Ask an Expert: Is Marijuana Addictive?

Ask an Expert: Is Marijuana Addictive?

By The Fix staff 01/12/15
Today's question is whether marijuana can be addictive.
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Is marijuana addictive?

Tessie Castillo: Whether marijuana is considered addictive depends on how addiction is defined. A person with a physical addiction to a drug will experience physiological symptoms if he stops using. For example, withdrawal from alcohol, opioids or benzodiazepines may cause symptoms such as high blood pressure, increased pulse, discomfort, seizures or even death. If a chronic but not heavy marijuana user stops using, the symptoms, if any, are milder by comparison: anxiety, irritability or slightly increased pulse. As for "heavy users" who go through withdrawal, a 2012 study by National Institute on Drug Abuse researcher David Gorelick, PhD, MD, found that among the 100 heavy users in the study, 42% experienced withdrawal symptoms, such as cravings, irritability, anxiety and sleep disturbance. 78% of this heavy user group returned to pot use to reduce or avoid their withdrawal symptoms.

Thus, while marijuana is not generally considered physically addictive, the physiological symptoms experienced by heavy users suggest that for some people it may well be addictive, even if less so than opioids. However, anything can be psychologically addictive if a person experiences a strong and harmful need for it. Though most people use marijuana in moderation, there are some who develop such a strong need for it that marijuana use begins to negatively affect other areas of their lives. Those people may be considered addicted to marijuana. Anything can cause psychological addiction if used in excess: gambling, sex, food, video games, even exercise.

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Tessie Castillo is the Advocacy and Communications Coordinator at the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, a leading public health and drug policy reform organization in the Southern United States. She is an expert on harm reduction, overdose prevention and response, naloxone, the drug war, and policy reform. Full Bio.

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