Is Marijuana Addictive?

two young men smoking weed

Let’s deal with this question immediately. Groups that are in favor of medical marijuana or broad legalization sweep this question under the carpet. The fact is that, yes, it IS addictive. You are unlikely to hear this fact on the nightly news, in the newspaper or anywhere else. Marijuana IS addictive. Here are a few statistics to make this clearer.

What are the odds of becoming addicted? Studies have shown that:

  • Of all the people who use marijuana, about one in eleven will become addicted.
  • When a young person begins smoking marijuana in his or her TEENS, he (or she) has a one in six chance of becoming addicted.

Admissions to Treatment

  • According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2010, more than 360,000 people were admitted to treatment for addiction, with marijuana being listed as the primary drug they were abusing. That is, they went into rehab because of marijuana and its effects on their bodies and minds.
  • Twenty-eight percent of those admissions or 103,000 people were between twelve and seventeen years old. (This figure applies only to publicly-funded facilities so the actual number is much higher.)
  • Forty-three percent were under 21.
  • In 2016 it was estimated that of the 7.4 million people who were addicted to illicit drugs, the most common addiction was for marijuana with 4 million individuals 12 or older addicted to this substance. 

ER visits

person in emergency room

Because of greatly increased potency, mental distress, panic attacks, and other problems have also increased. In 2011, there were nearly half a million visits to ERs related to problems with marijuana use. Common symptoms were severe nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, anxiety, panic attacks and paranoia.

Daily users

According to the 2013 World Drug Report, an estimated 1 in 15 high school seniors is a daily or near-daily user of cannabis. For parents who once smoked marijuana “on the weekend or at parties,” they can understand what a high school student smoking DAILY would mean to his ability to really do school or be a school kid.

Marijuana withdrawal

Some people argue that because marijuana does not have dramatic withdrawal symptoms like alcohol or heroin, it is not addictive. But there are two errors in this thinking. One is that the marijuana of today is more than two times stronger than it was twenty years ago (some say much stronger than that), and withdrawing from that is quite a different matter. The other is that it is simply not true: There ARE withdrawal symptoms when a chronic user stops using cannabis.

They include:

  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Nightmares
  • Anger and fluctuating emotions
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • And of course, craving to continue to use the drug.

Remember that the above symptoms can be stronger or weaker for the person withdrawing, depending on how much dope he was smoking, over how long, and his own unique physical and mental constitution. (Some people are much more sensitive to drugs. They get higher on less, for example.)

The report Cannabis and Health Hazards notes that withdrawal effects can be triggered by the use of a normal dose of marijuana (one to two good-quality joints per day) for just eleven to twenty-one days.

smoking weed despite bad effects

Continuing to smoke pot despite real evident life-troubles

Perhaps a better measure of addiction is whether or not the person experiences harm from the use of this drug, but is so compelled to use it and the cravings for it are so strong that he continues anyway.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heavy marijuana abuse is associated with the following problems or effects:

  • Worsening mental and physical health
  • Relationship problems
  • Higher probability of dropping out of school or abandoning goals
  • Lower grades and reduced academic success
  • Increased absences from school or work
  • More workers’ compensation claims
  • Less career success compared to peers.

An addicted cannabis user will continue to use the drug despite effects like these. It is common for a heavy smoker to stop caring about the damage and just focus on staying stoned. This is what is called “addiction.” It applies just as much to marijuana as to crack or meth or pain pills.


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