of mental health symptoms in those already living with a disorder
  • Increased risk of the development of a number of mental health disorders (e.g., anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, suicidal thoughts, amotivational syndrome, and others)

Potency

Part of the problem with marijuana abuse is that the THC levels of marijuana have steadily increased over the past three decades, according to a study published in the Journal of Forensic Science. What does this mean?

  • Though the effects of the version of marijuana commonly smoked in the 1970s may have been relatively harmless, today’s version of the drug is far more potent and potentially overwhelming to users.
  • There are no long-term studies available to accurately determine how use of today’s marijuana will impact users after chronic abuse, especially if levels of THC continue to rise.
  • Because the effects of the drug are so long lasting and intense, users are more likely to fall victim to an accident while under the influence or end up in the emergency room as a result of use.
  • Use of the drug during the teen years when the brain is still actively developing can be far more devastating today than it was to users in past decades.
  • The rate of addiction among experimental users may increase due to the higher potency levels.

Drugged Driving

Though the fact that alcohol use impairs the driver’s ability to respond effectively to unexpected situations on the road is well known, many don’t realize that using marijuana before driving can be just as dangerous. A study published in the journal Accident, Analysis and Prevention found that the diminished faculties of drivers under the influence of marijuana caused an increased risk of accident.

NIDA reports a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistic stating that drugs other than alcohol are a part of about 18 percent of car accident deaths. They also cite a survey that found that almost seven percent of drivers involved in car crashes had THC in their systems.

Does Marijuana Impair Cognitive Function?

Not only does marijuana have an impact on cognitive function while the user is still under its influence, but that impact lasts for days after the drug wears off, according to a study published in the journal Current Drug Abuse Reviews. The bad news is that adults continue to suffer from cognitive impairment for up to a week after using the drug, but the good news is that normal cognitive functioning often returns after a month or more of abstinence depending upon the length of time spent actively and regularly abusing the substance in large amounts.

Another factor in the long-term effects on users’ cognitive function is the age of first use. The earlier that someone begins using marijuana regularly, the more intense and long-lasting is the loss of cognitive ability. Of course, the earlier someone gets treatment to stop using marijuana, the more quickly they will return to a healthy state.

Marijuana Abuse and Addiction

Regular abuse of any drug, including marijuana, can ultimately lead to the development of an addiction to that substance. Characterized by both psychological cravings for the substance and physical symptoms (e.g., illness) when without it, addicts are unable to stop using their drug of choice for any length of time. Those who are addicted to marijuana may:

  • Lie about how often they use the drug or how much they use when they get high
  • Be unable to do certain things (e.g., relax, enjoy themselves, go to sleep, calm down, etc.) without using marijuana
  • Be disinterested in doing things they used to enjoy before starting to use marijuana
  • Use other drugs in combination with marijuana
  • Make poor choices while under the influence (e.g., miss work, avoid household management tasks like paying bills, have unprotected sex, ignore children, drive recklessly, etc.)
  • Develop health problems related to their use of marijuana
  • Continue to use marijuana despite the existence of any or all of these marijuana use-related consequences

When someone is unable to stop using marijuana even when they try despite the fact that their lives are changing in negative ways, it’s clear that addiction is an issue and immediate treatment is necessary.

Can Marijuana Abuse Be Treated?

Yes. Though the consequences of marijuana abuse may not be as varied or overwhelming as the consequences of addiction, those who need help getting back on track will benefit from learning the coping mechanisms taught in drug rehab. Additionally, addressing underlying mental health issues and trauma can decrease cravings for marijuana and prevent a return to marijuana abuse.

Treatment Options for Marijuana Abuse

Evidence-based treatment options can help those who struggle with marijuana abuse to become drug-free and stay that way for the long term. This involves accomplishing a number of steps that allow the patient to stabilize physically and mentally and then learning how to maintain a sense of balance going forward so they can avoid relapse.

Treatment options include:
  • Detox. Some people experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop smoking marijuana. Especially if there are underlying medical or mental health issues, these withdrawal symptoms can cause complications. It’s important to have medical assistance at the ready.
  • Evaluation. For many people, marijuana abuse is just one of many issues that require treatment. In fact, many people attempt to self-medicate social anxiety, stress, depression and relationship problems through use of the drug. Identifying these issues is the first step in treating them, and treating them can decrease the risk of relapse.
  • Intensive therapeutic program. From personal therapy to group therapy to a range of alternative therapies, a personalized treatment program can improve the patient’s ability to manage stress, mitigate triggers to use marijuana, and learn how to avoid returning to substance abuse.
  • Regular assessment and update. A treatment plan is created based on the needs identified through the initial evaluation, but over time, progress will create the need to update and change that plan. Some therapies may be intensified and others switched out for other options. Regular assessment is necessary to ensure that the patient is moving steadily toward stability.
  • Treatment for co-occurring disorders. If there are other issues identified during the evaluation process in addition to substance abuse, these too should be actively addressed during the rehabilitation process. Some therapies perform double duty and help patients conquer both problems at once, and in many cases, specific and directed treatment will be necessary to effectively treat the underlying issue as well.
  • Extensive aftercare. The longer the patient can stay actively enrolled in a range of treatment programs that allow them to continually progress along their path to recovery, the more likely it is that he or she will remain dedicated to sobriety for the long term.

Getting Your Loved One the Help to Heal

If your loved one is struggling with marijuana use and abuse, your family is not alone. According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, marijuana was determined to be the most commonly abused illicit substance in the country, with as many as 17.4 million Americans reporting use of the drug in the past month. The survey also found that marijuana was used by more than 76 percent of current drug users and the only drug of abuse for 60 percent of them.

Though the problem may seem overwhelming, especially when so many people are living with it, the fact is that effective treatment can give patients the tools to recover. Here at Black Bear Lodge, we offer an intensive, evidence-based treatment program that can help your loved one heal. Through the use of a personalized treatment plan that highlights therapeutic interventions chosen based on their ability to help your addicted family member heal, your loved one can not only put drug use of all kinds in the past but begin working toward a more balanced future.

You can help them on the road to recovery when you pick up the phone today. Call us now and learn more about our program and determine what will work best for your loved one. Call today.