Is Marijuana Addictive?

Reading time - 7 minutes - January 13, 2022

Marijuana, cannabis, weed, bud, mary jane – whatever you want to call it – has taken the world by storm. In the last decade, research and time has been put into the world of weed and, as a result, more nations have decided to legalize the beautiful plant. As the ancient saying goes: “the more you know, the more you grow”. But what about the dangers of cannabis? There are a lot of myths out there when it comes to weed, but we’re going to be separating the truth from the lies. The question we’ll be delving into today is: is marijuana addictive? We’ll be looking into the science of cannabis, the benefits, the potential problems and the alternatives. Let’s go.  

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What does Addictive Mean?

Before we can decide if marijuana is actually addictive, we have to first define what ‘addictive’ even means. Well, let’s get academic for a second. The NCBI defines the term ‘addictive’ as:

“a term that means compulsive physiological need for and use of a habit-forming substance (like heroin or nicotine), characterized by tolerance and well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; it has also been used more broadly to refer to compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be physically, psychologically, or socially harmful”

Now, it’s important to recognise what addiction actually means. Drugs can chemically react with the brain to release dopamine into the body. When this happens, you essentially feel really good, or at least, better than you felt before. It’s this feeling that becomes addictive. Not only that, but drugs can not only feel good when you have them, but also feel bad when you don’t. This is called withdrawal. 


What is Withdrawal?

Withdrawal happens when your body reacts to not being given something it is dependent on. Your body and brain work hard to create a balance, known as hemostasis. When you take a substance, the balance changes, and your body works extra hard to adjust in reaction to that. Think of the serotonin that MDMA triggers in the brain. The next day, your body has used so much of it up that there’s nothing left, which causes a comedown. 

However, if you take something regularly, then your body begins to depend on it. A new balance of homeostasis is created, this time including the drug in the equation. Therefore, when you stop taking the drug, the balance is lost. Here are some of the symptoms of withdrawal. 

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Anything Can Be Addictive

When people think of addiction, they usually think of crack or heroin addicts, sweating and shouting for their next fix. But the truth is that addiction can come in many forms. And, as we all know, addiction doesn’t have to come from a substance. If addiction only included substances, then why would people be addicted to gambling? Or sex? Or buying clothes?

“For many people the concept of addiction involves taking drugs such as alcohol, nicotine, cocaine and heroin. But… gambling studies expert Mark Griffiths warns that if the rewards are there people can become addicted to almost anything.”

As Mark mentions, it’s all about rewards or – in other words – dopamine. People are addicted to the feeling of feeling good. And this can happen in almost any way. Therefore, to say marijuana isn’t addictive would be a lie because, essentially, anything can be addictive. Angry Birds was one of the most addictive apps in the world, and you couldn’t even sniff or smoke that. However, the question isn’t really about whether marijuana is addictive. The question really is about whether it’s more or less addictive than other options. For example, tobacco is legal, yet nicotine has proven to be highly addictive. It’s the same with alcohol, alcoholism harms 7.5 million people in the UK. Heroin is known to give such a huge feeling of dopamine, that it is one of the most addictive substances out there. However, heroin withdrawal symptoms can be so harsh that they actually kill the user. So, is marijuana really addictive? Or is it on the lower scale? 


Before we can decide if cannabis is an addictive drug, we first need to understand what it is. The cannabis plant contains around 100 cannabinoids, all of which have their own specific effects and aromas. Together they combine to make up the cannabis strain they’re part of. No batch of cannabis is the same, they all slightly vary. Cannabis can be consumed in bud form, cannabis concentrates, edibles, drinks, and creams. 


The two most common cannabinoids are THC and CBD. Whilst they may be siblings, they are intrinsically very different. THC is a psychoactive substance, which means it alters the state of the mind. It also gives the well-known high effect that recreational users of cannabis enjoy. CBD, on the other hand, is not psychoactive, and does not alter the state of the mind. 

What are the Effects of Cannabis? 

As we’ve realised, addiction often comes from dependency or enjoying the feeling of sensation. If a drug takes away pain, or gives joy, it can become addictive. So let’s take a look at the effects of both CBD and THC. 



Cannabis Use Disorder

If someone has cannabis use disorder it means they are dependent on cannabis. According to Web MD, 1 in 10 weed users experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using cannabis. However, again, it’s important to realise that anything will have a certain level of addiction. The question is: why are you taking it? Self medication happens without people even realising it. Often the reason people take most drugs, and do most things, is to somehow make themselves happier, or to somehow stop pain. So, if a drug is able to take the pain away, or give happiness, without too many repercussions, then surely that can be constituted as a good addiction. If, on the other hand, a drug gives joy, or takes away pain, but causes long term health risks then surely that’s a bad addiction. 

Cannabis is a Better Addiction

Being addicted to anything is not ideal. Everything works best in moderation. However, heroin, cocaine, alcohol and tobacco have all proven to be worse addictions than cannabis. Heroin is, by far, one of the most addictive substances on offer. This is due to its incredibly euphoric experience when taking it. However, it can be fatal. Alcohol can slowly wear away your liver, if you have an addiction to it. Whilst it does work as a social lubricant, it can also make people aggressive and emotional. Cocaine speeds up the heart rate and can help people with confidence. But the issue with cocaine is that it can cause heart problems in the long term. Tobacco and nicotine can cause lung and heart problems through smoking, as well as multiple cancers. 

 “Compared to alcohol and other drugs, the withdrawal symptoms some marijuana users experience when they try to quit are on the mild side.”

Cannabis does trigger dopamine, there’s no doubt about that. However, it’s not to the same level as harder drugs like cocaine and heroin. Plus, cannabis on its own does not cause anywhere near as many deaths as the other drugs mentioned. In addition, the research into medical cannabis has shown that weed has a place as a medicine in the world. Cannabis can be used to treat a variety of mental and physical problems, including:

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Whilst cannabis and especially THC can be addictive, and people can feel mild withdrawal if they become dependent on it, the levels of addiction are far less extreme than other drugs. In addition, cannabis now has and should have a place in society as a medicine. If the world stopped seeing addicts as problems, and started seeing them as those in need, then perhaps more drugs could start being harnessed for good. 

What do you think?

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