Is Pot Addictive?

Marijuana and CBD are lauded for their medicinal benefits and therapeutic potential. But as more people use cannabinoid medicines, what's to stop them from becoming hooked? Is pot addictive?

We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.

Cannabis products such as medicinal marijuana and CBD are taking the world by storm, as they've shown to help with epilepsy, chronic pain, nausea, insomnia, anxiety, PTSD, and a host of other issues.

Valued at USD $4.5bn in 2018, the medical marijuana industry is predicted to keep on climbing all the way past USD $7.3bn in 2020. Brightfield also estimates that the US CBD industry will be valued at an enormous $22 Billion by 2022.

More and more doctors are prescribing it, and in Australia, companies like Cannvalate and Althea are helping push cannabis into doctors' field of vision and through prescription pathways.

We've even suggested that cannabis may be a viable alternative to opioids, given its ability to assist with chronic pain – the condition for which most people are prescribed opioid medicines.

However, cannabis is still a drug with psychoactive effects. Effects, which may be more desirable than sobriety to some. So, is pot a miracle cure? Or does it run users the risk of addiction?

Let's take a closer look.


is pot addictive?

What is addiction?

When one typically thinks of addiction, they'll often think of alcohol and opiates – both of which can lead to fatalities and severe withdrawal symptoms. These are clear examples of addiction.

By comparison, cannabis seems like a walk in the park. It's virtually impossible to overdose on cannabis, and the worst symptoms of cannabis withdrawal are irritability and lack of sleep.

Though it's important to remember what the definition of addiction is.

Addiction is defined as compulsively engaging in an activity despite ongoing negative consequences. This means that you can be addicted to anything if you do it to your own detriment. This could include drugs, gambling, video games, and even internet use.

By that definition, cannabis is most definitely addictive. In fact, it may be precisely because people see cannabis as safer than most other drugs that people end up consuming too much, too often.

As of 2016, about 24 million people were using marijuana in the U.S., and nearly 4 million people reported being addicted to marijuana or experiencing significant marijuana-related problems.

Long term marijuana use, specifically through smoking, can lead to respiratory issues and more frequent cases of bronchitis.

There's also moderate evidence to suggest that prolonged marijuana use can impact one's memory, attention span and ability to learn.

Then there are the social effects, which can be anxiety, introversion, lack of motivation, and a general prioritization of cannabis over other important aspects of one's life.

In an article penned to the Scientific American, entitled 'Letter From a Marijuana Addict,' the author wrote:

"By mid-summer I was dumping out trash cans with ashes at the bottom so I could pick through and make a pile of charred green that I could smoke."


The author of the article went on to say that "For the next two years my life fluctuated between weeks of being high and weeks of being clean, trying to make up for late homework and ignored relationships."

Some reading that will feel a great deal of similarity to the writer's sentiments, others, will find no common ground whatsoever.

You might be able to smoke on occasions and have no issues with weed, or you might alternatively notice that your own habits around marijuana use have caused issues in your life – and yet you continue to consume cannabis.

If you're in the latter camp, you've got some level of marijuana addiction. But what is it that makes someone addicted? And how can they prevent it?


is pot addictive?

Why do some get addicted and others don't?

Nearly four percent of the global population was using cannabis in 2015, which doubled amongst teenagers in the US and tripled in Europe.

Of those that use cannabis, one study claimed that 9 percent of people who try marijuana develop some level of dependence on the drug, while a study from NIDA (National Institute of Drug Addiction) places the number much higher, at 30%.

While the numbers vary quite significantly, it's clear that not everyone becomes dependent upon cannabis. So, what separates those who develop dependence from casual users?

Firstly, addiction to any substance can be the result of genetics.

According to a 2009 study entitled 'Genes and Addictions,' addictions are "moderately to highly heritable," and that "an individual's risk [of addiction] tends to be proportional to the degree of genetic relationship to an addicted relative."

This means that if a person has a family history of addiction, they're likely going to be more predisposed to drug abuse than someone without those same genetics.

It also depends on age and gender – if you begin using the drug when you're under 18, or if you're a male, you are more likely to become addicted than if you're female and use the drug at a later age.

Mental illnesses such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and insomnia, also often lead individuals to self-medicate and eventually abuse substances such as cannabis.

Which begs the question; what if you're a woman with no mental illness or family history of abuse, and you still find yourself addicted to cannabis?

Some would argue, that you must look externally for answers, toward your environment.

Johann Hari, British Journalist and best-selling author of 'Chasing the Scream: The First and Last of the War on Drugs' believes that "the overwhelming reason for addiction is the pain and isolation the individual feels. The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It's human connection."

And connection, in this case, isn't simply with your family or friends. It can include your career, where you live, and how meaningful you consider your life to be.

"Everyone knows human beings have natural physical needs," Hari added. "Well, there's equally good evidence that we have innate psychological needs."

"We need to feel we belong to a group; we need to feel we have a stable future; we need to feel that we are valued; we need to feel we have meaning and purpose in our lives."

– Johann Hari, British Journalist, and best-selling author

And there may be data to back up Johann's claims, as expenditure on drug prevention has increased and yet drug use continues to rise globally.

Occurring alongside this increase in drug use is also an increase in global depression rates. From 2005-15, cases of depressive illness increased by nearly a fifth, with The Guardian stating that "People born after 1945 are 10 times more likely to have depression."

Dr. Laurel Williams, chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital shares Johann's views on depression as she told NBC News that "there's a lack of community".

"There's the amount of time that we spend in front of screens and not in front of other people. If you don't have a community to reach out to, then your hopelessness doesn't have any place to go," Williams said.


is pot addictive?

What to do if you're addicted

Firstly, determining if your cannabis use is problematic isn't always clear. There's a fine line between enjoying life, and simply escaping it.

Try to first ask yourself why you're using cannabis, and if you're choosing it to the detriment of other aspects of your life. If you are using cannabis to escape issues in your life, then you may want to consider reducing or stopping use.

Withdrawal symptoms of cannabis are mild in comparison to opioids or alcohol, but they aren't negligible either.

You will have difficulty sleeping for up to 10 days, and when you do get any shut-eye, your dreams will be vivid and nightmarish. Marijuana use effectively shuts off our dreaming mechanism, storing a backlog of dreams to return to you upon your sobriety. This means that when quitting cannabis after long-term use, your dreams will be extremely intense and often scary.

Along with this, you'll experience mood swings of depression and anger, and excessive sweating as your body flushes out the toxins of the drug.

If you want to minimize the withdrawal effects, you can slowly reduce your cannabis use over time, instead of going cold turkey and facing all the effects of stopping at once. However, in some cases, going cold turkey is the best option.

Whichever option you choose, exercising and a healthy diet can be very powerful in minimizing the withdrawal symptoms of cannabis.

In exercising you'll help your body to sweat out the toxins more quickly, which in turn will release dopamine, your body's natural mood booster, to help with the mood swings and irritability.

Exercising will also help tire you out so that you can sleep more easily, which you can assist further by avoiding caffeine. Then a healthy diet of fats, vegetables and plenty of water will ensure your body has everything it needs to recover quickly.

However, if you are as Johann says, suffering from a lack of connection in life, you may less incentive to quit marijuana.

This could mean analyzing your relationships, career, hobbies, and lifestyle, and seeing which makes your sobriety more difficult. Find areas of your life you aren't happy with and seek to improve them, to ensure that you don't end up abusing another substance or develop other negative habits.

And of course, never feel afraid to reach out for help. Search cannabis addiction groups or centers near you, and speak to a professional if your cannabis use is negatively affecting your life.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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