According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, roughly four million Americans met the clinical criteria for marijuana use disorder in 2015. Recent surveys indicate that nearly 50 million Americans identify themselves as current, regular marijuana users.
As such, the number of people seeking specialized treatment for this addiction has more than doubled in the last decade. The demand for marijuana addiction treatment has surged in recent years, especially in states where recreational use is legal. Yet, much of the entire pot-smoking community will argue that marijuana addiction doesn’t exist.
The smoking community argues that there are no physical withdrawal symptoms to treat, and there has never been a death attributed to marijuana overdose. I submit that the word “death” doesn’t appear anywhere in the definition of addiction, and overdose need not be possible to prove the addictive nature of a drug. Nobody has ever died from a porn overdose either, but there are no arguments on the validity of its existence. As for the presence of physical withdrawal symptoms, those are real. One only needs to approach an avid user about the possibility of abstinence to elicit defensive behavior. Although, those in favor of legalizing marijuana would have the rest of us believe that it is harmless.
This is perhaps one of the most widely debated points surrounding marijuana use across the globe. It is the main point of contention between the entire pot smoking nation, and those who choose to abstain. As cannabis becomes more widely accepted and legalized across the country, more and more Americans are experiencing the symptoms of addiction. Physical dependence tends to develop more slowly with marijuana than with other drugs. This may account for its portrayal as a soft drug that exudes the illusion of safety.
Pot users laugh at the thought of marijuana as an addictive substance. They scoff at the very notion as they smoke themselves silly. This is nothing more than a defense mechanism. Consider this: if someone wakes up and drinks a beer first thing in the morning, most people would agree they have a problem. Getting high first thing in the morning is equally as alarming, but somehow people convince themselves that it isn’t. This is called rationalization; it is a common practice among addicts. They convince themselves that their behavior is justifiable and acceptable. Unfortunately, they are only fooling themselves.
Regardless of the terminology, marijuana use disorder is addiction. Calling it something else makes it easier to talk about. Calling marijuana a soft drug makes it no less addictive. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, is a manual published by the American Psychiatric Association. It is a book that lists all classifications of mental disorders along with its symptoms; it is considered an authoritative guide by health care professionals around the world. DSM-5 defines addiction as a substance use disorder. By its very definition, marijuana use disorder is addiction.
Marijuana users argue that sudden abstinence doesn’t induce negative physical symptoms. I beg to differ, and so do the thousands of medical professionals who treat it. If you suddenly take the pot away from a chronic stoner who has been smoking for years, he will experience physical symptoms. These symptoms may range from restlessness and irritability to insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, physical discomfort, and more. You may not find them curled up into a ball on the floor begging for a hit, but they experience the tell-tale signs of withdrawal. This person will not continue with the normal activities of daily life, as if nothing has happened; they must heal first. The healing process may take anywhere from a week, a month, or longer, depending on the level of addiction.
Studies have shown that heavy persistent cannabis users consistently show a pattern of physical withdrawal symptoms upon abstinence. These withdrawal symptoms replicate those of other addictive drugs. Withdrawal symptoms started nearly 24 hours after abstinence, and peaked around the three or four-day mark for most patients.
Heavy marijuana use rewires the brain and the way it works. Chronic, heavy marijuana use causes the brain to desensitize and reduce production of its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters. The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, promotes homeostasis among the systems in the human body by propagating and regulating normal function. It plays a major role in modulating messages of cognition, motivation, emotion, and pain. Neurotransmitters are responsible for carrying these messages throughout the brain. Chronic marijuana use shrinks brain matter and inhibits neurotransmission in key areas of the brain. As this happens, marijuana becomes necessary for normal function. This is known as addiction.
Health care providers report that more than half of those treated for marijuana addiction will relapse. Recovery rates for marijuana addicts mimic those of alcoholics. This is due, at least in part, to the patient’s constant battle with the long-term damage suffered by the brain. There is not yet any evidence to suggest that the brain ever fully recovers after a period of abstinence after chronic marijuana use.
The perception of marijuana, and the crackpot mentality that it poses no threat may also attribute to a lack of full recovery. Society has become more accepting based on false information.
One must also consider a person’s predisposition to addiction, and the potency of their drug of choice. Officials routinely test confiscated samples of marijuana to determine its potency. Samples tested in the early 1990s revealed a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) potency around 3.8 percent. After 2010, tested samples showed increased potency levels closer to 12.2 percent. And more recent studies reveal much higher THC potency, ranging from 50 to 80 percent.
Cannabis strains containing an average of nearly 70-percent THC make up one-fifth of the total cannabis market. The combination of a stronger drug, a more accepting society, and lenient laws are a recipe for disaster that feed the addicted community.
Those who argue that marijuana is not addictive are typically the ones who smoke the most pot. They are the people who keep jobs instead of building careers. The parts of their brain responsible for achievement, rewards and empathy have been damaged. They are content to work hourly jobs if they can continue getting high. They fool themselves into thinking they are not addicted because they can keep a job. Their weed is their best friend, and they live a life of financial hardship to ensure ample opportunity for indulgence. They consider their weed a priority, much like an alcoholic treats the drink. These stoners would rather give up an important relationship than stop smoking pot. Most of us know someone like this. They spend much of their free time smoking or chasing weed, which is the classic sign of an addict.
Potheads can argue until they are blue in the face, but it won’t change the truth. Unfortunately, the truth hurts.
Marijuana use disorder is the new label for this illness. It is listed in the DSM-5 near opioid use disorder, and alcohol use disorder. All three are dangerously addictive substances capable of wreaking havoc and devastation in the lives of users. Marijuana is one of the most dangerous; it is cloaked in the illusion of safety. It acts much like the timid and friendly next-door neighbor whom you never imagined could hurt anyone. You assume they are harmless until you see them on the news, and their true colors are revealed.
Marijuana approaches with a soft smile, waiting patiently for the user. Marijuana is ready to fill a void and show the user a good time. People never imagine that marijuana could be dangerous until it is too late. In every sense, marijuana use disorder is addiction.