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What is Marijuana Use Disorder & What are the Signs?

Abusing marijuana on a regular basis can lead to a marijuana use disorder, and can have numerous negative consequences.

As the most commonly abused illicit substance on record, marijuana’s classification as an illegal substance continues to be called into question considering the range of medicinal purposes this drug offers. That being so, the recreational use of marijuana produces certain harmful effects comparable to those brought on by other addictive substances like alcohol and opiates.

Marijuana use disorder exists as an official DSM-V diagnosis based on the degree of harm this drug can cause to a person’s physical and psychological well-being. While the occasional use of marijuana may pose little risk for abuse and addiction, people who use this drug on a regular basis run the risk of developing marijuana use disorder. Knowing what types of signs to watch out for can help you avoid the pitfalls that come when addictive tendencies start to take hold.

Marijuana Use Disorder Trends

Marijuana abuse rates have continued to increase through the years, with usage rates more than doubling between 2002 and 2013, according to the National Institutes of Health. Subsequently, protocols for diagnosing marijuana abuse disorder have changed accordingly.

What were once two separate disorders –marijuana abuse and marijuana dependence- have been combined under marijuana use disorder in the DSM-V or Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder. As of 2015, an estimated 2.5 percent of Americans met the criteria for marijuana use with as much of 6.3 percent having met the criteria at some point in their lifetimes.

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Marijuana’s Mechanism of Action

Marijuana Use Disorder

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and depression is an indication of marijuana use disorder.

Marijuana’s psychedelic effects bring on feelings of euphoria, sedation and relaxation, which account for much of its widespread popularity. These effects result from changes within the brain’s chemical outputs, most especially those that take place within the endocannabinoid system, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

The brain’s endocannabinoid system produces chemicals that bear a strong similarity to marijuana. This system regulates a range of central nervous system functions, including:

  • Movement
  • Pleasure
  • Concentration
  • Sensory perception
  • Coordination
  • Time perception
  • Thinking
  • Memory

The potential for developing marijuana use disorder stems from marijuana’s ability to alter the brain’s chemical system.

Signs of Marijuana Use Disorder

Signs of marijuana use disorder worsen in severity over time and ultimately play an active role in perpetuating compulsive drug-using behaviors. According to the University of Washington, users eventually reach a point where they require the drug’s effects to feel normal in terms of being able to cope with everyday life.

Is Marijuana a Psychedelic?

Signs of marijuana use disorder to watch out for include:

  • Ingesting increasingly large amounts over time
  • Loss of control over amounts used in any one sitting
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, restlessness, depression, anxiety, drug cravings
  • Continuing to use in spite of the negative consequences that result, such as relationship problems and problems on the job
  • Spending more and more time getting and using the drug


Marijuana use disorder can slowly but surely destroy a person’s life, not unlike other forms of drug abuse. While considerable changes have taken place in terms of marijuana’s legal status and medicinal uses, the recreational use of this drug nonetheless breeds addiction over time.

If you suspect you or someone you know may be struggling with marijuana use disorder and need help finding treatment that meets your needs, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-609-2774 (Who Answers?) to speak with one of our addictions specialists.

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