When it comes to drugs like the nicotine, caffeine or even heavier substances such as cocaine or heroin, we know that they are in fact, addictive.
However, the answer to whether or not cannabis is addictive is not so simple.
This hot-button question is representative of a huge grey area of misunderstanding. The ambiguity stems from a lack of understanding of fundamental concepts around addiction, as well as an exaggerated history of “reefer madness.”
We must start by understanding the differences between addiction and use disorders.
Addiction is a disease that affects everything in a person’s life. When a person is addicted, chemical dependencies are formed. Thoughts are swayed, and everyday actions are consumed by the deathly grips of the hands of addiction.
Withdrawals are another main component of addiction. There are not only cognitive symptoms, but painful physical ones as well.
“The language of addiction, dependence, and disorders is one thing when you talk to scientists and it’s another when you talk to the public. Addiction results from a combination of biological and psychological factors that contribute to conditioned behavioral patterns that are very difficult to stop or resist.”
Many will argue that cannabis addiction can form, based on the belief that manifestations of addiction take place psychologically. Essentially, those who take this stance believe that since cannabis produces pleasurable responses in the brain, it’s automatically addicting.
While there is some truth to this, marijuana users aren’t addicts. And the small number of people who overuse cannabis, are still rarely, if ever, addicted.
Cannabis Use Disorder
People who have an unhealthy relationship with cannabis do not have an addiction—they have cannabis use disorder.
While it may seem like this is splitting hairs, substance use disorders and addictions are actually quite different.
When it comes to cannabis, there aren’t major physical withdrawal symptoms, like those of someone getting off heroin or meth would experience. But cannabis can cause some problems for people who overuse the substance.
Cannabis, like many other substances, can keep some from thriving in life. A resource by Medscape helps define a cannabis-related disorder as “a problematic pattern of cannabis use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.”
So, rather than simply asking “is cannabis addictive?” the perspective of the question should shift slightly. We should be asking “what does cannabis use disorder look like?”
What Is Undeniably True About Cannabis
Stigmas are responsible for the widespread belief that cannabis is automatically damaging and addicting. It’s also still viewed as a gateway drug, despite there being government provided evidence that proves otherwise.
Smoking, on the other hand, is undeniably not good for us. When something is burned and smoked, whether that’s a cigarette or joint, carcinogens are produced. The produced carcinogens and heat can cause a lot of problems for our bodies. Smoking is also one of the most common cause of sore throats. Gum disease is also a commonly overlooked side effect of smoking, as well as other oral health issues and mouth and esophagus cancer.
However, smoking isn’t the only way to ingest cannabis; cannabis oil and other medical concentrates (including CBD which doesn’t induce a head high) are common forms of treatment for women’s health issues, anxiety, pain and insomnia.