Marijuana Addiction and Its Effects on Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Health

Many people are under the false impression that marijuana addiction is less serious and harmful than other addictions, and unfortunately, this has led to some level of acceptance in a lot of the population. We see a very disturbing and dangerous trend, even within our weekly sitcoms on TV, promoting the use and acceptance of marijuana and painting it in a light of humor. 

Marijuana Addiction

For example, I quit watching Two and a Half Men, because of their blatant scenes with teenagers smoking marijuana, and I was forced to give up on 2 Broke Girls because of their frequent focus on marijuana use, which was very disappointing, because I used to enjoy both of these shows. I don't think this is the message that our sitcoms should be carrying. Gone are the days when good values were promoted in our evening TV shows.

Unfortunately, even many practitioners in the alternative health field and some paleo minded people, embrace the use of marijuana (i.e. cannabis) for a variety of health conditions. 

This distorted perception is largely because in comparison to the effects of other drugs like cocaine, heroin, meth, crack and even alcohol, that are very obvious to everyone around them, the effects of marijuana addiction are less apparent and thus gives the illusion that it has less life-damaging impact.

There are no hangovers to contend with, people don't typically die or overdose from smoking pot, there is not an increase in propensity for violence or criminal behavior and there is less deterioration in physical health, than we see in alcohol or other drug addiction. It appears on the surface that there are less negative consequences with marijuana addiction, but that is not really the case.  Marijuana is no different than any other mind-altering drug.

As anyone who has been addicted to marijuana knows, she is a master of sweet seduction and deception. Her effects are much more subtle and difficult to put your finger on, which in some ways makes it more dangerous. It happens slowly and you don't even realize it until it's too late. Most of the consequences are experienced on an internal level of the user, largely in the psychological, cognitive, and spiritual arenas.
At one time, even addiction treatment centers believed that marijuana was not addictive. When I was in treatment for alcohol and drug addiction in 1988, the consensus was that marijuana wasn't addictive on a physiological level, but I knew better, because it had been my one of my beloved drugs of choice for many years and was just as difficult to give up as the alcohol and benzodiazepines.

What we know now is that marijuana does indeed affect neurotransmitters in the brain, is highly addictive, results in significant changes in perceptions, moods, and behavior, stunts psychospiritual growth and maturity, and diminishes our ability to function optimally in the world, like any other psychotropic substance.

Not only that, marijuana impairs memory and cognitive functioning, disrupts hormones, and is significantly higher in tar than nicotine, which means an increased risk of emphysema.

How Marijuana Addiction Develops

In your brain, you have a type of neurotransmitter called endocannabinoids. The one that is most well understood is anandamide. The word anandamide was taken from Sanskrit, an ancient ceremonial language of India, which loosely means "bliss" or "delight." The word (endo) is short for (endogenous) which means originating within the body. In other words, endocannabinoids, are cannabinoids that originate in the brain or body.

Unlike most neurotransmitters, endocannabinoids work by dampening down the effects of other neurotransmitters, which is called “retrograde signaling.” In other words, they achieve their effects by downregulating other neurotransmitters, which slows everything down. This is the complete opposite of the way all other neurotransmitters work. Cannabinoids are fat soluble which allows them to linger in the body for longer periods of time.

Marijuana contains a substance called THC, which is short for tetrahydrocannabinol, an exogenous (originating outside the body) cannabinoid that resembles our anandamide and therefore it has the ability to occupy receptors in the brain and other parts of the body that are designed for the natural endocannabinoid neurotransmitters. So, when you smoke marijuana, THC stimulates your endocannabinoid receptors by mimicking endocannabinoids. In other words, anandamide is almost like the brain's natural marijuana.

Both endocannabinoids and cannabinoids from exogenous (originating outside the body) sources like marijuana affect sensory and time perception, pleasure, appetite, ability to feel pain, coordination, concentration, memory, thought, movement, judgment, and decision making—which is why marijuana has such a wide range of effects on the mind and body.

Additionally, endocannabinoids are also involved in pain modulation. They share some of the same characteristics as endorphins, in that they influence the ability to feel pain. They can have a sedating effect similar to opioids.

However, the effects of the exogenous cannabinoids in marijuana are much more potent and powerful than your natural endocannabinoids. They can practically stop the stream of consciousness, which provides the feeling of profound inner peace and intense “mellowing out” that makes the marijuana high so enjoyable. The more THC present in marijuana, the more potent its impact and the amount of THC present in marijuana has been continually increasing since the 1970s. Marijuana that is on the market today is much more powerful than what people were smoking in the 1960s and 1970s, and consequently more addictive and destructive.

As is the case with all neurotransmitters, exogenous (originating outside the brain) or artificial stimulation of receptors leads to a decrease of the brain's production of and/or responsiveness to the natural neurotransmitter and the effect known as tolerance. Essentially marijuana tricks the brain. The brain thinks the exogenous cannabinoid is natural, which makes it think it has too many, so it either stops producing them or reduces receptors. When it stops producing them or reduces receptors, then the neurotransmitter is not available to perform its duties unless the artificial or exogenous substance that stimulates the neurotransmitter is consumed, and thus why cravings for marijuana and withdrawal will ensue when it is not in the system. More and more of the substance will be required to get the same effect, which is called tolerance, and then marijuana addiction develops. That means if you use marijuana on a regular basis, eventually your brain won’t produce enough of its own endocannabinoids leading to addiction to the substance because it can provide artificial stimulation since your natural neurotransmitters are not around to do the job.

Marijuana also causes the release of a high level of dopamine and stimulates the reward pathway when it is used. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that allows us to feel pleasure, joy, motivation, focus and attention. When dopamine is released in excess, it results in intense euphoria - known as the "high". However, when released in excess repeatedly, the brain adapts by reducing the number of dopamine receptors, which results in depletion of dopamine. When you don't have enough dopamine, then you have an impaired ability to feel joy, pleasure, motivation, focused, and attentive.

Additionally, since marijuana exerts its effects on all other neurotransmitters, then all neurotransmitters are potentially affected. If neurotransmitters are not available in sufficient and balanced amounts for whatever reason, they cannot perform the jobs that are so critical in our quest for remaining clean and sober, managing cravings for sugar and carbs, reducing sympathetic nervous system activity, and regulating gut function.

You will see proponents of marijuana use claim that it isn't harmful because it contains substances similar to our endocannabinoids, but they do not understand brain chemistry. The fact that marijuana contains exogenous cannabinoids is the very reason it is addictive and destructive. The exogenous stimulation of endocannabinoid receptors, or any neurotransmitter, disrupts the normal production and function of the natural neurotransmitters, resulting in brain dysfunction and dependence on the substance to replace what is lost with the depletion in neurotransmitters. 

It is crucial to be aware that low levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and GABA is also the root cause of other issues like depression, anxiety disorders, OCD and other mental health conditions. Thus, why many people who smoke marijuana also have these symptoms as well. They often believe that marijuana helps alleviate their depression or anxiety, when in reality it is making it worse. Although marijuana initially helps "numb" them out by anesthetizing the undesirable mood state, it guarantees that they will never overcome depression, anxiety, etc. by depleting their neurotransmitters even more and making them more dependent on marijuana to modulate their moods.

In End Your Addiction Now, Dr. Gant explains that endocannabinoids are synthesized from arachidonic acid and lecithin.  Arachidonic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid that is found in animal fat, and lecithin is found in foods like eggs, organ meats, and sunflower seeds. Organic butter contains high levels of linoleic acid, which is converted to arachidonic acid. Because much of the population is now consuming a low-fat, low-cholesterol and junk food diet, these important substances are missing from their meals. Such a diet does not provide the brain with the nutrients it needs to form dopamine and other neurotransmitters either.

That means much of the population is not acquiring the amount of arachidonic acid, lecithin and other nutrients needed so their brain can form their own natural cannabinoids, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters adequately and thus why such a large part of the population is attracted to marijuana.

Marijuana is an exogenous cannabinoid that temporarily provides them relief from the symptoms they experience because of the lack of endocannabinoids, by providing artificial stimulation to the endocannabinoid receptors. However, in the long run, it perpetuates the problem because it leads to even more disruption and depletion when the brain downregulates production or responsiveness due to the presence of the exogenous cannabinoid. Your brain doesn’t need marijuana to feel better; it needs more animal protein and fat. Therefore, marijuana addiction can be both the cause of depleted endocannabinoids or dopamine disruption and the result.

Lecithin is also essential in the synthesis of acetylcholine, another very important neurotransmitter that regulates memory, cognitive function. and the autonomic nervous system, so when the diet is void of lecithin, you won't be producing enough acetylcholine either. Nicotine mimics acetylcholine in the brain, in the same manner that marijuana mimics anandamide and thus, why so many people who smoke marijuana also smoke cigarettes.

Therefore, if you want to prevent nicotine and marijuana addiction in your children and teens, the best place to start is to ensure that their diets are rich in foods that contain arachidonic acid and lecithin, so their brain can form endocannabinoids and acetylcholine adequately and then they will be less likely to be drawn to artificial stimulation. This doesn't protect them from peer pressure, but it does at least remove one risk factor.

Long-Term Effects of Marijuana Addiction

There are many long-term effects of marijuana addiction due to the artificial stimulation of endocannabinoids, the downregulation of neurons, and fatty acid deficiencies.
Endocannabinoids are found in higher concentrations in certain parts of the brain, specifically, the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, basal ganglia, and cerebellum. Any functions associated with these areas can be impaired by marijuana use. 

For example, the hippocampus plays a vital role in learning and memory, the cerebellum regulates coordination and balance, the basal ganglia are involved in controlling movement, and the cerebral cortex has a wide variety of functions like decision making, problem solving, vision, memory, language, perception, processing information and more. Thus many of the following symptoms are experienced by long-term marijuana users:

  • loss of focus and attention
  • loss of motivation (sometimes referred to as amotivtional syndrome)
  • listlessness
  • brain fog
  • dull and flat emotions, feelings and reactions
  • inability to feel and react to emotions
  • impaired learning and memory
  • low energy
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • apathy
  • decreased reaction time
  • doubles your risk of an automobile accident
  • impaired ability to do complex tasks
  • loss of interest in life or pursuing life goals
  • lower IQ
  • increased risk of psychosis (loss of contact with reality, delusions and/or hallucinations)
  • higher risk of emphysema and other lung diseases
  • more susceptibility to coughs, colds and bronchitis
  • increased risk of using harder drugs like cocaine and heroin
  • disrupted hormones
  • impedes emotional and spiritual growth and maturity
  • if contaminated with heavy metals, marijuana can result in heavy metal toxicity)

Not only that, marijuana use doubles the risk of stroke by causing “plaque to form in the skull, leading to narrowing arteries in the head” and “marijuana users suffer strokes at a younger age than those who don’t.”  “Limited evidence suggests that a person’s risk of a heart attack during the first hour after smoking marijuana is nearly five times his or her usual risk.”

Marijuana addiction prevents you from reaching your full potential as a human being. You are not fully alive and experiencing your emotions, feelings,  and all the life has to offer, and the saddest part of all is that most of the time you don't even realize what your missing. The longer one engages with the substance then the more stunted they become in psychospiritual growth and maturity.

Long-term use of marijuana is associated with less satisfaction in life, lower education, less employment or career related achievements, more health problems, and higher levels of interpersonal conflicts.

Fatty acid deficiencies are both a cause of marijuana addiction and a result. As we mentioned previously, a diet lacking in deficiencies leaves the brain vulnerable to marijuana, but smoking it can lead to depletion. Fatty acids are crucial for flexibility in cell membranes, in the movement, speed and strength of neurotransmitters from one neuron to another and the formation and repair of neurons. Therefore, fatty acid deficiency will not only impact endocannabinoids, but all other neurotransmitters as well.

Depending on how and where the marijuana is grown, heavy metal contamination (arsenic, mercury, cadmium, lead, etc.) is a possibility as it may be in the soil, fertilizers, or pesticides. Both heavy metals and tobacco may also be added intentionally to increase the weight of the product.

Heavy metal toxicity is associated with a very long list of potential negative effects, both psychologically and physically, like depression, anxiety, bi-polar, Tourette's, insomnia, adrenal fatigue, autoimmune disorders, chronic fatigue, gastrointestinal disorders, endocrine disorders, impaired memory and cognitive functioning, learning disorders, and more. Heavy metal toxicity also impairs one's ability to synthesize certain neurotransmitters. Furthermore, the pesticides present in marijuana also inhibit neurotransmitter production and function.

Some of the most frightening long-term effects of marijuana addiction are found in adolescents and children. Because it takes 20 to 25 years for the human brain to fully develop, the brain is very vulnerable during these years. Like any other drug, marijuana use during this time period can have a profound negative impact on brain growth and development, by inhibiting neuronal communication networks and neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change throughout an individual’s life), which can result in long-term emotional, intellectual, and spiritual impairment.

This is true of any psychotropic substance, but since there is the false perception in our society that marijuana is not so harmful and so many children and adolescents are turning to marijuana, it is of more concern. Marijuana use impairs the neuroplasticity of adults as well, but it is a bigger issue for the developing mind of a child or adolescent. 

Furthermore, THC is only one of many different types of cannabinoids that are present in marijuana: there are more than a hundred others, all disrupting the endocannabinoid system. The exogenous cannabinoids that are present in marijuana are also referred to as phytocannabinoids because they occur in a plant and Phyto refers to a plant.

In addition to THC, (tetrahydrocannabinol) marijuana contains more than 400 chemicals, many of which get stored in tissue in your brain and your body and then are released back into the bloodstream at a later date; thus, why it takes 30 days to clear from the body and not show up in a drug test. THC can linger in the brain for a very long time; possibly taking several months for the brain to return to normal when one quits.

To put all this more simply, the endocannabinoid system consists of our naturally occurring cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors. Cannabinoids fit into the cannabinoid receptor in the same way that a lock fits into a key. When this occurs, then it activates changes in how the brain cell functions. When marijuana enters your body, then it activates the endocannabinoid system by attaching to our cannabinoid receptors in the same way our natural endocannabinoid would do. In other words, cannabinoids in marijuana can interact with receptors in our brain and body that are designed for our endocannabinoids. We have two different types of endocannabinoid receptors known as CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are typically found in the brain and they are the receptors that produce the feeling of being high when activated by marijuana. While CB2s are found in many other parts of the body and exert effects on a wide range of biological functions they are not associated with feeling high.

Additionally, the occurrence of Candida overgrowth in marijuana users (another condition that perpetuates addiction to alcohol and drugs) has been found to be even higher than those who smoke cigarettes. A study in the International Journey of Dental Hygiene states that health care providers should be aware of the cannabis-associated oral side effects, such as xerostomia (dry mouth), leukoedema (grey, blue or white mucosa) and an increased prevalence and density of Candida Albicans. Another study in the Journal of Oral Pathology and Medicine found an an "increased prevalence and density of C. albicans in cannabis users. A study from UCLA demonstrated that marijuana use decreases the ability of a particular type of white blood cell known as pulmonary alveolar macrophages, to destroy Candida albicans. While yet another study found that marijuana use inhibits neutrophil recruitment. Neutrophils, also a type of white blood cell used by the immune system to protect us from pathogenic invasion, is one of the most powerful weapons we have against Candida and other microbes. In a study that involved 1248 women, one of the primary risk factors for vaginal yeast colonization was the use of marijuana in the previous four months.

Heavy, long term use of the various forms of marijuana is also associated with a condition known as cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, or CHS, which causes severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting that can lead to dehydration and kidney failure. For reasons not yet understood, the symptoms of nausea and vomiting are relieved temporarily with a hot shower or bath. The syndrome usually resolves within days of stopping marijuana use. According to Dr. Kennon Heard, an emergency room physician at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, Colorado, “When medical marijuana became widely available, emergency room visits diagnoses for CHS in two Colorado hospitals nearly doubled. In 2012, the state legalized recreational marijuana. It is certainly something that, before legalization, we almost never saw,” Heard adds, “Now we are seeing it quite frequently.” “Outside of Colorado, when patients do end up in an emergency room, the diagnosis is often missed. Partly because doctors don’t know about CHS, and partly because patients don’t want to admit to using a substance that’s illegal.”

Five marijuana cigarettes per week contain as many cancer-causing agents as a pack of tobacco cigarettes per day for a week. One marijuana cigarette can exert the same harmful effects on the tracheobronchial epithelium (lining of trachea and bronchi) as twenty tobacco cigarettes. The tar content of marijuana cigarettes is 3.5 to 4.5 times greater than tar content of tobacco cigarettes. That means smoking marijuana is potentially more harmful to the health of the lungs than smoking tobacco. These toxins can damage tissue, making a person more vulnerable to candida and other microbes and harmfully impacting the immune system and detoxification system—which are already an issue for the individual detoxing from alcohol and drugs because they are overloaded with toxins.

Although it is possible to avoid some of these issues such as exposure to tar by using a vaporizer, edible marijuana products, tinctures, tonics, or other forms of marijuana, the other problems remain. THC (and other cannabinoids), the primary active ingredient that is at the root of most of these effects, is present no matter what form is used. Furthermore, some of the alternative versions, like wax and hash, contain an exceptionally high level of THC, making them even more harmful to the brain. 

How to Overcome Marijuana Addiction

The key to overcoming marijuana addiction is the same as any other addiction, you must restore balance to the neurotransmitters in the brain. This can be achieved with changes in diet and lifestyle and nutritional supplements.

First and foremost, you need to replenish the brain with arachidonic acid and lecithin so that it can begin to produce endocannabinoids on its own, and supply the brain with a variety of other nutrients that are needed to replenish dopamine and other neurotransmitters that may be depleted as well. Then you remove other foods, substances and lifestyle activities that disrupt neurotransmitters.

When the appropriate steps are taken, cravings for marijuana and other addictive substances simply disappear and life-long recovery can be achieved.

You can learn all the steps needed to overcome addiction to not only marijuana, but any other addictive substance, in my Clean and Sober for Life Jump-Start Program. The principles in this program are what I have used to achieve craving-free and uninterrupted sobriety for many substances, including marijuana, alcohol and benzodiazepines, since 1988.

Marijuana & Recovery from Other Addictions

I work with many people trying to overcome an addiction to alcohol, harder drugs, or sugar and carbs who think it is okay to smoke "just a little marijuana." It is not.

Addiction is addiction. If you continue to smoke marijuana, you keep the cycle of addiction active.

You cannot overcome addiction of any other kind, if you continue to smoke marijuana, because it will not be possible to stabilize neurotransmitters. All addictions have the same roots -- disrupted, depleted, or imbalanced neurotransmitters in the brain.

If you do not already have a full-blown marijuana addiction, it is only a matter of time. Since you already have addicted brain chemistry, you will become a marijuana addict and eventually it will lead you back to your drug of choice at some point. 

All psychotropic substances, both street and prescription, disrupt and deplete neurotransmitters in the brain and must be eliminated in order to overcome addiction of any kind.

Medical Marijuana & CBD

Everything we have discussed on this page applies to medical marijuana as well. It does not matter if you are using it for medical purposes or recreationally, the effects of marijuana on the brain and the body are the same. The brain does not distinguish the difference between the two. Marijuana use is marijuana use.

Many marijuana addicted individuals are now using medical marijuana as an excuse to continue their addiction. It is being used for everything under the sun including things like anxiety, chronic pain management, insomnia, depression, stress relief, headaches, and migraines. Using mind-altering drugs is never the answer for these kinds of conditions. There are many other less destructive ways to relieve or manage these symptoms.

Each of these types of conditions is associated with a disruption or imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain as well, and as we discussed above, marijuana further disrupts these neurotransmitters. Thus, it will only ensure that you will never overcome your anxiety, stress, depression, etc., because it perpetuates the very symptoms you are trying to alleviate. You will become dependent on marijuana to keep these symptoms under control, but eventually as tolerance builds, the day will come when marijuana no longer does the trick and you will need something stronger.

As I see it, the only time marijuana should be used medicinally is in an end-stage disease to ease the suffering as one approaches death and maybe a couple other very extreme medical conditions.

It does not matter whether you have a prescription for your marijuana or your getting it off the street, it's still marijuana addiction no matter how you cut it. 

Now, giving all that I've just said, you may assume that I am against the legalization of marijuana, but that is not the case. Although I don't believe anyone should be smoking marijuana, I also don't believe that anyone should be incarcerated for smoking marijuana. All adults should have the freedom to choose whether they want to destroy their mental, physical, and spiritual health with mind-altering and addictive substances. This is not something the government should decide for us. It is about freedom and personal choice.

Our tax dollars can be spent in a much more productive and useful way besides wasting it on drug wars that are impossible to win. As I see it, marijuana should be legal and regulated just like alcohol and cigarettes to protect our children, and use the tax money to help with our glaring financial economic crises across the nation. The drug addicted are not criminals, they are individuals with impaired brain chemistry and should be treated as such.

While some of the cannabinoids in marijuana like cannabidiol (CBD, marketed heavily as cannabis oil, are non-psychoactive (i.e. they interact with CB2 receptors and not the CB1 receptors in the brain,) they are still tapping into the endocannabinoid system, and anytime an exogenous or artificial substance interferes in the neurotransmitter system, the brain responds with downregulation in production or responsiveness to the neurotransmitter/s being affected, (which in this case are endocannabinoids) and all the problems we have discussed are still an issue. 

This means that cannabinoids from marijuana that are not psychoactive are still going to lead to the depletion of your endocannabinoids. It does not matter that they are derived from a plant and therefore considered natural, the issue is that they are exogenous (originating from outside the body), they are naturally occurring in the plant, but not naturally occurring in our brain or body and therefore the brain responds to their presence by reducing production of or responsiveness to our natural endocannabinoids. Additionally, most CBD products contain a small amount of THC, which can build up in the body over time, and exert all the negative effects we already discussed.

Bottom line is that you cannot restore balance to neurotransmitters if you are using marijuana (cannabis) in any form. There cannot be optimal physical, emotional or spiritual health if you are self-medicating with marijuana or any other substance.


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