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Marijuana Use among Women

Marijuana, a property of the cannabis plant, has been around since 6000 BC, Erowid reports.

It is unknown exactly how long this drug has been used in an abusive manner. However, what is known are the side effects of its use and how it can impact certain individuals more harshly than others. One such group of people is women.

While women aren’t as likely to smoke marijuana on a daily basis as men are, research shows females progress into dependence from marijuana abuse more quickly than males do, Harvard Health Publicationsstates. Women are taking advantage of marijuana sales in the medical and recreational use market too. The Chicago Tribune reported around 36 percent of executives working in the legal marijuana industry are women. The Bureau of Justice Statistics notes 20 percent of all female arrests for drug offenses in 2009 were for marijuana-related offenses.

In some cases, the marijuana being abused isn’t illegal. The drug is now approved for medical use in 25 states. Data on active cardholders for medical marijuana in Arizona during July 2015 shows a surprising number of women are on board with the drug as a form of treatment – 26,605 – the Arizona Department of Health Services reports. These figures vary from state to state. In Illinois, 60 percent of applications for medical marijuana cards received in the first half of 2015 were from females, per NBC News. Many of these women go on to misuse their prescription for marijuana, and some will end up hooked on the drug.

Observing Marijuana Abuse

To the untrained eye, the abuse of any substance may appear to look the same. However, there are key signs that someone may be abusing marijuana. Here’s what to look for:

  • Telltale odors of cannabis
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Extreme paranoia
  • Slow to process information
  • Continually losing track of time
  • Relaxed state
  • Sleepiness

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It is important to differentiate between abuse and addiction, especially when it comes to marijuana. Many proponents of the drug – specifically recreational and medicinal users – often tout that addiction to marijuana isn’t possible, but this simply isn’t true. The treatment industry accounts for it. SAMHSA notes 305,560 people were admitted to treatment in 2012 citing marijuana as their primary substance of abuse.

When trying to discern whether marijuana is being abused so heavily that addiction has formed, look for these telltale signs of dependency:

  • Tolerance
  • Preoccupation with using the drug
  • Unable to stop using marijuana even when attempting to
  • Using to avoid going through withdrawal
  • Continual use of marijuana even though negative things have stemmed from it
  • Bailing on family functions and outings with friends to stay home and smoke pot instead
How Do Marijuana Abuse and Addiction Start?

Frequently, substance abuse starts at home. As was previously mentioned, many women who end up hooked on pot began using it with a valid prescription to medicate issues like anxiety or chronic pain. In a lot of cases, substance abuse began in the childhood home. Roughly 11 percent of children are reared in homes where one or both parents are abusing drugs and alcohol, the journal Current Drug Abuse Review publication notes. These individuals are at a much greater risk of engaging in substance abuse themselves as adults.

Often, peers contribute to the issue. A survey of teens showed that 55 percent credit peer pressure for initiating them into the world of drug abuse, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids states. College-aged individuals are one of the largest demographics who abuse marijuana and the number of people in this age demographic who are abusing cannabis is on the rise. A Monitoring the Future study notes that one in 17 students on college campuses smoke marijuana at least 20 times monthly – a figure that hasn’t been this high since 1980.

Introductions to drugs may be more likely to occur on college campuses too. The Clinton Foundation reports half of all college students are offered the opportunity to abuse a prescription drug by the time they are in their second year of studies. A Journal of Prevention Science study states that among individuals surveyed who has never used marijuana before their college years, it was offered to 74 percent of them during college and 54 percent started using it then.

This is a problem for women, because research shows the core factor in keeping substance abuse rates lower among females is the reduced rate of exposure to drugs and alcohol altogether. In other words, women don’t engage substance abuse less than men do naturally; they may just not have as many opportunities to participate in it. The opportunity to use marijuana in one study was higher for males at 59 percent than females at 43.9 percent, but the rate at which they actually abused the drug once presented with an opportunity to do so was a much closer margin of 44.2 percent for males and 42 percent for females, per the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

When It’s Not Just Addiction

For many people who abuse drugs or alcohol, there is an additional illness impacting their lives whether they know it or not: a mental illness. Around half of all people with severe mental illness also engage in substance abuse, HelpGuide reports. Co-occurring mental health disorders are not a direct cause of substance abuse or addiction, but they can predispose someone to both. The full science behind it isn’t completely understood, but it is known that individuals who struggle with mood stability, like sufferers of anxiety and depression, and those with behavioral disorders are more likely to engage in substance abuse in the first place.

It may very well be the starting point that is the link between illness and addiction, rather than a greater likelihood overall in people with mental illnesses to fall prey to dependency. The risk of developing schizophrenia is doubled in people who abuse marijuana regularly, Newsweek reports. In a study of teenagers suffering from depression, 35 percent of them has used an illicit drug in the year prior, compared to just 18 percent of teens who were not depressed, per the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Getting Help

Treatment for marijuana use needs to be a priority.

If co-occurring disorders are present, those too must be treated at the same time. Treating marijuana abuse while ignoring other issues, like anxiety, will only serve the individual temporarily. The person may leave treatment sober and return to life still suffering from anxiety and not knowing how to cope with it aside from resorting to the marijuana they turned to for comfort in the past. In 2011, 60.8 percent of females aged 12-17 admitted to treatment cited marijuana as the primary substance of abuse; 22.1 percent of those aged 18-24 did, per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Going untreated altogether will only allow the addiction and any additional illnesses to fester and grow. Often, people who abuse marijuana end up abusing other more harmful substances down the road. The Connecticut Post reported that both men and women who used marijuana were 2.5 times more likely to use other drugs later in life. Intervening early can help women to avoid losing their careers, livelihoods, families, friends, and health due to their addiction.

Treatment for marijuana abuse normally includes a detox period. Typical withdrawal symptoms include fatigue and insomnia, which can be treated with medication under the supervision of treatment clinicians. Dietary changes and nutritional supplements may also be beneficial during withdrawal, per NIDA.

Unless a co-occurring disorder is present and severe in nature, inpatient treatment is rarely required for the treatment of marijuana addiction. Outpatient rehabilitation allows clients to come to treatment a few days each week and spend their days or evenings working with therapists and other treatment professionals to overcome cravings and compulsions to keep using.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the leading module used to treat clients with marijuana addictions.


CBT works to teach the client how to cope with the urge to relapse and turn their negative feelings into more positive ones.


It also focuses on healthy ways to manage upsetting emotions and bad moods without resorting to substance abuse.