Is Marijuana Really Addictive?
Yes. Regular marijuana users often experience signs of withdrawal when they stop taking the drug. Many marijuana users find it difficult to stop using the drug, even when they want to do so. Both of these signs are hallmarks of addictive drugs.
The addictiveness of a drug usually ties directly into its legality. One indication of a drug’s addictiveness relates to its status under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1990.Marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug, which means that it has no recognized medicinal value while at the same time carries a high risk of abuse.
The variations in laws is a potential source of confusion for the American public. Some Americans may perceive the legality of marijuana, at least in some jurisdictions, to mean that this drug is not addictive.
This is not true, as marijuana can lead to addiction in some users.
The Prevalence of Marijuana UseMarijuana has many street names, but “cannabis”is actually the most chemically accurate. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, the main psychoactive component in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydro-cannabinol). The cannabis plant produces THC, which can be found in the plant’s leaves and buds. Marijuana in the brain translates into THC activity. THC mimics a naturally occurring chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) called anandamide. Both THC and anandamide are classified as cannabinoids. THC, like anandamide, binds with the brain’s cannabinoid receptors. This complex of receptors is involved in activities such as short-term memory, learning, and coordination. THC’s interaction with the cannabinoid causes the intoxicating effects associated with marijuana use, as well as side effects like dulling of mental abilities and memory recall.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) is one of the most comprehensive and reliable sources of information on patterns of drug use in America. Despite the fact that marijuana is illegal in many jurisdictions, according to the 2013 NSDUH, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the nation.
The following provides statistical insight into marijuana use in the US:
- In the 12+ age group, an estimated 19.8 million Americans had used marijuana in the month prior to the survey (this represents 7.5 percent of the population).
- Individuals who uses marijuana are likely to use other drugs as well. In fact, 80.6 percent of current illicit drug users consume marijuana in combination with other drugs of abuse.
- There were 2.4 million new users (i.e., tried marijuana at least once for the first time) in the 12+ age group in the year prior to the survey.
- An estimated 7.1 percent of young Americans in the 12-17 age group were current marijuana users.
Despite this drug’s controversial politics and popularity, it is important to keep in mind that marijuana is a drug with addiction potential.
From a clinical standpoint, a person may be physically dependent on a drug, such as marijuana, but not psychologically addicted.
The difference between physical dependence and psychological addiction is critical to understand. The two main hallmarks of physical dependence are tolerance and withdrawal.
Over time, individuals who consume a drug will typically need more of it to achieve the desired effects (this is known as building a physical tolerance). When the drug use ceases, or the familiar amount is significantly reduced, regular users of drugs, such as marijuana, will likely experience withdrawal symptoms. Psychological addiction is different from, but related to, physical dependence. Not everyone who is physically dependent on a drug will become addicted. However, individuals who do become addicted to a drug will give it a high priority in their lives, even though doing so usually leads to personal conflicts and an inability to successfully fulfill important obligations.
Dr. J. Wesley Boyd, writing for Psychology Today, explains that marijuana is known to be addictive because regular users who stop using this drug experience withdrawal. However, in most cases, the withdrawal is mild compared to other drugs, which falsely leads some users and the public to doubt marijuana’s addictiveness. Dr. Boyd notes that many marijuana users will not display signs of psychological addiction, but some will.For illustrative purposes, Dr. Boyd discusses one patient’s case. The individual, in his late 20s and a construction worker, compulsively smoked marijuana before work and in all the hours after work leading up to his bedtime. Although this individual wanted to stop, he had grown so psychologically addicted to smoking marijuana – it was his main relationship and his only recreational interest – that he was unable to stop without getting professional treatment.
Dr. Boyd’s client is not alone. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 9 percent of marijuana users will become dependent on this drug. The age of initiation into marijuana use is relevant to the potential for addiction. Approximately 17 percent of individuals who began using marijuana in their teens will become dependent. If marijuana use occurs on a daily basis, the likelihood of forming a dependency increases to 25-50 percent. To place marijuana dependence in the context of other drugs, according to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, of the 6.9 million Americans who abused illicit drugs or were dependent on them, 4.2 million were marijuana users.
Signs of Abuse and Addiction
A reality of American life is that many adolescents, young adults, and older adults experiment with illicit drugs. While occasional use of marijuana may not lead to abuse, it is still a hazardous activity because of marijuana’s addiction potential or the association of marijuana use with incidental harms, such as drugged driving or being arrested for other criminal activities. In the earliest stages, neither the drug user nor loved ones may recognize that there is a problem developing. But over time, the person who abuses marijuana may begin to show signs of physical dependence and addiction.
- Laugher erupting for no reason
- Bloodshot eyes
- Forgetfulness moment to moment
- Increased appetite or eating more than usual
The physical signs of marijuana use may not sufficiently communicate that physical dependence or addiction has developed. As discussed, marijuana withdrawal is often mild.
Withdrawal symptoms may include bad mood, nervousness, problems sleeping, and cravings for marijuana. Although these symptoms may have a lack of medical urgency, they should not be ignored.
Dr. Dale Archer, writing for Psychology Today, explains that some marijuana users will show signs of distress if they are cut off from the drug or feel they cannot get it. In addition to having an immediate supply of marijuana, these individuals may take steps to ensure that they have an adequate amount on reserve.
As mentioned, marijuana users who have a psychological addiction to this drug may continue to use it in spite of personal, family, work, and/or school problems. Marijuana users who are psychologically addicted will usually socialize around this drug and decline the company of others who forbid its use. In other words, using marijuana becomes the most important part of the person’s social life.
Denial of the extent of the marijuana use may occur as a way to protect the ongoing use. Individuals who are psychologically addicted to marijuana will not want anyone to interfere in the consumption, which has become a main priority.
At this point, loved ones will likely notice the changes and may want to think about next steps, such as helping the person to get into treatment.