Marijuana has been a very hot topic in the last few decades. Since the 60s and the rock n’ roll, free-spirited attitude it brought about, people have been fighting for the legalization of cannabis. It wasn’t until 1996 that marijuana was first legalized for medicinal use in California. In 2012, Colorado became the very first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, and then Washington shortly thereafter. Now, cannabis is legalized for a mix of recreational and medicinal purposes throughout 33 different states; all other states still criminalize the use of medicinal or recreational marijuana. With the public image of marijuana drastically shifting over the last decade or so, it’s important to inform the public that marijuana addiction isn’t as harmless as people may think.
Public Image On Marijuana
Since marijuana is becoming legalized across the country, it’s easy to see that the public image on cannabis is shifting. Years ago the drug was treated like any other illicit substance, but now people are starting to shift that image. This could be due to the fact that people were imprisoned for years for being in possession of even the smallest amounts of marijuana. Though this is a reason to shift the public image on the substance, it doesn’t mean we should treat it like it isn’t addictive.
Many people who advocate for marijuana use believe it is not addictive and you cannot develop a substance abuse disorder from it. However, this could not be further from the truth. We’re here today to help you learn and understand that habitual use of marijuana can indeed cause for the development of substance abuse disorders.
Marijuana Use: The Facts
It’s time we get the facts straight about marijuana use. As we stated previously, marijuana can, in fact, lead to substance abuse disorders and dependence. Just like any other substance can lead to addictive behaviors, marijuana can do the same. A recent study showed that about 30% of marijuana users show signs of marijuana dependence. The same study also found that adolescents who start to use the substance before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults.
One of the tell-tale signs that a substance is addictive is if a person starts habitually using it, thus developing a dependence. When someone develops a dependence, they can show signs of withdrawal if there is a sudden withdrawal from their substance of choice. Most often, people who suffer from withdrawal will try to use a substance again so they can deter the symptoms they’re experiencing. Some common symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include irritability, mood swings, insomnia, twitching/restlessness, decreased appetite, and other forms of physical discomfort. Symptoms of withdrawal typically peak after the first week, but can last for 2 weeks. These can be extremely uncomfortable to deal with, which is why people often revert back to habitual use.
How Does Dependence/Addiction Happen?
So, how do dependence and addiction form? When a person starts to use a substance for its effects, the effects can be quite enticing to the users. Marijuana creates an intense euphoric effect on the brain, causing the user to experience extreme happiness/euphoria, altered senses, and relaxation. These short-term effects can be similar to the ones found in many other addictive substances. Because of the extreme euphoria, altered senses, and relaxation that marijuana causes a user to experience, people often want to experience these things more and more frequently. When a person starts to use the substance more often, then they will start to crave the effects. Once cravings set in and go unchecked, this is when dependence forms. Shortly thereafter, addiction takes shape.
What is marijuana addiction and how do you know when it occurs? To better understand marijuana addiction, we need to understand what addiction is. Addiction is defined as a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences. When a person cannot stop substance use, despite how it affects their daily lives, they have clearly developed an addiction. Studies have shown that about 9% of marijuana users will show signs of addiction, with the number rising to 17% in those who start using before the age of 18. In 2015, another study found that there were over 4 million Americans who met the criteria for marijuana use disorders. The scary thing is that only about 130,000 of them sought treatment for their addictions.
Not only are the effects of this substance extremely desirable to users, but the potency of the substance is also slowly rising. In the past, the drug had lower levels of THC, which is the psychoactive element in marijuana. Marijuana in the 90s typically has THC potency of about 4%. These days, marijuana has a potency that can be above 15%. Some strands of the drug actually have even higher levels of THC that go beyond 50%. With potency on the rise, we can’t help but wonder if it’s because users are developing tolerance and they need higher amounts of THC to get the desired effects.
If a person starts to use marijuana more often in higher doses (or doses with higher potency), this is a tell-tale sign that they’ve developed an addiction. Another tell-tale sign is when a person starts to neglect aspects of life that they used to put a high value on. When a person starts to neglect relationships, work, finances, or social interactions, it is likely due to the fact that they might be prioritizing marijuana use over them. This is a behavior that every kind of addict displays.
It is clear to see that marijuana addiction is a very real and scary thing. Though many people would not put it on the same scale as heroin or cocaine addiction, we urge everyone to shift their thinking on the subject. The idea that marijuana is not addictive is a dangerous one. When we eliminate the possibility that marijuana can be addictive, we create a stigma that makes it difficult for addicts to get the help they desire. If we say, “marijuana is not addictive”, a person feels that they struggle with dependence will be less likely to feel that they need to seek help. They will start to feel as though their problem is not an actual problem. Let’s shift the mindset on marijuana addiction and continue to eliminate the stigma that surrounds addiction.
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