Can You Get Addicted to Marijuana?

addiction to marijuana

Can You Get Addicted to Marijuana? Hummm… in fact, it’s a bit more complicated.

I find this topic fascinating, and I’ve therefore done my homework on it.  The question of becoming addicted to pot, grass, weed, chronic, wacky tobaccy, is quite interesting, perhaps a bit complicated.

There’s the thorny distinction between dependence and true addiction (like to cocaine), and we’ll give it due consideration.  But first, some of the key facts.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse tells us that according to their 2010 research, 4.5 million people were addicted to pot.  It says that about 9% of people who partake end up dependent on it, which may sound like a lot or a little, depending on your perspective.   Information from Northern Arizona University tells us that 25-50% of daily marijuana users will end up dependent.  17% of kids who start partaking as teens will grow dependent.

Addiction vs. Dependence

But let’s take a look at the difference between a chemical addiction to marijuana and what one might term dependence.

The NAU info gives us a pretty solid definition of the difference.  It’s most effective to start with addiction and go from there.  The good university defines addiction as involving a growing tolerance for the drug, meaning the need to smoke more and more to get a high.  This is a huge warning sign when using any substance.

Other key traits of addiction are experiencing serious cravings, having a hard time controlling the level or amount of use, and having withdrawals if you go a few days without.

This is as opposed to dependence, the issue of lesser severity.   This involves things like having the drug “get in the way” of issues like work performance or school by reducing mental sharpness, etc.  It can involve a large focus on the drug, having it play a large part in your life and your desires and priorities, the way a video game or sport might (but with, of course, health issues, as well).

Don’t Let Pot Get You

Because a small percentage of people who smoke actually become chemically addicted, a lot of people downplay the possible problems with using pot heavily.

Here’s something that should alarm you.  A study done by the school of medicine at Mount Sinai earlier this year showed that children of marijuana users are more likely than others to develop addictive behaviors later in life.

As for health issues, you may have heard that smoking pot is somehow less dangerous to your body than smoking cigarettes.  However, new information is always coming forth.  A study at the beginning of this year in Toulouse, France, shows serious cardiovascular problems that may have marijuana use at their root.

Dr. Emilie Jouanjus was in charge of the study, and he and his colleagues found some surprising results when looking at a group of 1,979 subjects with the average age of 34.  They were all marijuana users, and 20 of them had suffered heart attacks; 10 had peripheral vascular disease, and 9 died from cardiovascular complications.  Now, as you may have caught, these unfortunates averaged just 34 years of age.  Again, this is a new study, which means it doesn’t inform a lot of folk wisdom about marijuana as being harmless.

Don’t Dope Your Dopamine

People get high to feel good, to feel happy, right?  Yeah, the drug gives you a pretty good feeling initially.  But how does it affect one’s overall emotional life? A study published in the Journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America has results that are less than cheering.  Dopamine is the brain’s chemical associated with quick bursts of positive feelings, and it is indeed released by marijuana use.

But the study found decreased reactivity to dopamine among its subjects he smoked marijuana, as opposed to their non-using counterparts.  The studies, including self-report data from participants, showed negative emotional states in conjunction with the.  This lack of dopamine reactivity. This phenomenon seems to involve the drug damaging the mechanisms it is meant to promote, almost the way that anti-acne creams actually promote acne by damaging the skin in the long term.

A study published in the March 2014 issue of Neuron discusses an effect similar to the above but having to do with the amygdala, a crucial part of the brain.  The amygdala is part of a system in your brain that produces endocannabinoids, which is a natural form of cannabis, a part of the brain that reduces anxiety naturally in the way that cannabis is meant to do from the outside.  In short, using an artificial form, exocannibis, screws up your brain’s receptors to its own endocannabinoids.  Just as the problem with the dopamine, it’s the receptors that are the problems, not the chemical itself.  That means that the brain keeps wanting more, which means someone keeps smoking more pot, creating a vicious circle.

To conclude, marijuana doesn’t lend itself to full-blown chemical dependence.  But the distinction, while not trivial, may not be worth a lot of time.   The takeaway is that it is more destructive than people may have thought.  The legalization of pot, first for medicinal purposes, and then in general, has prompted a lot of studies on the matter.  Some of the newest data shows, not so much that it’s addictive, but that it has some potential to lead you down some paths that lead nowhere good.

A person who wants to investigate a substance before using it should gather and heed as much information as possible.  The decision is yours, but be informed.

Photo Credit Smokers High Life