Is Weed Addictive?

Ever since the Nixon era, there have been people in power trying to convince citizens that marijuana is addictive. They want you to believe that, like heroin, crack or any other drug, you only need to take one puff to sell your soul to the devil. Nowadays, however, the general attitude toward weed is less negative and less paranoid. Sometimes, however, this attitude seems to go a little too far the other way again: many people believe that you can’t get addicted to cannabis at all. Again, this is not the case. Yet this does not mean that Nixon was right. Addiction is a much broader concept than many people think. In fact, there are different types of addictions. You should consider all of these in order to understand the addictive potential of cannabis.

Definition of an Addiction

To talk about this, it is first necessary to understand the definition of an addiction. As with other diseases, addictions also involve different stages of development.

Theoretical Model of an Addiction

According to researchers George Koob and Nora Volkow[1], you can define an addiction based on four factors. First, there must be chronic relapses. This means that the addiction can come back again and again, even if it seems that you are rid of it. In addition, addictions are characterized by an incessant need for a drug and the urge to want to use it constantly. Furthermore, an addiction occurs when you cannot control your use and you suffer from negative emotions when you cannot consume the drug. A person is considered addicted if he or she meets all these characteristics. Even if this person is recovering from his or her addiction, the person is considered addicted if he or she has shown all these characteristics in the past for a prolonged period of time.

The Three Phases of Addiction

Koob and Volkow’s model divides an addiction into three phases. Addictions begin with excessive consumption/intoxication, followed by withdrawal symptoms or negative affection, and end with preoccupation/anticipation. Excessive consumption has a number of neurological features. The first and immediately the most obvious sign is excessive and impulsive use of a drug. This is often accompanied by an urge to use despite the negative consequences. The second sign is a high release of dopamine in certain situations. In particular, at times that the brain associates with drug use. The brain does this simply to encourage you to use the drug again. In the subsequent phase, a person experiences withdrawal symptoms. These are caused by opposite reactions of processes in the body. In this regard, the phase is characterized by several neurological symptoms. First, the reward system in the brain uses a higher threshold for non-medicated stimuli. This means that it becomes more difficult to motivate yourself to do things that have nothing to do with the drug. Second, the ability to regulate emotions becomes impaired. This mainly involves negative feelings. The withdrawal phase mainly causes an increase in discomfort and dysphoria. In addition, a person may feel ill and suffer from chronic irritability. Once the withdrawal symptoms are gone, the preoccupation/anticipation phase carries a risk of relapse. This risk comes from three neurological changes. As before, the brain is more attracted to environmental cues that it associates with the drug. If the brain releases more dopamine in these situations, it releases less in the situations not associated with the drug. Add it all up, and the brain ends up being less and less able to stop unwanted behavior.

Weed Addiction: Physical or Psychological?

Now that we know what an addiction looks like, we can start to distinguish between the different types of addictions[2]. For example, there is a difference between a physical and a psychological addiction. A physical addiction means that the brain thinks it physically needs the drug to function and survive. The body feels sick without the drug until you use more of it. However, this only occurs with drugs that contain addictive substances, such as heroin, crystal meth and nicotine. Psychological addiction, however, is different. Instead of a physical need, there is a strong mental need for the drug. Your body does not need the drug, yet your brain tries to convince you that it does. However, you can also experience this with things that have nothing to do with drugs, such as eating or going to the gym. Even working out can trigger this effect. You are more likely to be psychologically addicted if you think about it all day, do it excessively, and the compulsion to do it negatively affects your life. It is not as harmful as a physical addiction, but it is still an addiction. Although marijuana does not contain addictive substances, it can lead to psychological addiction. You won’t experience the same problems as with alcohol, heroin or meth addiction, but you can be affected. For example, the motivation to do other things and the ability to function without marijuana will decrease. To make matters worse, heavy users may experience physical withdrawal symptoms, such as gastrointestinal distress and a decreased appetite.

How Pot Can Lead to Addiction

But how can you eventually become addicted to marijuana? Often it starts as an innocent activity with friends. Once you have enough money, however, no one can stop you and you have the ability to get it in your house all the time. As a result, it is always at your fingertips, so there is a chance that you will start using it as a way to deal with normal negative emotions. Once this is the case, the situation becomes more serious. You will then probably start using it daily and several times in a day. You also tend not to use the same amount anymore. As with other drugs, your body develops a tolerance. In addition, the reward system in your brain changes. As you use more, you need more to experience the same satisfaction as in the beginning. Still, many people who use marijuana daily can live a decent life. However, people with less willpower (and with poorer health) are in a more unfortunate position.

Cannabis Use Disorder

This unfortunate position has a name: cannabis use disorder. This is said to exist when a person continues to use cannabis despite its negative health and lifestyle effects. Sometimes he or she uses more than that person wants to or this person has tried to stop in the past without success. Someone with a cannabis use disorder will also be unable to meet professional and social obligations. This is because that person spends a lot of time dealing with the addiction. Does this sound familiar to you? It very well may. In fact, these are characteristics that you see in every form of addiction. While the addiction rate among marijuana users may be lower than among hard drug users, we should not trivialize these numbers. In exceptional cases, cannabis can really hamper a person’s life and health if they use it excessively.

Cannabis Dependence Versus Abuse

Before we go any further, we would like to emphasize that you cannot lump everyday cannabis users together. As we will explain in a moment, not all of them are in trouble. However, they can be in trouble if they don’t use it carefully.

From Weed Use to Tolerance to Addiction to Withdrawal

As we mentioned earlier, it all starts with occasional use. However, as a person becomes more available to weed, they may start smoking it for so long that they develop a tolerance to it. Then, when a person cannot use more, he or she will have to settle for feeling less than normal. If possible, however, he or she will increase the dose in an attempt to experience the same high as before. This, of course, causes the tolerance threshold to skyrocket. And so this person becomes dependent on marijuana. However, this is also the time when paths can separate. For example, someone who smokes daily, but does not experience any social, professional or health problems, would not be considered a cannabis abuser. He or she may be dependent, but as long as it does not negatively affect his or her life, this person has no problem. However, the same person may, if he or she is not careful, miss important events or obligations because the person prefers to smoke at that time. Also, the person may develop health problems because of the smoking itself. If these things happen and the person is unable to quit, then this person is considered a cannabis abuser. In either case, a person may experience withdrawal symptoms, regardless of whether the person uses it safely or unsafely on a daily basis. For the abuser, however, the withdrawal symptoms are more annoying, even though you cannot compare these symptoms to heroin or meth.

Weed Addiction – Conclusion

To answer the question in the title, yes, marijuana can be addictive. Weed addiction is not rare, but it is less severe than addiction to hard drugs, such as heroin and crystal meth or even nicotine and alcohol. If you can meet your social and professional obligations and your health does not suffer, there is no reason to give up weed. However, if you know you are addiction-prone or have a diminished willpower, beware. As they say at every coffee shop or in cannabis commercials: enjoy in moderation.