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Marijuana and Addiction

By Stacie R. Allphin MS, LCDC, Director of Adolescent Services

Marijuana increasing in strength and potency

The intoxicating substance in marijuana responsible for the “high” felt when smoking it is delta-9tetrahydrocannibinol, commonly known as THC. Marijuana used at the Woodstock concert in 1969 contained only 1% THC.1 From the 1970s to 1990s, the average amount of THC found in confiscated marijuana was about 3.7%.2  In 2012, a report on Colorado’s legalization of marijuana found the average THC content is approximately 18.7%. However, some samples of legalized marijuana contained up to 30% THC.3 This increase is significant in the way users experience the “high” and the physical/cognitive effects of THC.

The THC in marijuana is a fat soluble substance, meaning it attaches itself to the fatty tissue in the body, and cannot be removed from the body faster through the consumption of liquids such as water. When smoked, THC is spread throughout the entire body based on the rate of blood flow. Because of the way marijuana is stored in the body (fatty tissue), the effects of impaired judgment, slower response times, short-term memory loss, and diminished attention control lasts long after the high has passed. A study published in the 2013 American Psychological Association’s Psychology of Addictive Behaviors Journal reports marijuana is “the most prevalent illicit drug detected in impaired drivers.”4

A more potent form of THC is known as dabs, wax and budder. Dabs, wax and budder are produced by combining the essential THC oil from the marijuana plant with bees wax so the substance can be smoked. The extracted oil can also be used in vape pens and e-cigarettes. Dabs, wax, and budder contain a THC content ranging between 60% to 90%, with some designers claiming 99% THC.

Can you become addicted to marijuana?

Contrary to common belief, marijuana can affect the brain like other addictive substances, causing surges of certain chemicals, like dopamine, in the brain, which makes it more likely that people will decide to use it again and again.

About 9% of users become addicted to marijuana; this number increases among those who start young to about 17%, or 1 in 6, and among daily users to 25% to 50%.5

Addicted? Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center can help.

Getting help and seeking treatment is the most important step a person can take and the best chance for living a drug-free life. If you have a marijuana addiction, have a teen with a marijuana addiction or know someone addicted to marijuana, learn more about Memorial Hermann PaRC’s drug treatment programs for adults, young adults and teens.


1  Drugfreeeworld.org
2  NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse
3  Colorado Marijuana Study Finds Legal Weed Contains Potent THC Levels by Bill Briggs
4  Marijuana Use, Driving, and Related Cognitions by Brooke J. Arterberry, Hayley R. Treloar, Ashley E. Smith,
   Matthew P. Martens, Sarah Pedersen, and Denis M. McCarthy
5  NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse