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Is Marijuana Physically Addictive?

Some people may use marijuana frequently, but whether their use is caused by physical or physiological reasons is up for debate. No matter the reason for continued marijuana use, frequently using marijuana can lead to the development of a marijuana use disorder, which in many cases expresses itself as addiction.

Many users believe that marijuana is not addictive, but data suggests that “30% of those who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder.” Other statistics reveal that “people who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder.”

Marijuana Withdrawal and Dependence

One reason that a marijuana use disorder will persist is because of users becoming dependent on the drug. Dependence is when a “person feels withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug,” occurring as the brain becomes accustomed to the consistently large quantity of drugs in their system. People become tolerant to the influx of chemicals ingested with marijuana use, decreasing “the production of and sensitivity to its [the user’s] own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters.” Withdrawal symptoms from marijuana dependence can include anything from “irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, cravings, restlessness, and/or various forms of physical discomfort that peak within the first week after quitting and last up to 2 weeks.”

Marijuana Dependence vs Addiction

To understand if marijuana is physically addictive, it is necessary to differentiate between dependence and addiction. Addiction refers to not just the physical symptoms of substance use, but it accounts for the psychological symptoms as well. Physical addiction involves symptoms of withdrawal and tolerance. It is important to note that it is possible to have a physical dependence on a drug without being addicted, but addiction is closely connected and usually follows.

So, the answer is yes, marijuana can cause an individual to become physically dependent, as it is possible to experience withdrawal from the drug. Addiction, however, involves both the mental and physical experience associated with the drug. Marijuana can lead to a mental addiction, leading the individual to feel like they need the drug to relax and survive in society. Marijuana use becomes an addiction when it transitions from a marijuana use disorder and “the person cannot stop using the drug even though it interferes with many aspects of his or her life.”

How Common is Marijuana Use Disorder

Concerning marijuana statistics with “estimates of the number of people addicted to marijuana are controversial, in part because epidemiological studies of substance use often use dependence as a proxy for addiction even though it is possible to be dependent without being addicted.” These studies may be biased due to the classification of addiction and dependence. Studies have shown that 9% of marijuana users become dependent on it, “rising to about 17% in those who start using in their teens.”

Statistics like these continue to rise; in 2015 alone, “about 4.0 million people in the United States met the diagnostic criteria for a marijuana use disorder.” Unfortunately, of these four million people, less than 140,000 individuals got help for their marijuana addiction and sought personal help.

At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we strive to close the disproportionate gap between individuals needing and seeking help, receiving care, and successfully recovering from their addictions.

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