Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 3 – Addiction)

Part 3 – Addiction

Next, on the docket, we have addiction. Or rather the very important question that is, can marijuana be addictive?

Anything other than an automatic “YES!” would likely set off many a guidance counsellor, police officer, social worker, or anyone else with a distinctly distant relationship with the substance. This is not to say that they all don’t have a point. More, their interactions with many of these substances tend to be under negative circumstances. Police officers, guidance councillors and social workers would not be in the picture if those they were protecting were keeping it together. Though, as is insinuated by my use of italics, their presence can at times be reactionary.

So, is marijuana addictive?

Yes. But as in pretty much all other areas of life, there is a nuance curve.

One of the first areas one has to explore is the type of addiction one is dealing with. As explored a bit in the previous section, marijuana is known not to be a chemically addictive substance. Its addictive traits are thought to be strictly psychological. And whilst there can be withdrawal symptoms for heavy users, they are not dangerous (unlike those associated with say, alcohol or opiates). It works by way of the dopamine reward system, but there is no requirement of continued consumption to avoid harmful withdrawal symptoms.

Whilst I do take the anecdotal experiences of the agents of influence (police officers, social workers) in our society into consideration, reactionary rhetoric based on the horrors of drug use is hardly a helpful argument. It’s but a red herring. Given that with or without the presence of substances to abuse, there will always be irresponsible people.

In short, one can no more solely blame marijuana (nor any other substance, really) for neglectful parenting then one can blame a single gun for the perpetration of a school shooting. In either situation, disregarding all (or much of) the background nuances of the given situations is helpful for nothing but pushing an agenda. It does not serve to help current (or future!) victims of the same circumstance. It just ensures that there will always be more.

Nuance may not be an easy pill to swallow as a Red Pill argument, but tackling it is the only way to finding an eventual satisfactory middle ground.

Period.

Moving onto the science of addiction, I turn back to the United States’s National Institute Of Health. If the question is “Can marijuana be an addictive substance?”, it would appear that the answer is yes. But, again, with a bit of a caveat. They only use the word addiction to describe the most severe of cases.

It is thought that around 30% of all marijuana users have some form of a marijuana use disorder, with users starting before the age of 18 being four to ten times more likely to develop the disorder (compared to users who started using as adults). Dependence on the drug can be characterized by the following withdraw symptoms:

  • irritability

  • mood and sleep difficulties

  • decreased appetite

  • cravings

  • restlessness

  • other physical discomforts

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-addictive

All of which typically peak after one to 2 weeks after ceasing use of marijuana.

The addiction vector appears to occur when the brain adapts to the constant presence of large amounts of cannabinoids in the body, causing the reduction in the production of (and a growing sensitivity of the body towards) the bodies native endocannabinoid neurotransmitters.

The endocannabinoid system is a large part of the bodies nervous system, tasked with the regulation of many aspects of mammalian stasis. Marijuana works by mimicking the bodies own endocannabinoids, thus achieving the many both positive and negative traits for which it is known for. Addiction is defined by the NIH as when marijuana use is pursued even if it has negative ramifications in other areas of life. Which is a fair definition, given the information.


There is much controversy when it comes to the term
Marijuana Addiction. One just has to be aware not to use the words Addiction and Dependence interchangeably. Those that take their research or representation jobs seriously will know this and act accordingly. Those that don’t . . . you now know how to spot.

When it comes to the development of a marijuana use disorder, the numbers are favourable (albeit in a good way). It is thought that only 9% of users will develop a misuse disorder (with that number rising to 17% for users that started in their teens). While that can be an eye-opening number on its own, consider opioids. Or more, this first sentence from the mayo clinic’s webpage titled How Opioid Addiction Occurs:

Anyone who takes opioids is at risk of developing an addiction. Your personal history and the length of time you use opioids play a role, but it’s impossible to predict who’s vulnerable to eventual dependence on and abuse of these drugs. Legal or illegal, stolen and shared, these drugs are responsible for the majority of overdose deaths in the U.S. today.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prescription-drug-abuse/in-depth/how-opioid-addiction-occurs/art-20360372

A better way to explore this drug (instead of just following the addiction route) could be to look at its long term effects. After all, alike sugar, not being addicted to a substance doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s presence in the body in benign.

Most animal (and an increasing number of human) studies agree that marijuana use during the development of the fetus can cause long term (and possibly irreversible) changes to the developing fetus’s brain chemistry. Being that the changes seem to be most pronounced in adolescences (with the endocannabinoid system still in the process of forming new synapses during this stage of life), the connection would seem to be well founded. However, human studies leave a lot to be desired when other variables are considered (such as the usage of other drugs in combination with cannabis).

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/what-are-marijuanas-long-term-effects-brain

But there is hope.

The NHI is funding a major study on the subject, the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. Over a period of 10 years, it will track it’s participants right from pre to post marijuana usage phases. The goal is to get a clearer picture of the effects of cannabinoids both with and without the presence of other substances.

However, that study just began in 2018, and thus we are waiting until 2028 for anything definitive (well, ANYTHING). And so it goes for any studies related pretty much in any way towards marijuana, THC, CBD and anything else related therein. Kind of a sad state of affairs to be in. But, it is what it is. The show must go on.

In the meantime, I suppose the only thing we can do in play gatekeeper to marijuana information trickery. Make sure those in the old status quo are refuted when using misleading or deceiving arguments. But also make sure our proponents (the capitalist element!) aren’t stretching or manipulating the facts for the sake of making a profit.

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