Marijuana Addiction On The Rise

By Maggie Ethridge 06/28/18

Around 9% of marijuana users become addicted and the government is having a tough time convincing people that marijuana addiction is real. 

Woman lighting a joint

In Northern California, addiction treatment practitioners are reporting a higher demand for help with marijuana addiction, especially among adolescents.

Many believe that marijuana is not addictive, though there are plenty of people that have struggled and are currently struggling with marijuana use disorder.

Marijuana addiction is very real, even if it less common or life-threatening than addictions to alcohol (15% of users become addicted) and heroin (24%), according to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science. 

Around 9% of marijuana users become addicted and about 17% of those who begin using in adolescence become addicted, according to the Denver Post.

In San Rafael, California experts are seeing higher rates of marijuana addiction. According to the Post, “some say the normalization of America’s marijuana culture got its start” there, while treatment practitioners for addiction are struggling to identify why more pot smokers are struggling.

“There should be no controversy about the existence of marijuana addiction,” said David Smith, a physician who has been treating addiction since the 1960s. “We see it every day. The controversy should be why it appears to be affecting more people.”

Dr. Smith, a visiting physician at Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services, a treatment center for boys, wonders in The Denver Post if the potency of the marijuana is causing higher levels of addiction.

“Back in the day when kids were sitting around smoking a joint, the THC levels found in marijuana averaged from 2 to 4%,” Smith said. “That’s what most parents think is going on today. And that’s why society thinks marijuana is harmless.”

Currently, marijuana is more potent than ever before. The Denver Post notes that selective marijuana breeding has created an average potency of 20% THC, while other strains are 30% or higher. In addition, marijuana concentrates and extracts have risen in popularity and have THC levels anywhere from 40% to over 80%, according to marijuana industry promotional information and DEA reports.

People with marijuana use disorder are not immune to withdrawal symptoms when they quit using. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) lists marijuana withdrawal symptoms as irritability, lethargy, anxiety, restlessness and low appetite, as well as stomach pain, shakiness, fever, chills, and headache.

The National Cannabis Industry Association’s chief spokesman, Morgan Fox, told The Denver Post he’s not surprised the federal government cannot convince people that addiction to marijuana is real.

“It’s their own fault,” he said of the government. “When people find out they’ve been lied to by the federal government about the relative harms of marijuana for decades, they are much less likely to believe anything they have to say going forward, even if that information is accurate.”

Fox told The Denver Post that the National Cannabis Industry Association has no disagreement with the finding that 9% of people who use marijuana become addicted.

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.