Yes, Marijuana Really Can Be Addictive


Marijuana has a puzzling reputation. Many people believe that recreational marijuana use should be legalized, and that medical marijuana should have widespread availability. Yet marijuana remains illegal in most countries, including the United States, and the idea of legalization has many firm opponents.

For every person who believes that marijuana is at least as harmless as other legal substances like alcohol and tobacco, there is someone who believes this psychotropic drug presents too many health and safety risks, and should remain illegal.

Marijuana Addiction Lacks Recognition

One of the questions surrounding marijuana is whether the drug is addictive. Many people have the impression that marijuana is not an addictive substance, especially when compared to other illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin, and even such legal substances as cigarettes.

There is a grain of truth to this belief, but it is far from the whole story. Marijuana is less addictive than cocaine or heroin; it is almost impossible to use these drugs for a sustained period of time without getting addicted, and some people can find themselves in the early stages of addiction after only one or two uses. However, marijuana addiction is a genuine problem for a large number of people.

Marijuana Addiction May Be More Likely Than Alcoholism

Marijuana is addictive in much the same way that alcohol is addictive. Many people are able to use marijuana regularly without getting hooked, just as the majority of people who regularly engage in casual drinking will not develop problems with alcoholism. However, people with a genetic tendency toward addiction, people who live with high levels of stress or people dealing with mental illness are all more vulnerable to marijuana addiction.

The actual numbers related to marijuana addiction are hard to pin down. The National Institute on Drug abuse (NIDA) endorsed a study published in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology that determined the percentage of marijuana users who become addicted to be around 9 percent. In comparison, the percentage of alcohol users who suffer with alcoholism is about 9 percent. Furthermore, estimates from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggest that the total percentage of marijuana users dealing with dependence as well as those dealing with addiction could be as high as 20 percent.

Twenty percent of marijuana users would equal about 4.5 million people. However, despite these estimates, the actual number of people who sought treatment for marijuana addiction in 2010 was only 340,212. As is the case with many kinds of substance addiction, the number of people who seek treatment for marijuana addiction is a small fraction of those who suffer from it.

While these studies suggest that the percentage of marijuana users who become addicted to the drug is higher than the percentage of alcohol users who develop alcoholism, alcohol addiction remains a much more widespread problem simply because alcohol use is far more common in the United States.

Risk Factors Increase Likelihood of Addiction

Genetics are known to play a major role in determining who develops an addiction and can place people at greater risk for developing marijuana dependency. Mental illness is also a major risk factor for marijuana addiction, and a large percentage of people who end up in treatment for this illness are also dealing with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or PTSD. Many of these people turn to marijuana to help relieve their symptoms; unfortunately, the brain can adapt to having the drug present. It requires more in order to achieve the same effect, and the symptoms they wanted to alleviate become even worse when the drug is not present.

Stress, another risk factor, can lead to marijuana dependency or addiction in the same way. Some people turn to marijuana to relieve major stress in their lives, and it can become a crutch on which they depend just to feel normal, until eventually they find that they are no longer in control of their habit.

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