Important Facts about Marijuana Addiction

recreational use of marijuana

Whether marijuana is an addictive drug has been up for debate for years. Some claim it can be used recreationally or as medicine with no risk for dependency, while others insist that, like any mind-altering substance, addiction is always a possibility. As laws across the country change to allow medical and even recreational use of marijuana, research into the nature of this drug continues to attempt to answer questions about it.

Part of the problem in deciding if marijuana is an addictive drug is in defining the term addiction. Experts have called this health problem addiction, drug dependence, substance use disorder, and more. What does it really mean to be addicted? Purists would say that addiction is when a chemical substance alters the brain with repeated use and causes certain outcomes. These include tolerance to the drug, cravings for it, and withdrawal symptoms when the substance is no longer used.

On the other hand, many experts also recognize that although addiction is traditionally defined as a physical phenomenon, there is also such a thing as psychological addiction. This occurs when you are dependent on something, a substance, or even behavior, without the same brain-changing physiological effects that known addictive drugs cause.

Researchers have attempted to answer this question in their work, and the result is a guarded yes. The mind-altering substances in marijuana are nowhere near as addictive as other substances like heroin, cocaine, alcohol, or nicotine. However, we do know from research that marijuana users can experience some of the same symptoms as drug addicts. Regular marijuana users tend to develop a tolerance to its effects, for instance. They need to use more and more to get the same high.

Perhaps most notable is that research clearly shows that marijuana users experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the drug. Physical withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, nausea, irritability, and restlessness. They also may have psychological withdrawal and feel depressed or anxious without the drug. These findings indicate that marijuana may be both physically and psychologically addictive.

Because both attitudes and laws are shifting with respect to marijuana usage, it is important for researchers to delve deeper into the question of addiction. Research using marijuana has been limited because it is an illegal substance according to federal law, but new research projects are in the works and are expected to give us important answers.

One such study will investigate the medicinal properties of the drug. The federal government recently gave the go-ahead to a University of Arizona research team to study the usefulness of marijuana as an aid to veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Another study helped to answer the question of how addictive marijuana is and how to treat people dependent on it. According to the researchers, only alcohol tops marijuana as the main reason people seek substance abuse treatment. They hope to research treatment methods for helping people hooked, whether psychologically or physically, on marijuana.

While experts will likely continue to debate how addictive marijuana is, researchers will continue to find more answers. The changing attitudes and new laws governing the use of the drug will have many consequences. Some of those may be negative, but one positive impact is the expansion of research. The more we know about this drug, the better able we are to regulate it, use it as medicine, and treat users who become addicted.

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