Many of you must have asked yourself the question “Is Marijuana Addictive?” Well, marijuana does not turn people into addicts, any more than food turns people into obsessive eaters.

Almost everyone who has ever smoked marijuana knows at least one ardent stoner. The guy whose eyes are usually red, the gal who doesn’t use the phrase “wake and bake” humorously, and the person who never seems to be able to pull themselves together. These heavy smokers may have a low-level job or be unemployed, but those who know them well recognize that they are capable of much more if they were ambitious.

Does this constitute addiction? I believe it is, and I do not feel that this is a valid argument against legalization. In actuality, the reasons why marijuana is addictive reveal the nature of addiction itself. Addiction is a relationship between a person and a substance or activity; addictiveness is not merely the result of a drug “taking over” the brain. In fact, with all potentially addictive experiences, only a fraction of those who try them become addicted; people can even become dependent on ostensibly “non-addictive” substances, such as carrots. In addition to neurotransmitters, learning, context, and psychology all play a role in addiction.


With two states having recently legalized recreational marijuana usage and several others considering doing so, it is more vital than ever to comprehend the nature of addiction. Extreme statements have been made on both sides of this argument, with some legalizers claiming there is no such thing as marijuana addiction and some prohibitionists claiming cannabis is as addictive as heroin.

However, our notions of addiction are mostly derived from our cultural experiences with alcohol, heroin, and later cocaine. Because the withdrawal symptoms—vomiting, shaking, pallor, sweating, and diarrhoea—are objectively measured, no one has ever contended that opioids such as heroin lack the potential to create addiction. Opioids induce physical dependence, which becomes manifest when the drug is lacking. The same holds true with alcohol, whose withdrawal symptoms are more acute and are sometimes fatal.

So, Is Marijuana Addictive? In order to define addiction, early researchers concentrated on these quantitative alcoholism and opioid addiction symptoms. Using a drug might lead to tolerance, tolerance could lead to dose escalation, which could lead to physical dependency, and finally the need to avoid the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal could drive addiction. It was tangible and basic.

According to this idea, cocaine, and marijuana are not “really” addictive. When people stop using these substances, they may experience withdrawal symptoms including as irritability, depression, cravings, and sleep disturbances. However, these symptoms are subjective and can therefore be disregarded as “psychological” rather than “physical.” You may have a strong need for cocaine or marijuana, but you are not a true addict, so the reasoning went.

And since most of us believe we have a great deal more control over our minds than over our physical symptoms, “psychological” addiction is viewed as far less severe than “physical” addiction. This type of thinking is largely responsible for the belief that marijuana addiction does not exist. Sadly, this perspective on addiction is stuck in the 1970s.


Let’s keep with our question “Is Marijuana Addictive?” Ironically, entrepreneurs began offering a ready-to-smoke form of the drug in the 1980s, just after Scientific American sparked a major scandal by claiming that snorting cocaine is no more addictive than eating potato chips. Crack disproved the notion that “physical” dependency is more severe than psychological dependence because people with cocaine addictions do not vomit or have diarrhoea when they quit; they may appear desperate, but not in the manner that heroin or alcohol withdrawal is physically visible. If you are going to argue that marijuana is not addictive because it does not create withdrawal symptoms, you must equally argue that crack is not addictive.

I wish you luck with that endeavor. Clearly, crack-addicted individuals are just as compulsive as heroin addicts, and their engagement in criminal activity if they cannot afford the drug is at least as likely, if less frequent than has been stated. Crack handed the “psychological” vs. “physical” dichotomy its fatal blow, and even if it hadn’t, neuroscience was beginning to demonstrate that the psychological and physical aren’t precisely distinct.

In the 1970s and 1980s, experts also realized that just detoxifying heroin addicts—helping them endure two weeks of extreme physical withdrawal symptoms—is not an effective treatment. If heroin addiction was primarily driven by the desire to avoid withdrawal, then recovering addicts would be in the clear after quitting cold turkey. However, those of us who have been through it know that this is not the most difficult aspect.

Long-term abstinence from heroin is the issue; “mere” psychological desires are the driving force behind addiction. Physical reliance is not the primary issue; it is not even required. Indeed, we now know that it is possible to be physically dependent without being addicted: Some blood pressure drugs, for instance, can cause fatal withdrawal symptoms if discontinued improperly, but people who are highly dependent on these prescriptions do not crave them. Antidepressants like Paxil induce physical withdrawal symptoms, but because they do not generate a high, you do not see people stealing pharmacies to obtain them.


If tolerance, withdrawal, and physical dependence are not fundamental to addiction, what it is, including our question about “Is Marijuana Addictive?” All of these facts point to a single explanation that encapsulates the issue. Addiction is the habitual use of a substance or action despite adverse consequences. Addiction is a learned distortion in the brain’s motivational circuits that compels us to pursue things associated to our evolutionary fitness, such as food and sex. Everything that creates pleasure via these systems, which is essentially everything that can be enjoyed, can at some point become addictive for someone. And this includes cannabis (and, for that matter, potato chips).

This does not necessarily imply that marijuana addiction is as serious as cocaine, heroin, or alcohol addiction; in fact, this is often not the case. If given the option, the majority of families would choose to have a member who is addicted to marijuana rather than cocaine, heroin, or alcohol. The negative effects of marijuana addiction tend to be more subtle, such as lost promotions rather than lost jobs and deteriorating relationships rather than none at all. Moreover, there is no risk of fatal overdose.

However, this can also make it pernicious. Marijuana addiction may subtly worsen your life without ever appearing severe enough to warrant intervention; it may not kill your life but may cause you to miss out on possibilities. With any practice of frequent drug use, it is essential to constantly assess whether the hazards outweigh the benefits, keeping in mind that addiction may itself distort this calculation. This is particularly true of marijuana.

As with other substances, only a minority of marijuana users develop an addiction. According to research, approximately 10 percent of marijuana users get addicted, and the average duration of marijuana addiction is six years. Even more than other addictions, marijuana addiction appears to be motivated by self-medication of mental health problems; 90% of marijuana addicts also have another addiction or mental illness, generally alcoholism or antisocial personality disorder.

This shows that exposing a larger portion of the population to marijuana will not inevitably increase the number of people who are dependent on it. So, is marijuana addictive? First, people with antisocial personality disorder are not often law-abiding, therefore the majority have likely already attempted it. Second, the percentage of persons with various pre-existing mental illnesses will not alter if marijuana is legalized; in fact, psychosis rates increased in the United Kingdom after a previous liberalization of laws was overturned due to fears of an increase in schizophrenia. (The correlation was probably not causal, but it does show that cannabis prohibition does not prevent psychosis).


If some alcoholics, cocaine addicts, and heroin addicts switched to marijuana, overall harm would be decreased. Since at least 2001, I and others have reported that marijuana is being used as an “exit” drug for cocaine and opiate addiction.

We tend to evaluate the hazards of various substances in isolation, but this is not how decisions are made in the real world. The majority of people would prefer that their spouses had no addictions; yet, certain addictions are plainly worse than others. Clearly, marijuana cravings are rarely as intense as crack cravings.

Nonetheless, similar to other substances that might be pleasurable, marijuana can be addictive. This does not mean that all addictions are the same or that it is as addictive as alcohol and tobacco, which are now legal, as the data indicates that it is less addictive. No one benefits by pretending that it cannot cause any harm or that there are no people who are hooked to it. As with other forms of recovery, we must resist denial if we wish to improve drug policy.

We hope you enjoyed our article and that we answered the question “Is Marijuana Addictive?” See you in the next article!

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