Is Marijuana Addictive?

Patrick
  • By Patrick

    “Is Marijuana addictive?” It is a common question because most people automatically assume that it is not an addictive substance based on their knowledge of the drug and the culture that surrounds it. On the other hand, more and more people these days are seeking treatment for dependency on the drug, and some people definitely seem to show real signs of marijuana addiction. So what is the right answer? Is it addictive?

    Let’s take a look and find out. Take a quick glance at the chart down below that is based on a mountain of government data. It is indicating that for all of the people who have ever tried marijuana, 4 percent of them are currently meeting criteria for dependency on the drug. You can also see the numbers for some other drugs there.

    Now I know that when I was smoking weed every day and trying to justify my using, I would have seized on these numbers and said “Ha! See? Marijuana is the least addictive of these drugs!” This is a typical attempt to justify my addiction.

    But you see, 4 percent is actually pretty scary. Do you have any idea how many people try using Marijuana at some point? LOTS. So it is pretty significant that 4 percent develop dependence.

    Plus, what does it really matter if it is 1 percent or 90 percent? Some people do get addicted. Flat out. And that can have a huge impact on their lives.

    Traditional wisdom

    The traditional wisdom regarding Marijuana use is that very few people even become habitual users of the drug. Many people try it at least once but most people do not turn into what we call “pot heads.” On the other hand, the same is true of alcohol. Again, check the chart. Pretty much everyone is exposed to alcohol at some point but very few people actually become alcoholics. So a low percentage of addiction is not really noteworthy, as this is the case with other addictive drugs as well.

    Now does habitual use mean that a person is addicted? Not necessarily. But in practical terms, this difference really does not matter much. If someone wants to change their life then the fine line between “bad habit” and “full blown addiction” really does not matter. Many people who become heavy users of Marijuana would like to quit for a variety of reasons, including some of the following:

    1) It is illegal and therefore risky behavior.

    2) Smoking it daily affects the health negatively (harsh cough, obvious damage to the lungs, etc.)

    3) The drug begins to dominate your lifestyle. It influences how you spend your time, the people you hang around with, etc. It thus limits your freedom.

    4) Smoking it daily stunts your personal and emotional growth. You use it to medicate your feelings instead of learning and growing through new situations.

    And so on. So there are a number of reasons that people would like to stop using Marijuana in order to improve their lives. The fact that some people experience these negative consequences but continue to use Marijuana points to the idea of addiction as well.

    But in addition to all this, consider the following points about Marijuana:

    * There is evidence that it activates reward centers in the brain.

    * Heavy users seem to develop tolerance (it takes more and more of the drug for them to reach the same level of “high”).

    * Withdrawal might be really mild, but people do report cravings, and others say they feel sluggish and “down” if they go without it.

    * Physical addiction in the body is beside the point, people get wrapped up in a lifestyle of smoking marijuana every day

    * There is evidence that Marijuana is indeed a gateway drug, and can lead users to other substances that are also harmful to them (though in reality, Marijuana addiction is bad enough, when you consider all of the negative ways in which it can and does impact a person’s life).

    All of these points seem to reinforce the idea that Marijuana is addictive, so let’s look at them in greater detail.

    Marijuana seems to be addictive in a physical sense for heavy users

    A certain percentage of people who smoke Marijuana end up becoming very heavy users of it. These are people who smoke a lot of Marijuana every single day. For people in this class of user, it seems that they actually do experience some signs of physical addiction.

    For example, if they go through a day or two where they can not get any of the drug, they complain that they feel lethargic and depressed. These are difficult withdrawal symptoms to measure but they are definitely real symptoms nonetheless.

    Marijuana is clearly addictive in terms of psychological dependence

    The biggest point here is not really physical addiction regarding Marijuana, but rather the idea of psychological addiction is what is important. This is because Marijuana is very addictive to some people in a psychological sense because the person uses the drug to basically escape reality and to medicate their feelings.

    For example, consider someone who has been smoking Marijuana for most of their life. They use the drug almost every day, and they justify the use of it for almost any situation. They get high to celebrate. They get high to compensate for a bad day at work. They get high when they feel sick in order to feel better. They get high when they have to deal with a bunch of drama in their life. Getting high became their default response to almost everything in their life, and so they developed this pattern of managing their entire life through getting high with Marijuana. This is addiction. They might not be physically hooked on the drug, but they rely on Marijuana as a crutch to get them through almost every event in their life. They are psychologically addicted.

    It is worth noting that anyone who is psychologically addicted to Marijuana like this is also cross addicted with other drug, whether they realize it or not. In other words, people who are self medicating in this manner could very easily switch to another drug or substance and find that it works just as well for them. In other words, they are in greater danger of experiencing cross addiction. This is due to the fact that they are not really hooked on Marijuana, instead they are addicted to medicating their emotions and using a chemical to escape from reality.

    Everyone who smokes Marijuana is not going to become psychologically addicted like this. But many people who smoke it every day for long periods of time are in danger of becoming psychologically addicted.

    Marijuana is clearly addictive in terms of a social dependency

    The other way in which Marijuana is deeply addictive is in the social sense of the drug. This is what people are referring to when they say that someone is “addicted to the lifestyle.” People who smoke Marijuana together will naturally develop some level of social bond with each other. To give up smoking Marijuana is to give up this bond. Depending on the person, and also on how old they are, this can be a really big deal.

    This also points to how Marijuana use can become a self esteem issue for young people. They might try using Marijuana for the first time and realize suddenly that doing so has earned them “automatic friendship” among others who are also smoking. This is an instant ego boost for any young person who suffers from low self esteem. It is also easy to see why someone can become trapped in the cycle of addiction this way because they are not willing to walk away from their new friends.

    People who become heavy users of Marijuana will, over time, end up having a social network built up in their life of almost exclusively other Marijuana users. This is the lifestyle part of drug addiction that gives their life meaning. Part of staying hooked on Marijuana is in not wanting to abandon this network of friends.

    Marijuana really is a gateway drug in some cases

    The idea that Marijuana is a gateway drug has been thrown around a lot, but I believe that there is some truth to the theory based on my own experience. I started with Marijuana and the use of it made me curious enough to try alcohol and other drugs as well. It’s not real clear to me that Marijuana is actually the cause of experimenting with other drugs, as I think in most cases it is actually the result of that interest in exploring different “highs.” Nevertheless, smoking weed can definitely lead to trying other drugs, simply due to the social nature of the drug and the culture that surrounds it. If you smoke Marijuana long enough with a large variety of people then eventually you will be introduced to other substances as well. Whether or not you choose to use those other substances is up to you, but most people who are immersed into this drug culture are eventually going to explore a bit.

    In the end I don’t think this point matters much though, because marijuana addiction is bad enough all by itself, and it doesn’t much matter if it leads the user to “harder” drugs. To suggest that this is the main problem with Marijuana addiction is to belittle the fact that Marijuana use by itself is really quite harmful and damaging to a person on a number of different levels.

    Let’s look at it another way….addiction = loss of freedom

    Regardless of whether or not you buy into the idea that Marijuana is addictive physically, socially, or psychologically, being caught up in the lifestyle of smoking weed on a regular basis is still going to ultimately mean the same thing: a loss of freedom.

    What more is addiction, really, then when you have to do something? You have lost your choice in the matter and now you have to smoke Marijuana in order to get by. If this is the case with you or someone you know, then it matters little if we label it as addiction or not. The fact of the matter is that they are trapped in a cycle and they have to smoke Marijuana in order to feel normal and to deal with their everyday life.

    In this way, it has become an emotional crutch for the user and they are using the drug to medicate their feelings. If something bad happens in their life, then they definitely need to smoke that day. If they become stressed out over events that have occurred in their life, they have to smoke then as well. Using a substance as an emotional crutch like this qualifies as an addiction in my book.

    Is Marijuana addictive? Only to the extent that it dominates someone’s life and removes their freedom. If you take a look at heavy marijuana users or people who smoke regularly, you will see that they are making great sacrifices and taking big risks in order to continue to self medicate with the drug.

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