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Marijuana Myths, Claim No. 9

CLAIM #9: MARIJUANA IS AN ADDICTIVE DRUG

It is now frequently stated that marijuana is profoundly addicting and that any increase in prevalence of use will lead inevitably to increases in addiction.

THE FACTS

Essentially all drugs are used in "an addictive fashion" by some people. However, for any drug to be identified as highly addictive, there should be evidence that substantial numbers of users repeatedly fail in their attempts to discontinue use and develop use-patterns that interfere with other life activities.

National epidemiological surveys show that the large majority of people who have had experience with marijuana do not become regular users.

In 1993, among Americans age 12 and over, about 34% had used marijuana sometime in their life, but only 9% had used it in the past year, 4.3% in the past month, and 2.8% in the past week. 59

A longitudinal study of young adults who had first been surveyed in high school also found a high "discontinuation rate" for marijuana. While 77% had used the drug, 74% of those had not used in the past year and 84% had not used in the past month. 60

Of course, even people who continue using marijuana for several years or more are not necessarily "addicted" to it. Many regular users - including many daily users - consume marijuana in a way that does not interfere with other life activities, and may in some cases enhance them.

There is only scant evidence that marijuana produces physical dependence and withdrawal in humans.
When human subjects were administered daily oral doses of 180-210 mg of THC - the equivalent of 15-20 joints per day - abrupt cessation produced adverse symptoms, including disturbed sleep, restlessness, nausea, decreased appetite, and sweating. The authors interpreted these symptoms as evidence of physical dependence. However, they noted the syndrome's relatively mild nature and remained skeptical of its occurrence when marijuana is consumed in usual doses and situations. 61 Indeed, when humans are allowed to control consumption, even high doses are not followed by adverse withdrawal symptoms. 62
Signs of withdrawal have been created in laboratory animals following the administration of very high doses. 63 Recently, at a NIDA-sponsored conference, a researcher described unpublished observations involving rats pretreated with THC and then dosed with a cannabinoid receptor-blocker. 64 Not surprisingly, this provoked sudden withdrawal, by stripping receptors of the drug. This finding has no relevance to human users who, upon ceasing use, experience a very gradual removal of THC from receptors.

The most avid publicizers of marijuana's addictive nature are treatment providers who, in recent years, have increasingly admitted insured marijuana users to their programs. 65 The increasing use of drug-detection technologies in the workplace, schools and elsewhere has also produced a group of marijuana users who identify themselves as "addicts" in order to receive treatment instead of punishment. 66

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