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Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Misuse and Addiction

Marijuana, like many other intoxicating substances, has the potential to be misused. In 2020, marijuana was the most used illicit drug in the United States with around 18% (50 million) of people using the drug within the past year.1 Statistics show that in the U.S.:1

  • 5% (14 million) of people had a past-year marijuana use disorder, a diagnostic term for marijuana addiction.
  • Young adults aged 18 to 25 were less likely than other age groups to perceive great risk of harm from smoking marijuana weekly.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with marijuana, this article discusses the signs and symptoms of marijuana use, misuse, and addiction and provides information and resources on how to get help.

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana commonly includes a mixture of dried flowers and other plant materials from the Cannabis sativa plant.2 Some of the most common ways of ingesting marijuana include smoking it in bongs, joints, pipes, or eating it in food.2 Marijuana can be infused into a variety of ingestible substances including baked goods, oil, tea, vaporizers, and wax.2

Marijuana has several sought-after intoxicating properties. Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive chemical component of marijuana responsible for many of the intoxicating effects that many medicinal and recreational marijuana users seek.2

For many, the use of marijuana may begin as recreational and remain that way. But for others, recreational use can lead to problematic use and addiction.3

Signs of a Cannabis Use Disorder

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) classifies marijuana addiction as a cannabis use disorder.4 If you are worried that you or a loved one may be misusing or addicted to marijuana, there are several physical and behavioral changes that you might recognize.

In clinical settings, cannabis use disorders are professionally diagnosed based on the presence of a person experiencing 2 or more of the following characteristic signs, symptoms, and behavioral changes within a 12-month period. As outlined by the DSM-5, these criteria include:4

  • Using marijuana over a longer period or in larger amounts than intended.
  • Wanting to cut down your marijuana use but being unable to.
  • Spending a lot of time trying to obtain marijuana, smoking marijuana, and recovering from the effects of marijuana.
  • Experiencing a strong urge or craving to use marijuana.
  • Inability to fulfill responsibilities at home, school, or work because of your marijuana use.
  • Using marijuana despite persistent interpersonal and social problems caused or worsened by the effects.
  • No longer participating in social, recreational, and occupational activities that you once enjoyed.
  • Using marijuana in dangerous situations.
  • Experiencing physical and psychological problems as a result of marijuana use.
  • Developing tolerance to marijuana (e.g., needing larger quantities of marijuana to achieve the desired effect).
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after you stop using marijuana.

Physical and Psychological Signs of Marijuana Use

As previously mentioned, a cannabis use disorder is diagnosed based on a person having met 2 or more of the 11 above criteria within a 12-month period. While the DSM-5 does not base a diagnosis on the immediate physical and psychological effects of marijuana use, there are signs you can look out for if you believe someone you care about may be using marijuana.

Based on how it is ingested, the physical signs of marijuana use can be different for each person. Some common physical signs include:5-8

  • Bloodshot eyes.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Postural hypotension and dizziness.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Laughter.
  • Altered perception of time.
  • Impaired coordination.
  • Impaired judgment.
  • Reduced reaction time.

Smoking marijuana can also impact lung functioning and health.8 Studies show that smoking marijuana can scar small pulmonary blood vessels, damage lung tissue, and increase a person’s risk of bronchitis and cough.8

There are also psychological signs of marijuana use that you can look out for. As previously mentioned, the THC found in marijuana produces the intoxicating effects that many people seek. However, marijuana use can also lead to adverse psychological effects, such as:6

  • Anxiety.
  • Distrust.
  • Panic.
  • Acute psychotic features such as paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations.
  • Loss of the sense of personal identity.

The above effects are unpleasant but temporary and are distinct from other psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.9 However, several studies suggest an association between marijuana use and an increased risk of psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and substance use disorders.9

Behavioral Signs of Marijuana Use

Marijuana has a distinct odor, and people who smoke it often smell like the drug. The smell of marijuana may be present on their belongings, clothes, and breath. You may also notice the presence of paraphernalia such as bongs and pipes.11

Individuals who use marijuana may also:10

  • Have poorer educational outcomes.
  • Be at an increased risk of committing suicide.
  • Be more likely to misuse other types of substances.
  • Have an increased risk of engaging in criminal behavior.
  • Have an increased risk of accidents and injury.

What to Do If Someone Is Showing Signs of Marijuana Misuse or Addiction

If you suspect someone you care about is exhibiting some or all of the signs of marijuana misuse or addiction, it may be time to get help. Even if they aren’t ready to get help, there are several things you can do to support them. Some things you can consider include:12, 13

  • Researching addiction. This can help you understand what your loved one is going through so you are better equipped to help them.
  • Having an honest conversation with your loved one about your concerns. Let them know that you are here to help.
  • Encouraging your loved one to speak to their doctor. It can be hard for people to listen to what their family and friends have to say about their drug use, but they may be willing to listen to a healthcare professional.
  • Researching treatment options. You can use the website from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or use the directory to find a drug rehab that suits your loved one’s needs.
  • Encouraging them to attend local peer-support groups. These groups provide support from others who are in recovery and can help be a source of inspiration and motivation for your loved one.

Remember, addiction is a treatable condition, and several types of treatment can help people change their attitudes and behavior related to their marijuana use.14 Behavioral therapies are an important component of the recovery process and can include:14

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps people identify and modify behaviors while teaching stress management and relapse prevention skills.
  • Contingency management, which offers people tangible rewards for achieving abstinence.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy, which helps increase internal motivation for change and recovery.
  • Family therapy, which helps children and teenagers address their drug use influences and patterns. Family therapy also aims to improve overall family functioning.

Getting Help for Marijuana Misuse or Addiction

Getting help for marijuana misuse or addiction can feel overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of evidence-based addiction treatment across the U.S. Our admissions navigators are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week when you contact . You can share your story, learn about treatment options, and can verify your insurance over the phone.




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