Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, with more than 104 million people having tried it at least once according to a 2009 survey published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Its use is so common that some are reconsidering the substance's illegality, with recreational use already legalized in Colorado and Washington. With the debate behind these new laws has come a great deal of debate about the potential harm of pot use.
There is a lot of confusion about the level of danger that marijuana poses, with critics and proponents each loudly presenting their own sets of contradictory "facts." One of the many questions you may hear many different answers to is: is marijuana addictive?
This article will attempt to get to the bottom of marijuana addiction, whether or not it is possible and how susceptible each particular user might be.
Addiction is a condition by which a user is unable to stop using a substance or engaging in an activity, in spite of serious consequences to physical, mental, or social health. The DSM-IV, which provides a definitive list of mental health disorders lists 7 criteria for "substance dependence," including tolerance, where dosages have to be increased for a desired effect, withdraw, where going without results in unpleasant side-effects, continuing use in spite of negative consequences, and desires or efforts to quit that prove unsuccessful.
Some addiction is psychological, in which a people experiences intense cravings and anxiety without the substance, and physical, in which the substance itself creates a dependence, so that users experiences unpleasant physical symptoms if they try to stop or reduce their use. Of course, your mind is a part of your body, and your emotions are affected by your health, so the two sources of addiction are strongly connected.
In a study published in the 2014 Journal of Addictive Medicine, Dr. John Kelly, a psychiatrist from Massachusetts General Hospital surveyed 127 teenagers being treated for substance abuse, and almost all of them were experiencing addiction to marijuana, with 90% considering identifying it as the primary substance they abused, and 84% of those meeting all the criteria for addiction.
They experienced increased tolerance, having to consume more than they once did in order to get the same initial effects. They had also tried to cut back, and been unsuccessful, with their cravings overcoming their desire to not use. Two fifths of those surveyed had experienced withdrawal symptoms, including hyperactivity, restlessness, and sleeping problems.
According to a statement released in 2013 Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, about 9 % of all pot users meet the criteria for addiction. Like with many abusive substances, the vulnerability of addictive patterns goes up for users who start young, "closer to 17 percent—or one in six."
Granted, that is a lower rate of addiction than for users of many other substances, such as 15% for alcohol, 23% for heroin, and 32% for tobacco. While that means many people may be able to use without meeting the definition of addiction, we should take the drug's addictive potential seriously.
Compared with many other drugs, including alcohol, tobacco, prescription painkillers, cannabis has comparative mild physical withdrawal effects, but it can create a powerful psychological pull and craving, leading people to use in compulsive ways that can seriously disrupt their lives.
Dr. Kelly's study found the teens that recognized their substance abuse issue as an addiction had a much easier time breaking their dependence than those who didn't recognize the problem and therefore weren't as open to receiving help. This indicates the importance of not denying that addiction is a problem.
If you do feel marijuana use has gotten out of control, finding yourself unable to function without it or finding your cravings too strong, or that it interferes with your ability to live a full, balanced life, help is available to give you the strength to quit.