Is Marijuana Addiction Physical or Psychological?

Even though marijuana is one of the most commonly used substances globally, many people fail to realize the severity of marijuana abuse. Many marijuana users insist that they can function well with or without the drug. This belief has caused some to wonder whether marijuana is actually addictive.

Understanding marijuana — and the differences between physical and psychological dependence on the drug — can help people better understand how marijuana can, in fact, negatively impact their life. Acknowledging these facts can help them break free of physical or psychological ties to the substance and help them get the treatment they may need.

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana is a green, brown, or gray mix of dried leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds from the cannabis-sativa plant. The plant, which is native to Central Asia, contains chemicals that can interact with the brain and change mood and consciousness. The chemical in marijuana that primarily interacts with brains and causes mind-altering effects is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.

Even though most people smoke marijuana as a cigarette (which is called a joint), there are several different ways people consume marijuana, including:

  • Smoking it in a dry or water pipe, known as a “bong”
  • Mixing it in food and eating it
  • Brewing it as a tea
  • Smoking oils from the plant, known as “dabbing”
  • Using electronic vaporizers, known as “vaping”

Since THC is a psychoactive substance, people who use marijuana usually feel the drug’s effects shortly after consumption. Marijuana is known to affect the parts of the brain responsible for memory, concentration, coordination, balance, posture, logical thinking, and reaction time. As a result, the drug can cause poor coordination, a dreamy, unrealistic state of mind, and altered perception of space and time within the first 30 minutes of use. These temporary effects can last anywhere from 2 to 3 hours.

When people consume marijuana in foods and beverages, THC has to pass through the digestive system before people can feel the effects, which tend to appear 30 minutes to an hour after consumption. Because of this, people looking for immediate results can unintentionally consume more marijuana than they intended. When the effects do occur, they can last for several hours.

Some of the more common street names for marijuana include “Pot,” “Reefer,” “Weed,” “Herb,” “Aunt Mary,” “Chronic,” “Dope,” “Ganja,” “Grass,” “Hash,” “Joint,” “Mary Jane,” “Skunk,” “Smoke,” and “Yerba.”

Short and Long-Term Effects of Marijuana

Marijuana, like most substances, can have short-term and long-term effects on the body.

Some of the short-term effects of marijuana include:

  • Altered senses, including seeing brighter colors
  • Altered sense of time, such as minutes seeming like hours
  • Unexplained mood changes
  • Difficulty thinking, problem-solving, and memory
  • Increased appetite and food cravings
  • Short attention span
  • Problems with movement

Larger doses of marijuana can cause:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Lack of spatial awareness
  • Anxiety attacks and paranoid feelings
  • Depression

When used for more extended periods, marijuana can cause several health problems, including:

  • Excessive coughing and difficulty breathing
  • A weakened immune system, since the THC in marijuana, can damage cells and tissue in the body responsible for fighting off disease
  • Cognitive impairments, including trouble thinking, remembering, and learning
  • Lung infections such as pneumonia or chronic bronchitis
  • Cancer, since marijuana smoke can contain the same cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke
  • Birth defects in unborn children and increased risk of infertility. Chronic marijuana use can decrease reproductive hormones in men and women. Excessive marijuana use can also lead to irregular periods, reduced sperm count, and erectile dysfunction.

Long-term marijuana use can also lead to addiction.

Understanding Marijuana Addiction and Withdrawal

Even though some states have legalized marijuana, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) recognize marijuana as an addictive drug.

Marijuana can be addictive because of the way that the drug interacts with the brain. THC has a chemical structure similar to anandamide, a neurotransmitter that influences physiological systems in the body, such as pain, pleasure, and reward. Because of this, THC works similarly.

Once it enters the bloodstream, THC attaches to molecules called cannabinoid receptors in the brain. When this happens, brain activity changes, triggering marijuana’s short-term effects. Since the brain likes to repeat pleasurable experiences, it develops a desire for marijuana that can lead to problematic use and dependence.

When people become dependent on marijuana, they experience withdrawal symptoms whenever they’re not taking the drug. This doesn’t happen to everyone, but some people who use marijuana frequently feel irritable, moody, and restless when they aren’t using the substance. Other common symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Cravings for marijuana
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Stomach pain
  • Flu-like symptoms such as sweating, shakiness, tremors, fever, and chills

Often, people turn to more marijuana to find relief from these symptoms, which can last for up to 2 weeks. Sadly, this pattern of behavior can increase the risk of developing an addiction to marijuana.

When individuals are unable to stop using marijuana, they may have an addiction to the drug. Common signs of marijuana addiction include:

  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they aren’t consuming marijuana
  • Needing more marijuana to achieve the same effects
  • Avoiding activities you used to enjoy because you’d rather use marijuana
  • Using marijuana in larger amounts than intended
  • Using marijuana so often that you don’t complete important tasks
  • Thinking about cutting back or stopping marijuana use but being unable to

Is Marijuana Physically or Psychologically Addictive?

Despite popular opinion, addiction doesn’t have to be physical. In fact, addiction is an umbrella term that refers to the continued use of a substance despite harmful consequences and behaviors. The reality is that some addictions are physical, while others are psychological.

Physical vs. Psychological Addiction

Physical addictions occur when people use a substance so often that the body can no longer function properly without that substance. This inability to function appropriately often triggers physical symptoms that can also lead to emotional symptoms.

Psychological or emotional addictions are different. People with psychological addictions have a perceived need to use substances like marijuana. This type of addiction depends on an emotional or mental attachment to marijuana. People with a psychological addiction feel strongly compelled to seek out and use marijuana. When they don’t, they can experience volatile emotions.

Marijuana Addiction Is Mostly Psychological

Many people using marijuana develop a psychological addiction to the substance. Even though withdrawal symptoms can happen, users more often experience psychological dependence and addiction. The root of psychological addiction can be different for everyone, but this type of addiction often looks like the following:

  • Using marijuana to escape problems
  • Using marijuana to be creative or feel relaxed
  • Using marijuana to fall asleep quickly and peacefully

If individuals don’t consume marijuana, most of them won’t experience direct physical symptoms. That’s why the majority of marijuana withdrawal symptoms are emotional, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • An inability to think clearly
  • Mood swings
  • Obsessive thoughts

All of these symptoms indicate a psychological, not physical, addiction.

Break Free Of A Psychological Addiction To Marijuana

People often assume that marijuana is harmless. Yet many people live with a psychological addiction to marijuana. Whether you experience physical symptoms of marijuana withdrawal or not, if you can’t stop using the substance, something isn’t right. You don’t need marijuana to feel relaxed, sleep well, or calm down. The fact that you feel this way may mean that you have an unhealthy emotional attachment to marijuana. We can help you overcome that emotional compulsion. Let us help you break free of marijuana for good. Contact Meta Addiction Treatment today to speak to one of our recovery experts.