Why do some marijuana smokers get hooked on the substance? Long considered a gateway to harder drugs, marijuana is usually considered less harmful than other substances. Indeed, many critics of the criminalisation of marijuana point out that alcohol, arguably a more harmful substance, remains legal, while those involved in buying or selling marijuana receive stiff punishments. Yet, even with more relaxed attitudes towards marijuana, the plant can still be understood to fit the criteria of an addictive substance.
Addiction is comprised of three main components. First is tolerance; that is, the decrease of the effect of the substance, with a corresponding increase in dose. Second is withdrawal, or unpleasant sensations which occur when discontinuing the substance. Finally, an addiction is a behaviour which impairs healthy functioning of the individual, whether at work; relationships, mental health, financial stability, or physical wellbeing. Marijuana can be understood to fit these criteria, and can therefore be considered addictive.
A recent study conducted in the Netherlands sheds some light on factors which contribute to marijuana dependency. In their on-going, long-term study of 98 young adult marijuana smokers, the authors dispelled some commonly held myths about marijuana smokers.
First, some people believe that marijuana smokers will adapt the way they smoke depending on the strength of the pot they smoke. That is, if they smoke strong marijuana with a high THC content, they will either inhale less, or smoke less. The researchers found that this was only partially true, and that often when people smoke stronger pot, they smoke and inhale the same amount. As a result, they form a higher tolerance, which likely contributes to addiction.
Secondly, the researchers observed a correlation between how a smoker used marijuana, and their resulting dependence. When pot smokers consumed more than a single joint, they were more likely to become addicted.
Additionally, when they took more frequent puffs on their joints, they were also more likely to become addicted.
In practical terms, what do these findings suggest? Dependence and addiction depend on many factors. Addiction specialists consider genetic predisposition to addiction as a primary factor in determining who becomes addicted. Genetics is a major risk factor, which is compounded by the levels of THC one is exposed to and the smoking behaviours one engages in.
In addition, brain mechanisms in the reward centre of the brain contribute to addiction. So, when we consider the strength of marijuana and pot smoking behaviour, they should be understood as influencing the reward centres of the brain to create stronger patterns of dependence.
Moreover, research into substances which are considered “soft” or less addictive highlights the underlying mechanisms of addiction. Regardless of the relative addictiveness of a substance, the resulting dependence, withdrawal, and impaired functioning hinder happiness and limit personal growth. Ultimately, abstinence is the most effective strategy for reducing the risk of addiction.
The Cabin, Chiang Mai, is a residential treatment facility offering cutting edge treatments for addiction. We encourage you to contact one of our specialists today if you are concerned about addiction.