“Is cannabis addictive?” This question, for all intents and purposes, is highly contentious. Depending on when and where you’ve grown up, the ‘socialized answer’ to this question may vary widely.
Across the world, eastern and western cultures report varying levels of understanding, historical attachment and significance to cannabis. In modern day America, however, there is a major movement to study the medicinal benefits of cannabis consumption. Despite some resistance from traditionalists, the push forward for mass legalization has gained popular support.
What is Addiction?
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines addiction as:
“A compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence.
In order words, the disease — as it’s described by medical professionals — is characterized by repetitive behavior, despite negative effects.
How do we Understand Cannabis?
Since the 1980s, scientists like Robert L. DuPont, the president of the Institute for Behavior and Health, demonized cannabis by coining it “a gateway drug;” a habit-forming drug that leads to the use of more addictive and dangerous substances. Campaigns funded by federal, religious and pharmaceutical institutions throughout the 20th century fueled this narrative. They claim cannabis has a high potential for abuse and lacks substantial “medical benefits.” Despite accredited medical research, cannabis is blamed for the consumption of more dangerous, illicit drugs and the degradation of families.
For instance, the War on Drugs has socialized Americans to believe that regularly consuming cannabis results in poor decision-making, criminal behavior, and ultimately, leaves you a lame couch potato without any ambitions.
These notions are incredibly dangerous. They create a false, self-fulfilling narrative that doesn’t account for any of the medicinal benefits of safe consumption. Nor does it recognize any of the successful and/or ambitious contributing members of our society who have dabbled in recreational or medicinal use (like Carl Sagan, Bill Gates and many more).
The Benefits of Cannabis
In fact, the list of medicinal uses and benefits of cannabis grows exponentially by the year.
Research finds that medical consumption greatly helps patients who suffer from depression, anxiety, mood disorders and PTSD. The two main types of phytocannabinoids released during consumption are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is responsible for the psychoactive properties and euphoric “highs” experienced and aids in pain relief. Whereas CBD is an anti-inflammatory and produces the sensation of body relaxation.
These cannabinoids not only have the pain-killing, anti-inflammatory and anxiety-relieving abilities to aid with social disorders and physical discomfort. But, they’re also proven to relieve symptoms of conditions such as: arthritis, cancer, fibromyalgia, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and osteoporosis (to name a few).
Likewise, research proves that patients suffering from addictions to alcohol, or prescription or illicit drugs have been able to use cannabis and its derivatives to ease the symptoms of withdrawal.
A study hosted by the Recovery Research Institute in 2019 found that CBD medication significantly curbed the cravings of heroin users. In this study, researcher exposed 42 tenure heroin users to either four sessions of a CBD medication, or a placebo. Those individuals who took the CBD experienced significantly less cravings and had a lower rate of relapse than those who took the placebo.
So is cannabis the problem or the solution? It depends on who you ask and what you understand the true underlying problem to be…
Do National Drug and Wellness Institutions Believe Cannabis is Addictive?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) take similar stances on the subject of cannabis consumption. Both suggest that the consumption of cannabis can develop into a use-disorder; citing that 30% of those who use cannabis may develop a dependency, but verifying that one in 10 users will struggle with some form of addiction.
Because cannabis releases phytocannabinoids — a chemical compound derived from the plant that the body uses to regulate pain, appetite, mood, memory and other cognitive functions — the NIH suggests, “the use of cannabis reduces the body’s natural production and sensitivity to its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters.”
In other words, the NIH theorizes that extended use of cannabis will alter the body’s ability to produce its own natural chemical compounds. That may lead to an inevitable dependency on cannabis to maintain some level of equilibrium.
In this primarily quantitative argument for and against the consumption of cannabis, something that feels largely glossed over is that humans are inherently imperfect and can be grossly unaware of themselves in the context of the societies with which they reside.
To consume anything in excess can be dangerous. Therefore, regulating our needs vs. desires and consuming in moderation is the most practical solution. The line between good and bad addiction must be drawn in the sand. Repeated use of cannabis for medicinal purposes resides outside of the conception of addiction. For addiction’s sake, this recognizes that repeated use over time increases the quality of life.
For the purposes of maintaining our life force, humans require a healthy cocktail of air, water and nutrients to survive. In light of a global issue with food insecurity, whether it be scarcity or over-abundance, food addictions are becoming more prevalent across western cultures where there is access.
Like any mind or body altering substance, food dependencies occur after repeated use leads to an adaption of the brain. Food addictions, like to sugar or caffeine, can also result in negative side effects, like insomnia.
However, how much of this addiction can and/or should we attribute to the substances themselves? Strictly speaking, how accountable are we to our addictions?
So, is Cannabis Addictive?
Not to draw a direct connection between cannabis and the prerequisites of life, but when consuming all things good or bad, there are perceived benefits and risks. Our lived experience, self-awareness and cultural understanding fuel these perceptions. But they vary greatly from person-to-person for this reason. It’s important to recognize the differences in people, their needs, and how they solve their problem in appropriate ways.
So, “is cannabis addictive?” Just like any substance, it can be. However, it depends on the aforementioned considerations.
If you or someone you know is developing a dependency that is dangerous to themselves or others, it’s important to engage them with caution and recommend that they seek professional help.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline 1 (800) 662-4357