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The question of whether marijuana is addictive depends on whom you ask, and on how you define addiction. According to the DSMV-IV, the guidebook that psychiatrists and psychologists use to define and diagnose mental problems, addiction is defined as the compulsive use of a substance despite ongoing negative consequences. However, addiction isn’t the same as abuse, and someone can be a marijuana abuser without being an addict. Abusing marijuana can put your health and life in danger even if you aren’t technically addicted to the drug.
Marijuana isn’t physically addictive in the way that some other drugs, such as heroin, alcohol, and barbiturates, are. These drugs cause distinct physical symptoms when someone stops using them, such as shaking or vomiting, but marijuana users don’t experience these effects when they stop. Marijuana also doesn’t typically cause physical cravings, but users may develop tolerance, a diminishing effect of using or need for greater amounts over time. Many physical addictions can be treated using medication prescribed and given out in controlled doses by a doctor. There are no medications available to treat marijuana addiction because there are no physical symptoms to treat.
Psychological addiction can be a concern with marijuana, however, and breaking free of a psychological addiction can be just as difficult as breaking free of a physical one. Symptoms of withdrawal from the psychological addiction include anxiety, depression, and mood swings. Using marijuana even though you are aware that negative consequences are likely, such as an impact on school performance or your relationships, is a sign that you could be addicted. However, even though it can be psychologically addicting, marijuana is less addictive than many other common drugs. According to Dr. Jann Gumbiner of the University of California, Irvine College of Medicine, marijuana addictions develop in about ten percent of the people who use it, while fifteen percent of people who drink alcohol become addicted and thirty-two percent of people who use tobacco become addicted. There is no way to currently predict whether a given individual will be part of the ten percent of users who become addicted to marijuana or the 90 percent who do not become addicted.
Despite its low potential for addiction, marijuana can still be quite dangerous if abused. Marijuana can impair motor function and mental acuity for hours, or even days, after the use, which can lead to accidents or injuries. Even a small amount of the drug can make it difficult to safely operate a vehicle or complex machinery. In areas of the country where the drug remains illegal, there can also be considerable legal and financial consequences to using marijuana, such as losing your job or getting arrested and convicted of a crime.
With the recent legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, concerns over marijuana use and abuse are likely to come to the forefront of media attention. Fortunately, programs are available to help those who do become addicted to marijuana, and breaking free of a marijuana addiction is generally not as complicated as overcoming an addiction to harder drugs.