Can you get Addicted to Marijuana? - The Palm Beach Institute
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Can you get Addicted to Marijuana?

Is Marijuana Addictive?

can you get addicted to marijuana? - picture of marijuanaThe question whether marijuana is truly addictive has been asked with increasing frequency and especially among young people which is leading to more adolescents in treatment for marijuana addiction. Marijuana is the most used illicit drug in the United States due to both its accessibility and affordability.  Twenty states, including Washington DC, have enacted laws allowing the use of medicinal marijuana.  With trends showing more lenient attitudes towards marijuana in both legal and societal contexts, people may not realize that marijuana can be extremely addictive and have substantial impacts on those who use the drug.

Why People Think Marijuana Isn’t Addictive

Those who believe that marijuana isn’t addictive will point to several factors that bolster their viewpoint.   For example, marijuana users do not develop strong physical dependence to the drug in comparison to others such as heroin or cocaine.  Unlike drugs like cocaine, heroin or alcohol, a marijuana user cannot have a fatal overdose because the drug in itself in non-toxic.  Studies also show that most users of marijuana are casual users and seemingly don’t develop chronic long-term use and abuse patterns.

Marijuana has been found in some cases to be an ideal medicine for several diseases and illnesses.  Among those maladies that marijuana has shown to improve quality of life include certain forms of cancer and HIV infections.  The use of medicinal marijuana for depression and forms of obsession and compulsive disorders have also been seen.  Because of these medicinal benefits, people’s focus may have shifted somewhat from a paradigm in which marijuana is viewed as illegal and addictive and towards a paradigm in which marijuana is seen as beneficial.


Why Marijuana IS Addictive and Needs to Have Serious Rehabilitation Considerations

The definition of what addiction is can be called into question regarding marijuana use.  The common definition used by professionals derives from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Addiction is defined as the compulsive use of a substance despite the ongoing negative consequences, which may lead to tolerance or withdrawal symptoms when use of the substance is stopped. While the effects of marijuana in an addiction framework may not be explicit in an outward physical sense, the drug does have significant impacts in regards to psychological addiction in which the craving for the drug can be more detrimental that the physical manifestations.

THC is the main chemical component of marijuana and once it enters the bloodstream it quickly interacts with certain structures of the brain.  Two brain area of interest are the hippocampus where memory formation occurs and the cerebellum where motor movement is controlled.  Because marijuana affects the hippocampus there can be an impairment of new memory formation and there is the possibility that memories that do form can revolve around use of the drug.

Another consideration is supplementary compounds found in marijuana.  Besides THC, there are up to 150 different metabolites that are found in marijuana.  While THC it itself can pass through the body in a matter of hours, THC and some of the metabolites found in marijuana can stay in the fatty tissues and organs like the liver and testes for days.  Because of the longer period these compounds stay in the system users can go several days without smoking marijuana and not feel withdrawal symptoms.  However, if one abstains from further use withdrawal symptoms can be seen.


Other Considerations

With long-term use, users can exhibit classic addictive behavior symptoms like the loss of control of use and obtaining larger quantities of the drug and the expenditure of both time and money in order to acquire the drug.  Marijuana is also the commonly used drug among polydrug (defined as the concurrent use of one or more drugs) users and is linked to mental health issues and those with undiagnosed pre-existing mood disorders.  If an individual is treated for polydrug use, marijuana use often gets overlooked in the treatment protocols.

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