Yes, weed can be technically addictive. This is according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which cites this article from this Umbrella study on marijuana addiction. In fact, some estimates of up to 9% of weed smokers are psychologically or physically addicted. But, we all know it’s not heroin or cocaine addictive. It’s somewhere in between coffee and cigarette addiction. I think I could find a fair number of people who struggle more with quiting Starbucks sugar/caffiene combo, then people attempting to quit the morning wake and bake with marijuana.
A Molecular Biologist on Reddit /leaves/ subreddit (which is dedicated to people quitting marijuana), had this wonderful take on addiction related to marijuana:
“Now my goal when I write these posts is to keep it as close to the science as possible, leaving my personal bias at the door. This topic is something I’ve wrestled with in my own past and something many stoners wonder about. Often times many sources and articles are debated and contrasted when it comes to this topic and the debate comes down to a single coin flip:
Is it psychological or physical dependence?
Everyone should know the definitions of the two since there are key distinctions (from wikipedia):
- Physical dependence: refers to a state resulting from chronic use of a drug that has produced tolerance and where negative physical symptoms of withdrawal result from abrupt discontinuation or dosage reduction.
- Phychological dependence: is a form of dependence that involves emotional–motivational withdrawal symptoms (e.g., a state of unease or dissatisfaction, a reduced capacity to experience pleasure, or anxiety) upon cessation of drug use or engagement in certain behaviors.
Physical and psychological dependence are the two key elements in describing addiction. So it makes sense to find out if marijuana is addictive, psychologically dependent or physically dependent. The question on dependency becomes:
- Do individuals smoke because they want to get a certain feeling? Like being high, or happy. (psychological dependence)
- Do individuals smoke because their body will be negatively impacted if they stop? Like sharp pains. (physical dependence)
- Or do individuals smoke because of both (addiction).
Do individuals smoke because they want to get a certain feeling?
This is a pretty obvious question, and I don’t believe most stoners would deny that the main purpose for them smoking is to get that “high” sensation. There are medical benefits to smoking but only a small percentage of people who smoke do it primarily for non-psychoactive cannabinoids.
There are well defined molecular pathways on how THC interacts with CB1r and the activation leads to dopamine being released and the feeling of euphoria.
But this by itself isn’t enough to see if marijuana physically addictive. This sort of addiction is the same type that is associated with food addiction, sex addiction and so on. It’s a mental rewiring that makes the brain focus on a certain topic beyond the point of fascination. When you quit smoking abruptly common side effects would be anxiety or unease.
Do individuals smoke because their body will be negatively impacted if they stop?
Well here is where the problem begins. Physical addiction is normally seen by the very evident disruption of essential biochemical pathways. A good example of this would be alcohol:
- When you drink on occasion, alcohol activates a certain pathway which becomes “heightened” and allows the release of dopamine making us feel good.
- When you have alcoholism, the alcohol will disrupt the same pathway, which leads to gene expression that tells your body that you need MORE alcohol. That is the definition of clinical (molecular) addiction. This cycle of drinking is then characterized by physical pain when the alcohol stops.
That physical pain is NOT WHY there is a physical dependence. PHYSICAL DEPENDENCE IS DESCRIBING METABOLIC CHANGES, NOT PHYSICAL PAIN Those metabolic changes could result in pain, but don’t have too. Sorry for yelling, but many people get confused and it needs to be clarified.
So cannabis is tricky because we haven’t found any metabolic changes to essential pathways. Cannabis obviously interacts with dopamine and uses an interesting pathway (The ECS) but the interactions between cannabinoid receptors and THC are much different than D1 receptors and ethanol (the difference is in the chemistry and molecular biology/kinetics of the receptor-interaction).
With cannabis tolerance, the receptor just becomes less sensitive to THC but there is no bodily stimulation to desire MORE THC like with alcohol. But users also experience pains and physical ailments when quitting so it’s a tricky place for researchers.
Do users smoke because of both?
Is marijuana addictive, by a purely scientific sense? We don’t know. It’s sad, but it’s true. High school abstinence and pro-pot activists both tell lies about this topic. The evidence is there on the surface, but when we dig deeper it’s murky. It’s not due to faulty individuals or poor science, but rather due to a limitation in our technology and understanding.
In the future, we will have better diagnostic techniques and technology and a more concrete answer will arise. Some estimates assume up to 9% of smokers (1 of every 11) is addicted, and depend on weed for at least their mental sustainability and would experience negative symptoms among immediately quitting.
Now the source I used on this is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V5 that’s published by the American Psychiatric Association. It lists a lot of possible withdrawal symptoms to look out for when quitting smoking:
- Stomach Pain
- Eating and habit changes
and a lot more. But many users experience none of these”