Why Do People (Mistakenly) Think Marijuana Isn’t Addictive?

A clear majority of Americans – 69%, according to a 2014 Pew Research study – believe that alcohol is more detrimental to a person’s health than marijuana. A 2010 survey of more than 2,000 college students done by researchers at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, in Atlanta, found that most of the students thought marijuana was least harmful to health compared to tobacco products, hookah and electronic cigarettes; they also largely believed pot was among the least addictive of these products.

These are just two examples indicating that, as drugs go, marijuana continues to enjoy a fairly benign reputation. The reasons why are, no surprise, complex. But there’s little question that this is partly because marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the U.S., and many people are able to use it casually without becoming hooked. Some experts also point to the growing trend of legalization and decriminalization across the country; greater acceptance may lead to more relaxed views about the drug.

But the ubiquity of marijuana and the changing legal landscape don’t change the facts when it comes to addiction. The perception that pot is completely safe to use – with little risk of addiction – may be fairly common, but it’s also flawed, say addiction experts. “Some studies have shown that as many as 33% of users may go on to develop a diagnosable addiction, especially with strains of marijuana that have a higher content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active ingredient in marijuana,” explains Michael Weaver, MD, medical director of the Center for Neurobehavioral Research on Addiction at the University of Texas Health Science Center, in Houston.

Telltale Signs of Marijuana Addiction

Why Do People (Mistakenly) Think Marijuana Isn’t Addictive?While it’s true that marijuana is not as addictive as, say, tobacco, some people do lose control over their use, leading to increased use and higher tolerance to the drug. This means they will need to use more and more of the drug to get the same effect. What’s more, “withdrawal symptoms – including irritability, restlessness, appetite disturbances or sleep problems – can happen when heavy marijuana users quit,” explains Patrick Fehling, MD, an addiction psychiatrist in Denver.

Tolerance and withdrawal – both signs of addiction – make quitting the drug more difficult, of course. “Regular use can also lead to psychological dependence, which means that if you don’t use marijuana, you don’t feel ‘normal,’” Dr. Weaver adds. Dependence may lead people to “do things they might not otherwise do to be able to keep using marijuana,” he explains. These out-of-character behaviors can include:

  • Spending reckless amounts of money on the drug
  • Ditching work, school, or family responsibilities to get high
  • Using the drug in dangerous situations such as while driving

“These risky behaviors and their consequences — and continuing to use [the drug] despite those consequences — are also signs of addiction,” Weaver notes.

Who’s Vulnerable and Why

As with other types of addiction, some people are more likely than others to become dependent on marijuana. This may be partly because they have a genetic predisposition toward addiction to this drug; still others are more susceptible because they have poor coping skills and come to rely on the drug to achieve an altered state of mind. In addition, people with certain mental-health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, are at a higher risk of developing a dependency. A recent study from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, found that teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) whose symptoms of inattention worsened over time had higher levels of marijuana use in early adulthood. And those who abuse other drugs, such as alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs, are also more vulnerable, Weaver says.

In any case, the risk of marijuana addiction is very real for adults and teenagers alike. “Adults who try marijuana have a 9% chance of meeting the criteria for cannabis use disorder at some point,” Dr. Fehling says. “Teens who try marijuana have double that risk — or an 18% chance — of developing the addiction.”

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14 Responses to Why Do People (Mistakenly) Think Marijuana Isn’t Addictive?

  1. Barbara Cofer Stoefen April 28, 2015 at 4:47 pm #

    Thank you for this great article on marijuana. I write about addiction, and do drug prevention work in our local schools as a volunteer. It’s an uphill battle convincing teenagers that marijuana can indeed lead to dependence for some. Many see it as some benign, “organic” substance… safe because it grows in the ground (like lettuce). I tell them heroin starts as a poppy!

    • JACK HANOWITZ June 26, 2015 at 4:22 pm #

      tobacco grows in the ground also.Need I SAY ANYMORE?

      • JACK HANOWITZ October 4, 2015 at 8:19 pm #

        Karrots grow in the ground also.NEED I SAY MOER?

    • Laurence A Bourgeois August 3, 2016 at 8:57 am #

      This article has a major flaw, you do not build a tolerance to weed, I am 71 and been smoking since I was in my mid 20’s. I get the same affect with the 1st smoke of the day as I got 30 years ago. What does happen you will not get any higher if you smoke 1 joint every 2 hours or if you smoke 5 joints every 2 hours it is just a waste of pot.

  2. Sandra Butler August 15, 2015 at 1:49 am #

    I have multiple major multiple medical problems which are very difficult to be diagnosed and the most one is RSD. I had not used marijuana until several years ago. Due to the horrible sleep disorder no specialist having a clue as to diagnose it, I tried smoking pot as to one it, I had to admit I could finally relax for the day as I tol told my doctor appointment he KNEW after all I took forever of major class II drugs that needs to be a legal answer from t6

  3. Robert T Pooner August 15, 2015 at 2:46 am #

    This is a joke right!? Thanks for the laughs, Reefer is not a drug. It is medicine and it not habit forming TPOON the truth

  4. GW August 16, 2015 at 5:16 am #

    Haven’t used weed in over 30 years – it was kinda OK back in the day but definitely caused paranoia if used too often – lotsa friends ended up doing it every day throughout the course of each day – that would have drove me insane – it was cool as a once in awhile thing but very, very UNCOOL when used every day or throughout the course of each day – in which case paranoia can rear its ugly head.

    All that being said, the article does not build a solid case at all against marijuana – on the contrary, anything can be considered “Addictive” based on the criteria we read here – Soda Pop, Cookies, Pizza, Cheeseburgers, Chips, and all sorts of comfort food or any other product that people become a bit obsessed with.

    Thank You.

  5. Harry Emmerling August 16, 2015 at 5:32 am #

    What you said about adiction is true, but ,look at how many people who are in pain and were prescribed oxycotin or other( legal) drugs became addicted .Case in point my lady friend had an infection in her foot.She was prescribed oxy cotin,liquid morphene. Eventually she got better, but it her forever too get off the drugs. Why are the drug companies against mariwana?? They are making billions on drugs. Mariwana would affect their bottom line. In addition,these legal drugs have so many side effects liver desease for starters.Mariwana doen’t have thedeside effects.Case closed.

  6. Anthony August 18, 2015 at 1:41 am #

    Wow… What a ludacris article. If you have ever smoked marijuana a day in your life you would know that it in no way is addictive lol. Its a medicinal godsend to all of us…embrace it. THANK GOD the voters in multiple locations throughout the nation have legalized it. Hopefully its not long until the federal government follows along too.

    • luke May 24, 2016 at 7:56 am #

      Your a idiot.. I smoke marijuana.. I thought the same way you do when I first started. I started when I was 12 thinking it was fine.. thinking its just a plant like everyone else. I only did it occasionally.. I could easily put it down and say no to it.. but when I turned 15 I started to use it daily just cause I always had it thought I have no problem putting it down again.. I’d always tell people I can quit if I wanted too. Now that I want too quit I can’t quit.. I go out of my way to get it.. iv tried to cut down my use, but my mind is consistently craving it. When I try to quit I’m extremely irritable and can’t eat worth of sh**. And start getting sore muscles. So to everyone saying marijuana addiction is bulls hit it’s not. I’m not saying everyone will get addicted to it. I’m just saying it’s a REAL thing and you guys need to stop taking people like a joke who have it. I’m agreeing with this article.. you should not smoke when you are young or have addictive personality.. because it really rises your risks of developing some type of dependence or addiction to it.. I’m personally physically depended on it. Remember I was one of you people that said it couldn’t be addicting and it’s just a plant. Look where I am now

  7. Tony January 11, 2016 at 5:00 pm #

    What hilarious comments. Great article. I used to be a heavy user. I still smoke it from time to time. People have to stop ignoring the facts. Marijuana being a non-addictive drug is a huge myth.

  8. Elias vasquez March 3, 2016 at 5:41 pm #

    To anyone who says marijuana is not addictivr, stop fooling yourself. I smoked for maybe 4 years every week towards the end it was very hard to quit. You might say I can quit if I want too, but you always go back. I see people smoking and smell it, makes me feel sorry/ angry and thankful for God to change my life

  9. David Clark August 11, 2016 at 10:09 pm #

    I have 2 brothers that have smoked pot for 35+ years. The younger of the 2 smokes it throughout the day, every day. He moved back to CA and moved in with my mom until he got back on hid feet. The one rule was, no smoking pot inside the house or anywhere near where the smoke would get inside. After 2 days of this he went absolutely nuts, brok her bed, got on the roof and broke the satellite dish and my mom was scared he was going to beat her up. He is paranoid beyond belief. The other brother also uses pot daily and is very slow and emotionally out of whack. The rest of the family have no mental problems and don’t do pot. Pot is addictive. Anything that alters your state of mind is. Sure, there are uses for pot but don’t BS about it not being addictive. Anyone that says it isn’t uses pot and is just following the pot party line so they can legalize it. I don’t care if it’s legalized or not, just don’t bs people to get your way.

  10. Barbara October 6, 2016 at 5:07 pm #

    I smoked pot the first time when I was 12 years old. I am 57 now. Pot may not be physically addictive but it is psychologically addictive. I have smoked it off and on for over 40 years. I am not moderate. I have a problem just smoking a little here and there. I am an addict. It is go big or go home, lol. I must be pre-disposed for addiction. I have always been more of a binger. When i start I don’t know when the binge will end. I wake up and am obsessed. The first thing I think about is smoking. It usually takes me at least 3 days to get over thinking about it all the time.

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