Is Marijuana addictive?
A big concern when taking any new medication is if it’s addictive. If you’re using medical marijuana for your disabling and also chronic conditions, you may be concerned about risks, including if it’s potentially addictive. Rest assured, in comparison to other medically prescribed products for the treatment of similar conditions, such as opioids, cannabis has fewer side effects and risks.
While it does not have a significant physical dependence component to it, it can still be psychologically addictive due to the nature of routine use and positive outcomes of use.
Addictive vs. Dependency Disorders
According to a research report originally published in the Journal of American Medicine Psychiatry (JAMA Psychiatry), approximately 30% of users may develop some sort of a dependency disorder, although this statistic admittedly includes both medical and recreational users. They note that users who begin younger have a higher prevalence of “dependency disorders”.
The very term dependency is nebulous, especially when it comes to medical use. Of course if you take something to relieve a condition, the removal of taking it will bring the return of the symptom, in most cases, thereby muddying the idea of use dependency.
For example, if you take medication to reduce your blood pressure and it works, when you stop taking it your blood pressure increases. Is that dependency? No. The same holds true for prescription medication or even holistic or over-the-counter (OTC) medications.
Then there is the issue of tolerance. Your body naturally adapts and adjusts to it’s needs, distributing and expelling excess. It’s no different for marijuana. As you take more, your body will adjust. This is not unusual and is actually a naturally occurring bodily function. For example, if you regularly take NSAIDs (like aspirin or ibuprofen) for headaches or body aches, (some of us are older and have life experience build up in our bodies and therefore awake each morning with pains, so we take these to start the day!). Over time you will need to take more to ease the pains and the same dosage will be less effective for other aches. So that’s tolerance.
Dependency vs Addiction
So are users of medical marijuana at risk for dependency? Of course, that’s the nature of the product, as with any medication, to use to alleviate therapeutic conditions. Stopping them will likely have those conditions return. But that’s not really the question at hand, is it. These distinctions are included here to show the nuances within the statistics you’ll likely read and hear when researching this very questions.
Addiction is a completely different animal. Addiction is when the product becomes the focus, when the effect becomes the need, unrelated anymore to the original use. It overshadows the original issue that had you using it in the first place.
This is best explained using the opioid comparison. Many pain medications, especially for chronic, and short term acute pain, contain opioids, which are proven and shown to be highly addictive. Even after the need for use is gone, if for acute pain, the need for the drugs are still there. And that becomes the focus. For those with chronic pain, for example, the pain will still be there and the tolerance will grow exponentially, leading to the need for the high, and to seek out other products to meet the desire, unrelated to the pain.
Generally, marijuana can result in dependency, but it’s important to understand if it’s healthy or unhealthy dependence. Addiction, however, is a different concept, and should always be watched for when taking any medication. As the potency and popularity of medical marijuana continues to grow, more studies and concerns will arise, so stay focused, and continue to discuss and be open and honest with your healthcare providers regarding any concerns or questions, or additional symptoms you may be having.
Clinical studies and research of the effects of medical uses of cannabis are ongoing and as with any health condition, keep aware of any changes in behavior or reactions and discuss them with your health care provider.
- Marijuana withdrawal among adults seeking treatment for marijuana dependence
- NIH: Marijuana Dependence and Its Treatment
- NCBI: Cannabinoid abuse and addiction: Clinical and preclinical findings
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