Signs and Symptoms

In modern society, marijuana is often considered, at worst, a “gateway drug,” and generally regarded as the most harmless drug of choice. However, marijuana addiction can and does take place – though experts generally agree that its components are mainly psychological. Despite this, the effects of marijuana as it enters the body – let alone after years of continued use – can have destructive effects on lifestyle, personality and overall health. Learning to spot the signs of marijuana usage can help loved ones encourage marijuana-addicted individuals to seek treatment for substance abuse and mental health counseling.

Psychological Signs of Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana initiates changes in neurotransmitters in the brain – specifically affecting a cannabinoid called anandamide – via marijuana’s introduction of tetrohydrocannabinol (THC) to the system. As THC binds with cannabinoid receptors, the nervous system becomes affected – including the brain’s abilities for learning, cognition and recall. With repeated marijuana usage, the brain’s reward pathways also become activated, leading to associations between pleasure and use of the drug. Users tend to experience euphoria, reduced inhibitions and hyperarousal throughout the body when these pathways become activated by marijuana use. The following psychological signs of marijuana addiction can eventually develop, causing compromises of mood, personality and cognitive function.

  • Unexplained Laughter
    Under the influence of marijuana, many users find themselves exploding into fits of laughter – often for extended periods of time – after being exposed to stimuli that is generally mundane.
  • Altered Attention Span
    Marijuana can affect attention span in two ways – both the continued over-focusing on the mundane, and the inability to focus on a single task, conversational topic or activity.
  • Compromised Coordination
    Many marijuana users experience a loss of nimbleness and coordination, frequently dropping objects, experiencing slowed muscle movements or displaying lowered agility in general.
  • Lowered Cognition
    Over time and with repeated use, marijuana affects cognitive ability, making learning processes more difficult and causing complex concepts to become more difficult to grasp. Academic and cognitive performance and speed have been shown to be at least temporarily affected by marijuana usage.
  • Memory Loss
    Marijuana has become notorious for causing short-term memory loss in addicted individuals. Verbal memory becomes particularly affected, and the formation of short-term memories – and their recall – are often compromised by chronic marijuana use. However, most studies have shown that these effects on short-term memory can be reversed when sobriety is achieved.
  • Disrupted Mood Regulation
    Because marijuana affects mood, many individuals will experience an overall descent in mood over time and use. Depression, anxiety attacks and even lethargy can set in as marijuana addiction takes hold.
  • Amotivational Syndrome
    In some cases, marijuana use can result in a condition known as Amotivational Syndrome, leaving marijuana users socially reclusive, and experiencing difficulties with both focus and the ability to take action.

Physical and Sensory Signs of Marijuana Addiction

Of course, as a drug, marijuana affects the bodies of chronic users and addicted individuals. From short-term signals of marijuana dependency to long-term hazards of use, the body provides many cues that a marijuana addiction may be present.

  • Marijuana Smoke Scent
    Marijuana smoke has an unmistakable scent, mainly described as sickly sweet in nature.
  • Presence of Marijuana Paraphernalia
    Marijuana-addicted individuals rarely travel without marijuana itself, and the tools that enable smoking. For the most part, these include rolling papers (to create joints), lighters, zip-lock baggies (in which marijuana is sold), matches, grinders (for pulverizing the marijuana leaves to enable easier rolling), bongs or water pipes, glass pipes and small screens (to prevent ingestion of ash). 
  • Dental Problems
    Because marijuana causes dry mouth, marijuana users can experience a host of related dental complications. From gum disease to tooth decay (or even tooth loss), marijuana users can quickly compromise their dental health.
  • Eye Irritation
    Due to the exposure to marijuana smoke, chronic eye irritation can occur, usually signified by red, itchy eyes after smoking.
  • Obesity and Weight Gain
    Binge eating is often associated with marijuana addiction, as the body undergoes a heightened appetite when marijuana use takes place. This phenomenon, colloquially called “the munchies,” comes from THC – marijuana’s active ingredient – and its ability to affect regions of the brain associated with hunger. As a result, marijuana-addicted individuals quickly find they are unintentionally gaining weight, both from the types of high-calorie, high-fat, high-carb foods craved during a marijuana high and the practice of binge eating. As a result, cardiac health, blood pressure and even stroke risk can be increased in chronic marijuana users.
  • Skin Wrinkles
    Marijuana restricts the flow of oxygen to the skin. As a result, chronic marijuana smokers may find themselves displaying premature wrinkles.
  • Cannabis Arteritis
    Due to restrictions in oxygen in the bloodstream, marijuana-addicted individuals can develop cannabis arteritis, a condition of inflammation in the extremities. In severe cases, blood clots can develop, leading to ulcerations. In cases of cannabis arteritis that go unchecked, gangrene can even develop, threatening the partial or total loss of hands or feet.
  • Emphysema and Smoker’s Cough
    Many marijuana-addicted individuals fail to acknowledge that marijuana smoke is at least as – if not more harmful – puff for puff than cigarette smoke. Many marijuana smokers develop emphysema, smoker’s cough, chronic bronchitis and even raise their risk for lung cancer as the result of habitual marijuana smoking.

Unexplained Reproductive Problems

Marijuana can cause a host of reproductive problems, from menstrual cycle changes in women to sexual performance problems in men. The formation of male breasts (gynecomastia) is also associated with habitual marijuana use.