Cannabis Use Disorder


Marijuana is the most used drug in the U.S. after alcohol and tobacco.  About 4.2 million people in 2014 (age 12 and up) were believed to have met the criteria for having a substance use disorder based on marijuana use.  Marijuana’s immediate effects include distorted perception, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and loss of motor coordination. Long-term use of the drug can contribute to respiratory infection, impaired memory, and exposure to cancer-causing compounds. Signs of cannabis use include red eyes, chronic cough, cannabis odor on clothing, yellowing of finger tips (from smoking joints), burning of incense (to hide odor), and exaggerated craving and impulse for specific foods.  Heavy marijuana use in youth has also been linked to increased risk for developing mental illness and poor cognitive functioning. 


Cannabis use disorder criteria are met if 2 of the following symptoms occur during a 12 month period.  Severity of the disorder is defined as follows:

Mild = 2-3 symptoms present

Moderate = 4-5 symptoms present

Severe = 6 or more symptoms present


The onset of cannabis use disorder is seen in teens and young adults, but can be in pre-teens as well.  There is a genetic component to the risk factors for the disorder that includes impulsiveness and novelty-seeking.  Males are more apt to develop the disorder than females. Generally speaking, those who start smoking marijuana earlier (early adolescence) and smoke heavily are more likely to experience negative consequences. This may in turn lead to mental health problems, but also lead to more general life problems, like conflict at home, school or work, financial problems and memory problems.  Psychologically, chronic use of marijuana has been associated with a loss of ambition known as the "amotivational syndrome."


Treatment options for individuals with cannabis-related disorders are identical to those available for people with alcohol and other substance abuse disorders. The goal of treatment is abstinence. Treatment approaches range from in-patient hospitalization, drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities, and outpatient counseling such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. Twelve-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous are also treatment options. For heavy users suffering from withdrawal symptoms, treatment with anti-anxiety and/or antidepressant medication may assist in the treatment process.