So, Is marijuana addictive?
Is marijuana addictive, is definitely an important question one would have before using the substance? What does marijuana addiction mean anyways? What’s the implication and physiological truth behind such an “addiction”? Why the hype?
In short, terms like marijuana addiction and marijuana as a gateway drug are a way to influence the public conversation and perception; they are terms used as a form of propaganda—and happen to be untrue.
To say that marijuana is addictive is misleading because the notion relies on a common perception of addiction as something destructive and insidious in our society, an economic drain, and, in its extreme, fatal to the individual. This idea of addiction is informed by our knowledge and experience of hard drugs, like crack, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroine.
Propaganda in itself is not a bad thing, either—consider healthcare propaganda for HIV/AIDS prevention. But it is when ideas and information propagated become misleading, because of a narrow focus, misinterpretation, or an intentional distortion, that propaganda earns its popular, negative connotation: a purposeful spreading of ignorance.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) answer a resounding “yes” when it comes to the question, is marijuana addictive? The National Institute of Health website cites findings from a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the June 2014 study, it was estimated that 9 percent of people who use marijuana will become dependent, and that this statistic goes up to 25-50 percent for those that are daily users.
So, if someone is smoking weed a few days a week, then over a period of time decides to smoke weed everyday, does this mean that fully half of the time he or she would turn out to be suffering a case of marijuana addiction?
Probably not, especially if we reconsider (from above) how marijuana addiction and dependence are conflated with the kind of addiction and withdrawal symptoms that occur with illicit, hard drug use.
Fifty percent seems far-fetched, too. It’s right to question the definitions of addiction—potentially outdated or outmoded, or arbitrarily determined by a rigid system of criterion and “check-list” model of diagnosis versus a more interpersonal or humanistic methodology. Source bias and researcher bias are always important considerations for any study, and here can be raised as a legitimate question given one of the study’s lead authors. Dr. Nora Volkow, holds a top position for NIDA, which could conceivably suffer budget cuts were the trend of cannabis legalization to continue.
For characterization of certain cannabis opponents and those who make broad-based claims about the “deleterious” effects of weed, it is worth citing at length a rebuttal letter published in Science (where appeared the original study, placing THC and dopamine reward systems in proximity to the effects of heroine):
“The public and professional reports on marijuana…[by authors of the study] illustrates a habit that is discouragingly familiar where this drug [cannabis] is concerned: drawing unwarranted conclusions about human behaviour and social policy from technical and neurophysiological experiments of uncertain significance.”
Vestiges of this mentality have not been entirely eradicated. But the body of scientific evidence has continued to grow, and so has improved public relations between marajuana and citizenry in states, provinces and territories, nation-wide and globally.
The effects of weed and cannabis consumption on the endocannabinoid system have been increasingly well documented from within the scientific and medical community over the past two decades. Dissemination of medicine-based research, marijuana facts and outspoken researchers responding to anti-marijuana propaganda have undermined the spread of misinformation, and cut down on marijuana prohibitionary measures by policy planners and law makers.
Already, in the United States, full legalization of marijuana in CO, OR, AK, WA, and Washington D.C. demonstrates the effect this information and voter outreach campaigns, as do other progressive reform like medical marijuana legalization and decriminalization around cannabis possession laws. On March 10th 2015, for the first time, legislation that would make medicinal marihuana legal under federal law has been introduced in the Senate by three United States Senators (Rand Paul R-KY , Corey Booker D-NJ , Kristen Gellibrand D-NY).
In Canada, Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) is the response by Health Canada to the courts’ requirements for “reasonable access” to medicinal cannabis, now more widely considered to be a viable medicine and therapy for certain diseases and ailments.
Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Ruben D. Baler, Ph.D., Wilson M. Compton, M.D., and Susan R.B. Weiss, Ph.D. New England Journal of Medication. 2014; 370:2219-227. June 5, 2014.
Lester Grinspoon, James B. Bakalar, Lynn Zimmer, John P. Morgan, Iain S. McGregor, Gaetano Di Chiaro, F. Rodríguez de Fonseca, Miguel Navarro, M. Rocio A. Carrera, George F. Koob and Friedbert Weiss . Science. New Series, Vol. 277, No. 5327 (Aug. 8, 1997), pp. 749-752.