Ask Old Hippie: Is Marijuana Addictive?

Dear Old Hippie: Between the ages of 16 and 20 I used pot recreationally. However, I eventually abused it during that time and became dependent on it at the end of that period. Also all my friends and associates were doing the same thing. We did it constantly. We had to have it all the time. It definitely interferred with our lives because it became the center of our lives. I got clean from it at 20 and never went back. I haven’t done pot for the last 20 years. So I know it can be problematic for some, and those individuals can and do become addicts.

A: Well, there are addicts and there are addicts. When I was a lad, the only way the word “addiction” was used was for the well-known addiction to opiates, complete with the familiar (at least, in literature) horror of withdrawal symptoms. Addiction to alcohol was known, but always called by the name “alcoholism” so as not to taint alcoholics with the stigma of addiction. In other words, if you were strung out on heroin, it was your fault, but if you were an alcoholic, you had a “disease”, so you were an innocent victim. In many ways, little has changed in 45 years.

Speaking of 45 years, let’s jump in the Wayback Machine for a moment. I, too, was a regular recreational user at that age, and I also remember doing the same thing as you. It felt so good to be high that you wanted to be high all the time. You couldn’t imagine doing anything important unless you were high. Sound familiar?

But I also remember the same thing about sex. Once I discovered it, I didn’t want to be without it. I couldn’t imagine having a relationship with a girl without it. Sometimes, lying in bed and doing it was all I wanted to do…for days!

Then I discovered foreign films. I would spend all my spare time at the hipster movie theaters that showed them. I dreamed about them constantly and made them the center of my life. I went to Italy and watched Fellini on the set. I wanted to be a movie director. I even changed my life and college program to make this happen.

None of these things are physically addictive. They’re just pleasurable. And for an adolescent or young adult discovering the many and varied pleasures of life, it’s hard to get enough of them, especially if your peer group gives you a great deal of support and encouragement about continuing.

There’s a big difference between a literally addicting drug like heroin or alcohol or Oxycontin…and marijuana. Marijuana is said to be “psychologically addicting”, but that’s only because psychologists came up with that term so they’d have a new income stream. They’ll also treat you for sex addiction, internet addiction, money addiction, and possibly even foreign film addiction. But it’s not the particular drug or activity that’s forcing you to feel that way, it’s your own immature desire to have the fun thing continue.

Most people can deal with it, but about 10 to 15% of people seem to have problems and let it take over their entire lives, no matter what “it” is. It’s their own personality and willpower that’s causing the problem, but it’s also difficult psychologically to admit this (due to the ego and self-esteem factor), so it’s easier to say “I’m addicted! It’s not my fault!” And society, in the form of media articles and the ever-present professional addiction counselors, is happy to agree with you.

(Note: this column was developed from an interesting conversation in the comments on this article.)

Got a question for Old Hippie? Send in your questions to him here or post a comment below.

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http://gplus.to/OldHippie Old Hippie is a father of two boys and thankfully living in California where all this kind of thing is legal. He started smoking marijuana in 1967 in high school, experimented with mind-expanding drugs of all kinds, and then straightened out 15 or so years later to become an airplane pilot. After being diagnosed with depression in 2000, he lost his job and most of the following decade to prescription medications (such as antidepressants) which sapped his energy and will. Finally, a chance conversation with a friend led to a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana (MMJ). This changed his entire life, health, and outlook for the better. BeyondChronic.com is his continuing story. It’s also his way to provide experienced advice on using medical marijuana effectively and responsibly, as well as advocacy, activism, and support for others. Old Hippie teaches about safe use of cannabis edibles, Canna Caps, vaporizers, dosing, and even microdosing.

23 Comments

  1. Kathy L said:

    I fully agree. I am 57 yrs old and have used pot for over 40 years mostly on a daily basis. I run out but have no URGE to rob, steal, or pillage!! I have no headaches, no shakes, no physical signs of being out!! I simply wait until I get more. Addicted?? I think not. Do I still want it every day….YES.

  2. Sanyars said:

    To old hippie and other readers-

    I was the one who reported my teenage cannabis use as noted above. What was not included above was my comments to the effect that in my own independent subjective self-assessment I was eventually abusing cannabis and toward the end of my use I became dependent on it. This was not because a counselor or professional told me that. It was my own experience. I fit the diagnositc criteria for both abuse and dependence found in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for psychiatric disorders that is commonly used by mental health professionals. I acknowledge that this is not the case for some users of cannabis but it was for me. It was a hard habit to break because I liked smoking a lot. However, it got to the point where I thought I couldn’t function without it. Not good. So for me, stopping cannabis use set me free of a self created slavery to pot use. I don’t blame anyone for it. It was always my choice to use. So it was my responsibility to take care fo myself that I had ignored but then later acted on when I got into recovery.

  3. Michael Flynn said:

    I’ve been addicted to meth, cocaine, and tobacco. It is absolute hell and I wouldn’t wish it on an enemy. I’ve had serious dependence issues with alcohol and a minor dependence issue with caffeine. I used Cannabis daily for years too, but when I decided to stop there was NO issue whatsoever. It is harder to give up coffee than Cannabis. It is a thousand times harder to give up tobacco than Cannabis. The word addiction should be reserved for the physical symptoms like withdrawal that cause true and profound human suffering. Cannabis heals and it has, can and should be used to aid addiction recovery.

  4. Sanyars said:

    Something else I want to reply to… I also acknowledge that cannabis addiction is not even physiologically similar to opioid or alcohol addiction. Mechanisms are not the same. So, it is important to frame cannabis dependence for what it is and not react against what it is not. I have included the DSM IV criteria for substance dependence for your reference. You be the judge.

    The Criteria for Substance Dependence

    A maladaptive pattern of substance use, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by three (or more) of the following, occurring at any time in the same 12-month period:

    (1) tolerance, as defined by either of the following:
    (a) a need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve Intoxication or desired effect
    (b) markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance

    (2) Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:
    (a) the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance (refer to Criteria A and B of the criteria sets for Withdrawal from the specific substances)
    (b) the same (or a closely related) substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms

    (3) the substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended

    (4) there is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use

    (5) a great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance (e.g., visiting multiple doctors or driving long distances), use the substance (e.g., chain-smoking), or recover from its effects

    (6) important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of substance use

    (7) the substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance (e.g., current cocaine use despite recognition of cocaine-induced depression, or continued drinking despite recognition that an ulcer was made worse by alcohol consumption)

    My note: simply substitute in Cannabis related problems instead of cocaine or alcohol related problems. (ie: Cannabis use caused me paranoia and believe it or not anxiety too.)

  5. Chris said:

    The problem here is our ever-changing definition of addiction.

    First, do you believe that alcoholism, heroin addiction and cocaine addiction all fall under the label of “addiction disease?” This is accepted by many people, despite differences in physiological withdrawal symptoms. Next, can we add video game addiction and internet addiction? These are behaviors which often become obsessions and destructive to people who are addicted to them. This is the level that many people stop at, they believe alcohol and drug addiction, are “real” diseases, but internet addiction or porn addiction are just bad habits. Then there are those who believe that these should be included in the “disease.”

    People that believe that these other behaviors fall under the “disease” category tend to believe that there is an underlying, possibly genetic trait that is “addiction disease.” This disease CAUSES all these other addictions, maybe the person does cocaine while watching TV and they get addicted to both. However, I disagree. I think that if you take the same obsession, the same addictive behaviors and apply it to writing, you have Stephen King (OK, maybe a little cocaine in there, too.) I think that if you apply it to computing or business, and you have Bill Gates. This quality, this obsessiveness is simply a trait. Temperament has been shown to be highly genetic. We can inherit qualities that our ancestors had. This doesn’t, however, make them disease. If we came from a long line of smiley do-gooders, or buxom, blue-eyed beauties we certainly wouldn’t label it so.

    When we engage in addictive behavior, whether “workaholism” or smoking meth, we don’t do it because our dopaminergic reward pathway isn’t working properly. This would be a disease, a physiological dysfunction. We become addicted because our dopaminergic pathways are working precisely as intended. It’s not a defect, it’s a feature! Unfortunately, our behaviors are interfering with the way our brains are supposed to work. Imagine a compulsive gambler at a slot machine. BAM! Reward. BAM! Reward. That’s dopamine, and it’s doing its job. We just didn’t have slot machines when the pathways were evolving.

    Now, one last thing. Some psychologists have done an experiment similar to this, but I can’t find it, so I will just speak hypothetically. Imagine you have 100 heroin addicts. You tell them you will give every single one of them who stays clean for one year ten million dollars. Now, do you think that it is even conceivable that one of them would take this incentive and stay clean for a year? OK, now let’s try this with 100 people with leukemia. See what I’m saying? It’s not a disease.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that if we’re going to label cannabis as “addictive,” fine, go ahead. I don’t agree with the label. But add falling in love, video games, TV, movies, reading, and a million other activities that can become habitual. So if anyone uses the :Fact” that cannabis is addictive as a rationale for criminalization, they have a lot of laws to write.

  6. Sanyars said:

    I know that some despise the label “addict” or “addiction” in relationship to cannabis. This will remain because we don’t have better more finely attuned labels for it. What words would you use instead? I also agree that withdrawal is much less severe for cannabis cessation than with opioids or alcohol for sure. I am trying to do the best I can with the words we have. I am not so inclined to labeling addiction a “disease” either. The traditional use of that word has to do specifically with pathogenic, processes of the brain and body. (Disease processes ie: medically diagnosed sometimes treatable conditions)Addiction does have a biological (brain) component but it is also a psycho-social phenomena. Using that term (disease) as AA and NA have is problematic at best. But it’s what they have chosen to convey the meaning that they see. Simply put, “dis” (or lack of/contrary to) and “ease” (harmony, equilibrium, homeostasis, and/or balance) equates nicely but would be far more broad than just substances. I see the difficulty with our word choices and do not know how to solve them. Do you? In the DSM IV abuse or dependence upon substances are termed “disorders.” How does that sit with you? More discussion is needed.

  7. sanyar said:

    Old Hippie-

    Thanks for your kind words and appreciation. I am enjoying exploring this topic with you and please note that I am still open-minded here. I am not trying to box anyone in with my comments, nor say in any way what others experience is or should be because those I do not know. For instance, I had no idea you are a medical cannabis user until you told me. My assumption was blown out of the water. Please let’s continue the dialogue as time and space permit…

  8. sanyars said:

    Old Hippie-

    I thought we had a conversation going with this thread. Next thing I know it’s erased?! I thought you were open to the conversation and different points of view…

    Is this your idea of censorship to push your point of view as supreme?

    I am very disappointed, truly.

  9. sanyars said:

    Old Hippie-

    Yeah that was really weird. Everything was erased and there were no comments posted. The tally said “Comments: 0″ _and naturally I was suspicious. Sorry about that. The computer went ape shit on us and then went back to normal. Okay, hopefully there will be more great discussion!

  10. sanyars said:

    As per my memory and a tiny bit of research to back it up there are some mild withdrawal symptoms with cessation of cannabis use. Here is what I experienced and found:

    Cannabis withdrawal is a form of withdrawal associated with the substance cannabis. It is included in the proposed revision of DSM-5.[1]

    At one time cannabis was considered a drug that had no withdrawal symptoms because users did not display symptoms similar to those withdrawing from alcohol or opiates. Contrary to this, experimental research supports reports of users who relate evidence of heavy cannabis use producing comparatively mild psychological withdrawal symptoms.[2][3]

    Kouri and Pope examined withdrawal symptoms over 28 days abstinence from cannabis[4], while Budney et al. looked at a time period of abstinence of 45 days.[3] Their study assessed withdrawal symptoms among chronic cannabis users who were assessed daily on various symptoms while on a hospital ward for 28 days. They rated mood, anxiety, depression and irritability and compared them to those of two control groups of abstinent former heavy cannabis users and non-users of cannabis. Chronic cannabis users showed decreases in mood and appetite and increases in irritability and anxiety and their scores on the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression scale increased. Both studies used urinalysis to ensure abstinence, and showed that withdrawal symptoms began within 1–3 days of abstinence and lasted for 10–14 days.[3][2][4] According to Budney et al., the withdrawal syndrome associated with cannabis use is similar to that for tobacco but of lesser magnitude than withdrawal from other drugs like opiates or alcohol.[3]

    Significantly, evidence indicates that withdrawal symptoms are alleviated when cannabis users resume using cannabis after a period of abstinence[2] and recent laboratory research has focused on the role of brain chemistry in cannabis dependence. As with other drugs, cannabis increases the amount of dopamine in the synapses. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with rewarding feelings. Budney et al. argue that the upkeep of this neurotransmitter may motivate people to use cannabis in an addictive way.[2]

  11. Loki said:

    Sanyars: I respect what you are trying to say but the whole aspect of you using medical books and what people have said versus my own experiences doesn’t work for me. Different strains yield different effects. Some make you the stereotypical “pothead” to the get-up-and-go strains. There are a lot of misconceptions about marijuana use. I do not sit around all day and eat food, smoke, and watch porn. I smoke and then go out and work or chill with friends, paint, and generally have a good time. I can always do that without marijuana too.

    This is my take on the subject. You are hardwired to be an “addictive personality” or not. Past family histories and genetics can probably determine that. I’ve seen some people start smoking and just do other crazy drugs and then tank on the hard drugs. I’ve seen heroin addiction. my friend was addicted He’s gotten through it somehow. I have other friends who are addicted right now to heroin. It’s horrible. I hardly think marijuana is addictive unless you have an “addictive personality”.

  12. sanyars said:

    Loki-

    I respect that you are a productive person who contributes to culture and life as well as ocasionally smoking MJ. There are recreational users who do not fit the criteria of abuse or dependence. I recognize and freely admit that. No problem. But as far as using text books and credible sources I have no problem with that either. That’s the benchmark we use in the mental health field to assess problems with drugs. Sometimes you have to look at actual data and evidence not just go by one person’s subjective opinion that can be biased based on substance used. I have had years of personal experiecne using MJ too from the ages of 16 to 20. I did abuse it and became dependent on it. But it has a whole lot more to do than just an “addictive personality.” There are many other factors that play into it as well. Functions of the brain are one of them. The use (and overuse) of pleasure pathways in the brain can become habituated as well. The brain adapts to the infusion of the substance on a regular basis. I know mine did. I built up a tolerance to use of MJ and needed more and more of it more and more often to get the same high. I went from being a recreational user to being an addict. I know casual MJ users loathe that word as perhaps you do, but it fits in many cases. (But not all cases certainly). If you look closely at the DSM IV crieria above and then compare it to those you know with heroin addiction I think you will agree it is definitely on the mark exactly. Marijuana addiction is far more subtle. It creeps along slowly and can be easy to deny, rationalize and justify. I am not just reading this out of a book in other words… You say you are fully functional and I have no reson to disbelieve you. Whatever you are doing works so great for you!

  13. sanyars said:

    Loki-

    one other quick reality check question for you:

    IF you did have a problem with cannabis how would you know?

  14. sanyars said:

    There are also what are known as protective factors and risk factors for developing addiction. Here are some of them.

    EXAMPLES OF RISK AND PROTECTIVE FACTORS

    Risk Factors

    Individual: Early Aggressive Behavior, Interpersonal: Poor Social Skills, Family: Lack of Parental Supervision, Substance Abuse in family or environment, Community: Drug Availability, Social: Poverty

    Protective Factors

    Individual: Self-Control, Interpersonal: Positive Relationships, Family: Parental Monitoring and Support, Peer: Academic Competence, School: Anti-Drug Use Policies,
    Community: Strong Neighborhood, and Attachment to positive and healthy role models

  15. mistie said:

    Hippy and Sanyars, I found this thread while searching for information for a compare and contrast paper I am writing on the pros and cons of legilazing medical canibas nation wide. I personally think it should be made completly legal medical or not and controlled like alcahol. Anyway you both have good information here, and I would like permission to use it and site you as my soures. Even though I found it in a blog type area I feel that you both are knowlegabe and reliable sources of information. I hope you both see this response if so please email me mhowell0304@live.com put in subject line canibas paper so I dont mark it as spam thank you guys. Mistie

  16. sanyars said:

    I would like to correct inaccurate statements that I said before on this thread.

    In fact, ADDICTION IS A CHRONIC RELAPSING BRAIN DISEASE. THIS IS BECAUSE THE USE OF DRUGS ALTERS THE FUNCTION OF THE BRAIN’S REWARD PATHWAY SYSTEM. THE ADDICTS BRAIN IS LITERALLY DIFFERENT THAN IT WAS BEFORE THEY STARTED USING. ADDICTION WAS DEFINED AS A DISEASE IN 1956 BY THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION. MANY MYTHS ABOUT ADDICTION STILL EXIST UNFORTUNATELY. HOWEVER STRIDES IN RESEARCH AND TREATMENT ARE OCCURING NONETHELESS. THE CHANGES IN THE ADDICT’S BRAIN CAN BE PRECISELY TRACKED AND DOCUMENTED BY MODERN SCIENCE. CHANGES IN MARIJUANA USERS BRAINS ARE ALSO PROBLEMATIC AND CAN MANIFEST AS DEPENDENCE. TO POT USERS: WISHING THESE FACTS AWAY AS YOU CONTINUE YOUR POT USE WILL NOT HELP OR CHANGE THE TRUTH ABOUT REAL ADDICTION. MARIJUANA IS NOT THE MIRACLE DRUG THAT YOU PURPORT IT TO BE.

  17. sanyars said:

    You may hear people ask, “If it’s dangerous, why do so many people have medical marijuana cards?”40 It’s true that scientists have determined that the cannabis plant has the potential for addressing a range of medical conditions. But it’s also true that when you’re young and your body is still growing, marijuana actually has the potential of inflicting a long-lasting, negative impact on your developing brain.

    Using marijuana at a young age can result in structural and functional deficits of the brain. This could cause you to develop weakened verbal and communication skills, lowered learning capabilities and a shortened attention span.40

    LONG-TERM EFFECTS
    In addition to the possible effects on your brain, smoking marijuana may also be hazardous to your developing lungs. Marijuana smoke contains 50% to 70% more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke.41

    You may have heard people argue that marijuana is a “gateway drug” to harder drug use. Some say this is a myth, others insist it is a fact. The truth is that there is a link. Research shows that the earlier you start using marijuana, the more likely you are to become dependent on it or other types of drugs later in life.42

  18. Rob said:

    “about 10 to 15% of people seem to have problems … It’s their own personality and willpower that’s causing the problem”

    I haven’t got a problem so I don’t care about what happens to anyone else. Nice!

  19. dropadoodiepie said:

    “about 10 to 15% of people seem to have problems … It’s their own personality and willpower that’s causing the problem”

    To a certain extent this is true. Not that I don’t care what happens to them, but yes, some people have addictive personalities, or need to be dependent on something. I don’t see this as a weakness. I haven’t yet read the entire discussion (I will when I have time to sit down and digest all of this).

    I feel that you can become dependent on anything. Video games, drugs, fapping, candy. Whatever. It is a matter of willpower to get over those dependencies. You have to want to get help.

    I’ve been on some sort of SSRI for the better part of a decade. I feel as if this is more detrimental to my mental health than MMJ. I feel like I need something to help quell the “brain cooties,” and I felt as if I couldn’t live without MMJ. BUT, I’m on a t-break right now, and unlike many things that are “addicting” (can you blame anyone for wanting to do/eat/smoke something that makes you feel good?), I don’t have withdrawls, nor do I feel a compulsion to break my t-break. It sucks, yeah, because I enjoy MMJ, but I’m not chomping at the bit to grab my vape. I feel OK. In fact, I feel like I’m really benefiting from this break. So yes, you can be dependent, but the drug itself isn’t addicting. The feeling is addicting. I guess you could argue logic here. Like anything else, it’s up to you to learn enough about yourself to use it responsibly. And when you’re a teenager, that’s very hard to do, since mentally, your brain hasn’t fully developed.

    That’s just my .02. Sorry if this is rambly. Old Hippie, I’d love to really sit down and chat (internet) “face to face” with you sometime, because I’m struggling hardcore and you’re such an inspiration to me. I hope that someday, I can feel free of my brain disorders and live in harmony with my trees.

    • Old Hippie said:

      Apologizing to a cannabis user for being rambly? You’ve got to be kidding :-)

      SSRIs can be tricky, but depression is really tricky. Not everyone can drop their pharma meds safely, and it’s a hell of a leap of faith to go on cannabis alone. It worked for me, because I guess I was lucky with my particular brain chemistry, and I have a hell of a lot of willpower. But it’s certainly safe enough that anyone who’s not susceptible to “mental addictions” should consider at least trying the stuff, without dropping their other meds.

      I’d love to chat with you! We can do a reddit PM thing or a Google Chat or whatever, or drop me an email. Anything I can do to help! Nugs and hugs!

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