Despite being recently legalized in many U.S. states, marijuana is still the subject of great debate and controversy. Some claim it’s a gateway drug; some claim it’s essential. Still, others claim marijuana addiction is a real thing, while others claim it’s harmless and benign.
There is no doubt, however, that the stigma around cannabis usage is decreasing as the number of users increase. Marijuana is also increasing drastically in potency, and thousands of Americans are beginning to find their own usage habits problematic – regardless of whether or not their usage is frequent enough to qualify them as ‘addicts’.
Perhaps the most hotly debated question regarding marijuana is this: Is it actually addictive?
The nature of addiction
In and of itself, marijuana is not addictive. But, while the majority of users do not develop an addiction, it’s still entirely possible to become addicted to it.
The nature of addiction – and its relation to marijuana – can be a little tricky to unpack fully. Lots of people have different (and often controversial) ideas about addiction. For example: what types of behaviours constitute an addiction? How do addictions form? From a scientific perspective, what is addiction?
Perhaps most importantly: What substances can you be addicted to?
Scientifically speaking, it’s possible to become addicted to anything that you mentally, emotionally, or physically enjoy. Addiction is now defined as a neurological disorder wherein any behaviour that releases endorphins – a hormone secreted by the reward centers of your brain that produces feelings of happiness – becomes something you depend on to function.While some substances contain chemicals or other materials that more naturally re-wire the pathways in your brain to form an addictive behaviour, it’s possible to become addicted to anything that brings you happiness – certain types of foods, leisure activities, exercise, and more.
Let’s take foods, for example. Processed sugar is known to be one of the most addictive substances in common food. As such, you are much more likely to develop an addiction to sugar than you are to most other foods. However, it’s still possible for someone to develop an addiction to another type of food they greatly enjoy.
In other words, just because one substance is naturally more addictive than another, it doesn’t mean there’s no risk of addiction.
Marijuana as a substance
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the active ingredient in marijuana, and it triggers a release of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine causes sensations of euphoria, which causes the ‘high’ associated with marijuana. It also activates the brain’s reward pathways to remember the experience and repeat it.
In other words, the more THC you use, the more you’ll crave it, and you’ll start to develop a marijuana use addiction.
Research indicates that younger people are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of marijuana, including dependence and addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people who begin smoking marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop an addiction than those who pick it up later in life. In fact, the risk of developing an addiction to marijuana after the age of 25 is almost nonexistent.
It’s also important to note the distinction between ‘abuse’ and ‘dependence’. Marijuana abuse is a phrase reserved for someone who continues to smoke despite negative consequences; dependence refers to actual addiction or use disorders, often resulting in withdrawal and a drastic increase in physical and mental tolerance.
Dependence is rare for marijuana users, but not impossible. The negative side effects of overuse and addiction include smoking more than intended, neglecting responsibilities, short-term memory loss, inability to concentrate, weight gain, mental health problems such as anxiety or depression, and lack of motivation. In many cases, addicts have lost jobs, money, and spouses.
Seeking help for marijuana addiction
So, whether or not you believe marijuana is harmful, it’s proven that it can certainly be addictive. Over 200,000 people per year seek help for marijuana use addiction at facilities like Tikvah Lake Recovery, and thousands of those people have been trying to quit for years (even decades) before choosing to attend a residential treatment program.
Regardless of your habits, we urge you to consider whether or not your usage is becoming problematic. At Tikvah Lake Recovery, our treatment program involves a combination of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, holistic wellness practices, and a detailed and personalized plan for going forward.
To find out more about how we can help, contact our admissions office today.