Dependence on Marijuana

This information was prepared by the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre in Australia, and used with permission.  Some information may not be accurate for U.S. readers.

Typically, people who use marijuana do not progress to using the drug regularly, or for long periods of time. Most will experiment every now and then with marijuana during adolescence and early adulthood and stop using once they are in their mid-to-late 20s. However, some people will use marijuana for longer and more often, and become dependent on the drug. Historically, marijuana was not seen as a drug of dependence in the same way as heroin or alcohol, but marijuana dependence is now well recognised in the scientific community.

What is Marijuana Dependence?

Dependence on marijuana means that the person needs to use marijuana just to feel 'normal'. In order to be diagnosed as marijuana dependent, a person needs to experience at least three of the following in the one year:

What are the Consequences of Being Dependent on Marijuana?

People who are dependent on marijuana are at a higher risk of suffering from the negative consequences of using the drug, such as short term memory impairment, mental health problems and respiratory diseases (if marijuana is smoked). Regular use and dependence also leads to problems with finances, conflict in relationships with family and friends, and employment problems.

How Many People Become Dependent on Marijuana?

It has been estimated that there are at least 200,000 people dependent on marijuana in Australia. About one in ten people who have tried marijuana at least once in their lifetimes will become dependent on the drug. The more often you use marijuana the more likely you are to become dependent. If someone uses marijuana everyday, then they have a 50/50 chance of becoming dependent. Young people develop marijuana dependence more quickly than adults.

Who are Most at Risk of Being Dependent on Marijuana?

The earlier a person starts using marijuana, and the more they use, the more likely they are to become dependent. Studies have shown that males are more likely than females to be dependent on marijuana.

What are the Symptoms of Marijuana Withdrawal?

One of the most common symptoms of marijuana dependence is the experience of discomfort when ceasing use known as withdrawal. Studies with marijuana users who have recently quit report that withdrawal symptoms start on the first day, usually peak in the first two to three days, and with the exception of sleep disturbance, are usually very mild by the sixth day.

The most common symptoms include:

Even though these symptoms are not life threatening, they can be distressing enough for the person trying to stop smoking marijuana, to start using again.

Is There Any Treatment for Marijuana Dependence?

There are a number of treatment options available for marijuana-dependent people to cut down or quit. Studies have shown that even a single session with a counselor can assist the marijuana-dependent person to bring about significant improvements in their level of use and wellbeing. The intensity of treatment depends on the individual circumstances, some people respond to general education and information about managing craving and high risk situations for relapse, others may even need inpatient management for marijuana withdrawal and rehabilitation. As yet, there are no effective pharmacological treatments to help reduce marijuana withdrawal symptoms or to block the effects of marijuana, although studies are underway.