In the Weeds: Marijuana Addiction
Marijuana addiction often catches people by surprise because of the widespread belief that marijuana is not habit forming, and because it is medicinally useful.
Marijuana really is significantly less destructive to the human organism than many psychoactive substances, including many mainstream pharmaceuticals, and an abundance of health claims have been linked to use of cannabis in natural healing. When marijuana is used for its healing properties, it can indeed be a friend to mankind.
Even when used not as medicine, but for recreation, marijuana is not a particularly violent substance. Campaigns against marijuana which sought in the past to demonize any use, such as the infamous Reefer Madness propaganda film from 1936, failed in part because of the fact that they are not accurate to people’s experiences with the substance.
Partly due to its associations with countercultural movements, marijuana’s negative aspects have historically been vastly overstated by the establishment. For example, marijuana sits in the same class as heroin, as a Schedule I controlled substance, while the far more deadly benzodiazepines are classed Schedule IV. This is just silly, and any drug education program which equates heroin with marijuana in terms of deadliness and addiction potential is doing a disservice, whatever its intentions may have been, because it departs from the truth.
As many people now know, marijuana is a much friendlier, less invasive, but still mood-altering substance, which many people find they can safely use in moderation without developing addiction. The withdrawals, although they do exist, are not life threatening (whereas alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal are), and overdose isn’t either.
However, anything that provides pleasure can be addictive, as research and anecdotal evidence has shown. Just look at process addictions, such as gambling addiction and love addiction, where people get ensnared in behavior patterns they find they can’t stop on their own, even though no psychoactive substance is being consumed. If we can get attached and eventually addicted to behaviors that simply feel pleasurable, it should not come as a surprise that, contrary to popular belief, marijuana is addictive.
Not all people become addicted to marijuana, and generally speaking, occasional, medicinal or recreational use represents a low risk of addiction. Whereas some substances are highly addictive, and develop conditions of tolerance, withdrawal and dependence fairly rapidly – for example it is sometimes said that a single heroin use can create an addict – marijuana addiction is slower to develop.
It does develop, nevertheless, and marijuana abuse is likely to turn into marijuana addiction if ingested daily and over a long period of time.
Women typically use marijuana daily and chronically when it is an important tool for them to handle their lives, whether because it helps them to sleep, relax, or because they need help to simply feel better in their own skin. Women have a variety of reasons for coming to rely on substances, but typically when they are self-medicating in a long term, rather than short term way, they would really be better off adjusting the underlying conditions than continuing to turn to substances (which eventually stop working and create problems in the body, mind, spirit and community).
Marijuana, when it is overused, or used in a way that is not fully in keeping with nature’s intention for this plant, has negative effects on physiology and on psychology. Especially when smoked, marijuana has detrimental impacts on the respiratory system, and on heart rate, increasing the risk of lung diseases and heart problems. Memory is typically impaired by chronic use, and sleep becomes increasingly disturbed. Many people get caught by the addiction trap around the issue of insomnia – seeking relief from the physical and psychological discomforts of sleepless, anxious nights, they ingest a substance which actually reinforces the presence of insomnia in the long term.
On the psychological plane, long term marijuana use creates an ever deeper presence of anxiety, depression, paranoia, and in some cases, psychosis. As is the case with many drugs, when chronically used the euphoria that marijuana initially provides turns into its opposite pole, anhedonia – the inability to experience natural pleasure. A loss of motivation, and an increasing desire to isolate, as well as a tendency to center social life around marijuana use typically accompanies marijuana addiction. Lifestyle effects can include erosion in relationships with loved ones, as well as decline in ambition and agency (the desire and ability to take positive action in one’s life).
Marijuana use, when frequent and heavy under the age of 18, can actually be quite damaging to neurobiology and will likely lead to a predisposition to experiment overly with, and also possibly become mixed up with, other more seriously destructive substances. In that sense, the idea that it is a gateway drug turns out to be accurate for some, especially if underage abuse of the substance is severe.
Also, the use of marijuana when attempting to recover from another substance, such as alcohol, prescriptions, or drugs, is not endorsed by recovery communities because it almost always results in an uncontrolled backslide into addictive use of the original problematic substance. Many relapses have begun with the hope that marijuana, because it is not particularly addictive for many people, can be used safely by a recovering addict of another substance. Usually the recovering person finds out the hard way that this is not the case.
For a woman who has become addicted to marijuana, it’s important to understand that it doesn’t really matter whether marijuana is or isn’t objectively addictive for everyone – the relevant question is whether it’s addictive for her.
Typical signs of marijuana addiction include the classics: tolerance (needing more amounts of the substance to get the same effect), withdrawals (feeling bad, anxious, sick to your stomach on days when you don’t use), using the drug to cope with normal life rather than for celebration or joy, changes in lifestyle to suit drug use, decline in social life, and loss of personal will power. Loss of personal willpower is usually evidenced by committing to yourself or someone else that you will cut down, only to find that you are unable to do so or “change your mind” next time the substance is in front of you.
There is an entire 12 Step Program, Marijuana Anonymous, dedicated to the very real possibility of marijuana addiction. The rise and proliferation of more and more concentrated forms of cannabis and cannabinoid substances may also be linked to the need for new entries in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which now includes diagnoses related to cannabis use, dependence and withdrawal.
For a woman who undertakes to free herself from marijuana addiction, she can expect to experience healing of her anxiety, her depression, motivation and engagement struggles, as well as recover her memory, correct her sleep patterns, and in general have a “clearer signal” going on in her intelligence stream. Her vitality has been, if you’ll pardon the pun, blunted by marijuana use. In recovery she enjoys a return to a more sparkling, fresh, alive version of consciousness, as she retrieves herself from the muddiness of being off in the weeds.
Especially if she undergoes a spiritual transformation from within as a part of recovering her freedom, this woman will find that she does not need a substance to induce feelings of peace, connection, enjoyment of life, or to soften the edges of her challenging experiences into something more manageable.
If marijuana addiction is playing a part in your life, please know that you are welcome here within the walls of Villa Kali Ma. Your particular healing path can be discovered and unfolded here, with support, kindness, and respect for all the twists and turns of your unique soul’s path back to a pure, vital clarity.