Whether marijuana is an addictive drug has been debated for years.
Advocates claim it can be used recreationally or as medicine with no risk for dependency, while opponents insist that, like any mind-altering substance, addiction is always a possibility.
So, is marijuana addictive?
Part of the problem in deciding if marijuana is an addictive drug is in defining the term addiction.
Experts have called addiction various things, including drug dependence, substance use disorder, substance abuse and more.
What does it really mean to be addicted?
Purists would say that addiction is when a chemical substance alters the brain with repeated use and causes certain outcomes. These include tolerance to the drug, cravings for it and withdrawal symptoms when the substance is no longer used.
On the other hand, many experts also recognize that although addiction is traditionally defined as a physical phenomenon, there is also such a thing as psychological addition. This occurs when you become dependent on something, a substance or even a behavior, without the same brain-changing physiological effects that known addictive drugs cause.
Do marijuana users experience withdrawal symptoms?
Researchers have attempted to answer if marijuana is addictive, and the result is a guarded yes.
The mind-altering substances in the cannabis plant, called cannabinoids, are nowhere near as addictive as other substances like heroin, cocaine, alcohol or nicotine. However, research shows that marijuana users can experience some of the same symptoms as drug addicts. Regular marijuana users tend to develop a tolerance to its effects, for example. They need to use more and more to get the same high.
Perhaps most notable is that research shows that marijuana users experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the drug. Physical withdrawal symptoms include:
Users may also have psychological withdrawal and feel depressed or anxious without the drug. These findings indicate that marijuana may be both physically and psychologically addictive.
New marijuana research
Because both attitudes and laws are shifting with respect to marijuana usage, it is important to researchers to delve deeper into the question of addiction. Research using marijuana has been limited, but new research projects are in the works and are expected to provide important answers.
One such study at the University of Arizona will investigate the medicinal properties of the drug. A research team will study the usefulness of marijuana as an aid to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Another study, to be conducted in Oregon, will help to answer the question of how addictive marijuana is and how to treat people dependent on it. According to the researchers, only alcohol tops marijuana as the main reason people seek substance abuse treatment in Oregon. They hope to research treatment methods for helping people who are addicted, whether psychologically or physically, on marijuana.