Whether or not marijuana is addictive is an argument which is coming to a close. The DSM-5 is adding marijuana use disorder. Not a full blown addiction, marijuana use can turn into an abusive or dependent situation.

marijuana changes brain reward system

Symptoms for marijuana use disorder include:

  • Inability to function normally due to excessive cannabis use
  • Development of increasing tolerance thresholds and consequential dependence
  • Experiencing cravings for cannabis consumption
  • Symptoms of withdrawal occur without the presence of marijuana in the bloodstream
  • Withdrawal Symptoms can include:
    • Restlessness
    • Irritability
    • Anxiety
    • Anger
    • Depression
    • Difficulty Sleeping
    • Difficulty Eating

Marijuana Changes the Reward Center of the Brain

Until recently it has been difficult to attach marijuana use to the same neurological processes in addiction to other drugs. Marijuana is known to cause feelings of euphoria, suggesting that it stimulates the production of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and reward- a major culprit in the development of addiction. Researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered that long term use of marijuana does change the brain’s reward center.

Their findings reveal new information about this process. Dependence on marijuana grows out of a tolerance for the substance. Many scientists argue that marijuana is not a tolerance building drug. The UM research demonstrated that overtime, the brain will need more marijuana to get the same level of satisfaction. However, the satisfaction is not only related to previous marijuana use. More marijuana is necessary to feel a similar satisfaction to everyday rewards, like food.

More troubling than a dependency on marijuana in general, one researcher states that “This kind of suggests that marijuana may be biasing the brain’s reward system away from things the brain would normally find pleasurable.”

There are many regular marijuana users who seem uninterested in other areas of life. Unless they are under the influence of marijuana they are unable to find the pleasure in life. Without marijuana, they are not inspired to eat, go to work, or get anything done. These symptoms might not indicate addiction, but it does signify, with evidence, that marijuana dependence is possible.


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