We hear it all the time in recovery: “I got sober, but I do marijuana maintenance”, or, “I tried marijuana maintenance for a while, but it doesn’t seem to be working.” Marijuana maintenance is a term used by people in recovery to describe the ongoing use of marijuana. People may drop their deadly habits like intravenous use of heroin or binge drinking alcohol. Rather than choose abstinence they choose using marijuana under the presumption that it’s less harmful. Marijuana use in recovery is a debated topic. Under abstinence-based guidelines, marijuana is still a mind-altering and illegal substance. More liberal recovery sees marijuana as non-life threatening and non-addictive. Therefore, marijuana maintenance is non-problematic.
Recently released research reveals that smoking marijuana over a long term period of time changes brain chemistry and can lead to dependency. In their experiment, scientists studied long term users and people who have never used marijuana. They showed the participants pictures of paraphernalia and marijuana itself in addition to everyday items like fruit. When regular marijuana users were shown marijuana images the reward center of the brain lit up. It is the reward center of the brain which plays a large part in addiction. Marijuana users’ brains did not light up for fruit. For the non-smoking participants, the reward center did not light up for marijuana, but it often did for fruit.
Could it be a simple matter of memory association? Further studies show that marijuana does indeed cause chemical dependency and neurobiological behaviors imitating addiction. Some research points to specific reward systems like the mesocorticolimbic system. Others highlight endocannabinoid receptors. The main neurological culprit in addiction is dopamine. Dopamine is a neuron that dictates pleasure. Excessive and abusive use of drugs produce so much dopamine that eventually the brain has a hard time producing it at all. Regular use of marijuana is proving to do the same for endocannabinoid. Cannabinoids are natural receptors in the brain which dictate an array of functions including appetite and sleep (think, ‘munchies’). Marijuana dependents report not being able to sleep, eat, focus or function properly without using.
Marijuana is not non-addiction forming. In fact, the DSM, the diagnostic and statistical manual, recently recognized ‘marijuana use disorder’. They experience symptoms of withdrawal such as anxiety and depression.
Recovery is a time to gain your whole self back and balance your inherent ability to function.
We know it can be scary to surrender every last drug and source of pleasure. You will feel good again. Our counselors and addiction specialists can help you find safer, more appropriate coping sources so that continued use of substances is not a factor in your recovery. Call The Center for Life Change today for more information on our programs of treatment and recovery (951) 775-4000.