Is marijuana addictive?
Marijuana, or cannabis, is one of the most used drugs in the world. It is usually smoked, and its effects vary widely. We asked 6 experts in psychiatry and addiction, ‘Is marijuana addictive?’, here is what they said…
Is marijuana addictive?
What does addiction mean?
Addiction is commonly defined as when an individual can’t stop doing something to the point that the behaviour becomes harmful. It is possible to be addicted to many things but often addiction is associated with alcohol, smoking, drugs or gambling.
Dr Ole Rogeberg, an expert in addiction and economics from the Ragnar Frisch Centre in Norway, says “People think of different things when they use the word addiction/addictive, but frequently repeated use of cannabis does cause physical tolerance, as well as withdrawal effects upon cessation of use.” Physical tolerance is when you become less sensitive to something the more you use/do it. Withdrawal effects are the physical or psychological symptoms that occur when you stop using/doing the addictive action.
Is marijuana addictive?
Dr Thiago Pianca, an expert in psychiatry and addiction from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, says “Cannabis, in its smoked form, shows addictive potential. That is different than saying that all users are/will become addicted; research suggests that the just about 7-10% of users will become addicted. That number will probably increase when the use begins in early adolescence.”
Dr Rogeberg adds that “While studies indicate that the risk of cannabis dependence is lower than the risk for alcohol or cigarettes, it is not negligible (one frequently mentioned estimate puts the risk at 9% for cannabis and 15% for alcohol). Additionally, it seems that the rate of recovery is higher from cannabis dependence than it is for alcohol and cigarettes.”
All experts agreed that not everyone who smokes marijuana will become addicted. Dr Eduardo Pedrero-Perez, an expert in addiction from Madrid Health in Spain, says “Certain substances contained in the plant can act as reinforcers of the behaviour of consuming it, either by providing pleasant sensations (positive reinforcement) or helping to avoid discomfort (negative reinforcement). In this sense, any rewarding behaviour can exceed a person's control over his or her behaviour and lead to addictive behaviour.” On the other hand, marijuana use can “be limited to certain playful moments, in the company of others, without affecting the rest of the subject's behavioural repertoire. In this sense, it can be assimilated to alcohol, which can be used with full superior control of behaviour or can lead to tragic consequences.”
What are the withdrawal effects of marijuana?
Dr Pianca says “Withdrawal is usually mild, when compared to withdrawal from other substances such as alcohol or cocaine.” If you are addicted to marijuana, the withdrawal symptoms you may experience when you stop using it include mood changes, irritability, headaches, cravings and loss of focus.
Are all marijuana strains equally addictive?
No – marijuana comes from a plant that is highly complex and contains over 400 chemical entities which have different effects on the body. The two major ingredients are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).
THC is the chemical in marijuana that makes you high, it is also the component which is addictive. Dr Rogerberg says “A study by Jones et al from 1976 reports on an experiment where people were given high dose THC-capsules every four hours (including night-time). They report a rapid tolerance development (within a day or two), and a clear withdrawal syndrome, likened by some of the participants to the flu. Some reported sleep disturbances for up to 7 days following cessation.”
Although this study highlights the addictive nature of THC, it is important to remember that marijuana has many other ingredients in it and the THC percentages vary widely. Many people grow marijuana plants in certain conditions to try and increase the THC levels, so THC levels have gradually increased in many marijuana products. Depending on which strain of marijuana you are using, your likelihood of becoming addicted varies.
It is possible to become addicted to marijuana
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