Do People Go to Rehab for Weed?
Marijuana is divisive. People have very strident opinions when it comes to answering the basic questions about marijuana—should it be legalized, is it dangerous, is it addictive, is it even a drug? Those who remember the 1930s documentary Reefer Madness (introduced anew to teen audiences in the 1970s) still laugh at its melodramatic attempt to deter teen experimentation with cannabis. All well-intentioned goals aside, the fact that, decades after that ridiculous attempt to persuade America’s youth not to smoke weed was produced and distributed, there continue to be sharply divided lines between those who consider marijuana a harmless, natural substance and those who consider it an addictive drug. Marijuana remains controversial.
Marijuana comes in third, after alcohol and tobacco, for the number of individuals who regularly use addictive substances. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association, in 2014 over 22 million people over age 12 reported using marijuana in the last month. Of them, 4.2 million met the diagnostic criteria for cannabis use disorder.
Now that several states, with more to surely come, have legalized marijuana use for adults aged 21 and older, the stakes seem higher. Colorado, where pot was legalized in 2012, has seen a spike in marijuana related fatal crashes in the years since. In fact, according to the Denver Post, the number of individuals involved in a fatal automobile accident that tested positive for marijuana jumped from 47 in 2013 to 115 in 2016, representing a 145% increase. In contrast, the number of drivers who tested positive for alcohol use rose 17%.
There are still many Americans who do not consider marijuana a drug at all, or if it is seen as a drug, many do not believe it is addictive when compared with alcohol, opiates, meth, cocaine, and other drugs. This is a dangerous assumption, especially with a substantial increase in the THC quality and potency in current cannabis products. Compared with pot containing just 3.8% THC in the 1990s, states the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), THC levels in 2014 were 12.2%. Compared to pot from the 1970s, today’s marijuana is about 65% more potent. Further, NIDA states that marijuana extract, used as a tincture or in vaping, can contain 50%-80% THC. This highly concentrated cannabis can cause hallucinations, paranoia, distortion of time and perceptions, confusion, and even unconsciousness.
So, It’s Potent, but Is Marijuana Addictive?
An addiction—with any substance that impairs functioning and interacts with neurotransmitters—occurs when the individual develops physical or psychological traits consistent with a compulsion to obtain and use the substance. When the individual is no longer able to resist using the drug, regardless of the ongoing negative consequences experienced, and experiences withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop, they have likely developed a marijuana use disorder or addiction.
It is estimated that about 9% of the people who regularly use marijuana become addicted.
There is also evidence that points to a higher incidence of marijuana addiction among those who began using pot as young teens. Of this segment, 17% become dependent on the drug.
Marijuana abuse can particularly develop into a psychological addiction. This kind of emotional or cognitive addiction occurs after an extended period of use of marijuana to help manage issues such as sleep disorder or social anxiety. Symptoms of psychological dependence on marijuana begin to emerge when the individual truly believes they will not be able to fall asleep without the drug, or can’t possibly function at a work-related function unless stoned, etc.
Because of this cognitive connection to the drug, marijuana becomes ultra-important to daily living. Addictive behaviors, such as obsessing over obtaining the drug, cravings for the drug, anxiety that results when contemplating not having the drug or enough of it available to manage whatever issue, irritability when not under the influence, and being unable to discontinue using marijuana all point to a psychological dependence.
Rehab for Marijuana Addiction
Just as when receiving treatment for any other substance use disorder, someone with a marijuana addiction will need to undergo therapy to learn how to live life without this drug. The reason for the title of this article, “Do People Go To Rehab for Weed?,” is due to the misconception that somehow marijuana addiction or dependency is not an authentic diagnosis. In fact, people who seek treatment for their marijuana dependency are sometimes ostracized, as if they are weaklings who don’t really reach the standard of having a real drug problem, such as with heroin or alcoholism.
The reality is that becoming dependent on marijuana can completely undermine daily functioning and quality of life. People who are addicted to marijuana can find themselves slaves to the drug, needing to use it continuously throughout the day just to manage stress and anxiety. Their world revolves around weed, and they simply cannot function without it. Whether marijuana is a “soft” drug versus a hard drug like meth or heroin, it is still causing major disruption in the person’s life and requires treatment to break free of it.
As with other drugs of abuse, marijuana use disorder can cause the following symptoms:
- Drug cravings
- Hoarding the drug
- Risk-taking behaviors while under the influence
- Prioritizing marijuana use over social activities or work
- Increased tolerance, leading to higher consumption of the drug
- Inability to stop using the drug
- Needing to use the drug daily or several times per day
Long-term effects of marijuana abuse can include respiratory problems, including a chronic cough or lung infections, chronic anxiety, risk to cardiovascular health, memory issues, loss of motivation, and can impair a fetus’s brain if used during pregnancy.
What to Expect in Rehab for Marijuana Addiction
When the individual seeks treatment for the marijuana dependency they may have been using the drug for many years. In fact, the majority of people seeking treatment have used for ten years or more. After the initial assessment, treatment for marijuana dependency includes:
- Detoxification. Withdrawal symptoms can include stomach pain, anxiety, sleep disturbance, irritability, mood swings, cravings, decreased appetite, depression, and physical pain.
- Therapy. Individual and group therapy help teach the individual new ways of coping with the stressors that otherwise invoke the need for the drug. These therapies include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and motivational enhancement therapy. These involve changing behavioral patterns and learning coping skills and stress reduction practices that can lead to new ways to manage stress without the need for the drug.
- Aftercare. After completing the inpatient or outpatient treatment program, the individual will benefit from ongoing weekly counseling and participation in a recovery group.
The bottom line is that, yes, people do go to rehab to receive treatment for a marijuana addiction, whether it be physical or psychological. The earlier the intervention is made, the better the outcome, so do not hesitate to seek treatment if you feel you have acquired a marijuana dependency.
About the Author
Marissa Katrin Maldonado has been working in the behavioral healthcare industry for over 12 years. She is the founder of The Treatment Specialist, a national online resource and helpline for those seeking treatment and rehab for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, addiction, and most mental health conditions. Dedicated to guiding individuals to the help they seek, Marissa believes that with the right support and guidance, those struggling will have the opportunity to turn their lives around and enjoy a healthy and happy life. She is a proud mother and wife and enjoys long distance running, traveling, and music.