Marijuana Addiction – guest post and a discussion

Addiction. It’s a loaded word. Lots of baggage, lots of uncertainty in its meaning. It gets tossed around a lot in reference to marijuana, from those who claim that marijuana is provably addictive, to those who say there is no such thing as addiction.

Regardless of those views, I think most people would agree that there are some marijuana users whose use appears to most people to be excessive. And whether that’s reality or perception, it’s still a very real hurdle.

Making this all even more topical, we now have a very real and current controversy regarding the definition of addiction: War Over Addiction: Evaluating The DSM-V

You’ve heard about the Drug War? Well there’s a war being fought over addiction by the Task Force revising the psychiatric bible in the United States.

Called DSM-V, it will be referred to by every therapist, child development specialist, and family court considering mental health issues, as well as criminal court concerning psychiatric defenses. […]

This template for diagnosing our “mental disorders” has been struggling with addiction – like so many of us. The term “addiction” does not appear in DSM-IV. Rather, “dependence” was introduced as a replacement for addiction in the hope of defining the syndrome more precisely and less emotionally.

DSM-V plans to reintroduce addiction.

This is a roundabout way of leading to the real post, here.

Danny Chapin, the managing editor of, a directory for drug rehab centers and substance abuse information resource, approached me about having a dialog about marijuana addiction with all of you, as he searches for understanding himself.

I thought it was a brilliant idea. I wanted to hear what he had to say and also get a chance to respond.

So here we go. I’ll let you have first crack at it, and I’ll respond tomorrow, probably asking Danny for a follow-up post.

Guest Post: Danny Chapin

Marijuana Addiction: What Is It? What Does It Mean?

Addiction is ineffable. In American culture, addiction can and is used to mean many different things. Sometimes it’s an enemy of war, other times a dramatic and thrilling addition to a popular TV show. There is no standard definition of addiction.

Yet, intuitively we know people who are and can become addicted to certain substances and activities. Alcoholism has always been a familiar face, with heroin, meth and cocaine addiction being more recent phenomenons. And these drugs, because of the intense dependence of their users, are clearly addictive substances.
But the one culprit that has never been tied down is marijuana addiction. Some think the notion is hilarious, while others are seriously concerned with its acceptance in our culture. So the question remains, is marijuana addictive? And what does it mean to be addictive, is it physical or mental or psychological or behavioral? Is the notion ridiculous or misunderstood?

Marijuana Addiction

According to Alan I. Leshner, Ph.D., Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, whether addiction is physical or mental is a moot point, and a misunderstanding of the negative impact of addiction(1) . To quote Leshner:

What does matter tremendously is whether or not a drug causes what we now know to be the essence of addiction: uncontrollable, compulsive drug seeking and use, even in the face of negative health and social consequences. This is the crux of how many professional organizations all define addiction, and how we all should use the term. It is really only this expression of addiction – uncontrollable, compulsive craving, seeking and use of drugs – that matters to the addict and to his or her family, and that should matter to society as a whole. These are the elements responsible for the massive health and social problems caused by drug addiction.(2)

Leschner is right. The negative aspect of drug addiction isn’t whether or not marijuana or any other drug makes one addicted physically, but whether or not people will act in uncontrollable, compulsive ways to seek it. It is the determent of this compulsion that is the true face of addiction, disrupting families and ruining friendships. And to this extent, we must ask, not whether marijuana has addictive properties, but whether our citizens use marijuana in a safe, controlled, and independent manner.

The Numbers

The 2008 NSDUH survey found that 15.2 million Americans had used marijuana at least once within the last month. This makes marijuana the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, used by roughly 6.1% of Americans, with variation of use changing only slightly since 2002.

In 2007, there were a total of 305,318 individuals admitted to addiction treatment for marijuana use as the primary substance abused, comprising 16% total drug treatment admissions, only behind alcohol addiction (22.7%) and alcohol addiction with a secondary drug (18.1%). Demographically, 30% of those patients were between the ages of 12 and 17.

This means that in 2007, roughly 2% of people who had used marijuana at least once that year were admitted for marijuana addiction treatment. In comparison, of the 1.9 million users of cocaine in the United States, 178,771 of them were admitted for treatment, making up roughly 9.4% of cocaine users seeking treatment.

The Question(s)

How do we judge this information? Should we say that cocaine’s addiction potential is about 4x worse than marijuana’s, making it ‘less addictive’? Does that comparison matter when we take into account that there are almost 2x as many people attending marijuana addiction treatment than cocaine treatment each year? What makes cocaine addiction a bigger problem than marijuana addiction, or vice versa? Does the low percentage of treatment patients justify a different legal, social, or legislative approach to the substance? And the demographic information, should that impact how we treat marijuana? If marijuana can be a disruptive, uncontrollable force in someone’s life, how do we decide whether or not it should be legal?



  1. Leshner does not argue that physical addiction and physical withdrawal are unimportant, but that the real problem is the disruptive, negative impact behavioral addiction can have, of which physical withdrawal can be just one of many symptoms.
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73 Responses to Marijuana Addiction – guest post and a discussion

  1. Bud Green says:

    Leshner’s definition of addiction is troubling, all the more so if it’s the common mantra used by “professional organizations.” This is more than a matter of semantics, too; it’s the programmatic use of behavior as the yardstick of addiction, rather than more objective measures like frequency of drug use and symptoms of withdrawal.

    Negative impacts of addiction aren’t shared equally among so-called addicts, be they crackheads or potheads or drunks or pill-poppers. Using Leshner’s definition, a marijuana addict who got a Prop. 215 scrip would no longer be an addict because the risk of arrest (negative social consequence) would be minimized or eliminated.

    Broadly speaking, verything is addictive, be it drugs, gambling, sex or some other vice of your choosing. When discussing drugs in particular, however, the more clinical definition of addiction should not be so easily discarded. Marijuana is not physically addictive like opiates or nicotine, and that fact doesn’t change just because people with addictive tendencies use marijuana to excess.

  2. DdC says:

    “The greatest enemy of the truth is very often not the lie–
    delierate, contrived, and dishonest,
    but the myth persistent, peruasive, and unrealistic.
    Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion
    without the discomfort of thought.”
    ~ John F. Kennedy (1917 – 1963)

    Anti-pot propaganda 14 Mar, 2005
    US feds are addicted to making up fake anti-pot news.

    Urine Testing Company

    After his resignation, Turner joined with Robert DuPont and former head of NIDA, Peter Bensinger, to corner the market on urine testing. They contracted as advisors to 250 of the largest corporations to develop drug diversion, detection, and urine testing programs.

    Soon after Turner left office, Nancy Reagan recommended that no corporation be permitted to do business with the Federal government without having a urine purity policy in place to show their loyalty.

    Bad research makes headlines

    prop·a·gan·da n.

    1. The systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause.
    2. Material disseminated by the advocates or opponents of a doctrine or cause: wartime propaganda.
    3. Propaganda Roman Catholic Church. A division of the Roman Curia that has authority in the matter of preaching the gospel, of establishing the Church in non-Christian countries, and of administering Church missions in territories where there is no properly organized hierarchy.
    4. information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause.
    Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

    Dr. Heath/Tulane Study, 1974 (Jack Herer)
    The Hype: Brain Damage and Dead Monkeys

    In 1974, California Governor Ronald Reagan was asked about decriminalizing marijuana. After producing the Heath/Tulane University study, the so-called “Great Communicator” proclaimed, “The most reliable scientific sources say permanent brain damage is one of the inevitable results of the use of marijuana.” (L.A. Times)

    Reports of the study have also been distributed by the hierarchy of drug rehabilitation professionals as part of their rationalization for wanting to get kids off pot, based on supposed scientific studies. It is used to terrorize parent groups, church organizations, etc., who redistribute it still further.

    Heath killed the half-dead monkeys, opened their brains, counted the dead brain cells, and then took control monkeys, who hadn’t smoked marijuana, killed them too, and counted their brain cells. The pot smoking monkeys had enormous amounts of dead brain cells as compared to the “straight” monkeys.

    Richard Nixon missing tapes

    “You know, it’s a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob?

    “You’re enough of a pro,” Nixon tells Shafer, “to know that for you to come out with something that would run counter to what the Congress feels and what the country feels, and what we’re planning to do, would make your commission just look bad as hell.”

    The Shafer Commission of 1970
    Marijuana does not lead to physical dependency, although some evidence indicates that the heavy, long-term users may develop a psychological dependence on the drug”

    DEAth Merchant’s Delusions

    In the mid-1930s, Harry Anslinger went around the country giving his speeches to judges, police, unions, etc., on the evils of marijuana.

    Here is one of his favorite metaphors, which, he assured his naïve, supportive audiences, was not an overstatement!

    “If the hideous monster Frankenstein came face to face with the monster marihuana he would drop dead of fright.”

  3. Hope says:

    “The negative aspect of drug addiction isn’t whether or not marijuana or any other drug makes one addicted physically, but whether or not people will act in uncontrollable, compulsive ways to seek it.”

    “Act in uncontrollable, compulsive ways to seek it”?

    What do you mean?

    Do you mean you, or someone else, can’t control them, or that they lose control of themselves?

  4. Fedup says:

    Why is this such a long debate? The answer to cannabis addiction can be found in a simple question – Have you ever seen or heard of someone sucking cock for pot?

  5. kaptinemo says:

    Fellatio for weed. Ugh. Yuck. Thanks for ruining my morning, guys…

  6. permanentilt says:

    I can testify that I have known someone to suck cock for pot, but this didn’t make her an addict, she had hardly ever even smoked pot, she was just a slutty chick who wanted to get high.

    btw wasn’t my cock lol

  7. permanentilt says:

    on topic by the way,

    “uncontrollable, compulsive drug seeking and use, even in the face of negative health and social consequences”

    The definition is a trap. Police, politicians, and rehabilitators see ANY use as having “negative health and social consequesnces” and ANY seeking as “uncontrollable” since if you were under control, you would follow the law. Therefore all marijuana smokers are addicts? I think not.

    Also, how could you let this guy argue his case without first pointing out that most people in treatment for marijuana were referred there by law enforcement and would not meet any kind of objective definition of addicted or dependent (save the catch-22 I just illustrated)?

    But this whole discussion is completely moot. Potential for addiction has nothing to do with legality. If so we would outlaw sugary foods, alcohol/tobacco, World of Warcraft, facebook, TV, etc….etc….etc….

  8. Pingback: Reefer madness: the Controlled Substances Act & DSM-V «

  9. Pingback: Reefer madness: the Controlled Substances Act & the DSM-V « Drugs, Law and Conflict

  10. Pingback: Marijuana Addiction – a response - Drug WarRant

  11. ziggy says:

    I have been smoking cannabis for 25 years. If you want to call that an adiction you can. However, I have also been diagnosed with severe diverticulosis and ibs…

    Is there a possibility that addiction may lead to a cure? Because I tell you, when I don’t have cannabis, I’m in some insuffurable pain, when I do, I am not…

  12. dreau preau says:

    You don’t hear about people prostituting themselves to get marijuana. At most, I’ve heard of fellatio and many of the sluttier girls have a rather passe view of fellatio. You do, however, hear about women prostituting themselves for heroin and cocaine. Why would they do that?

    Oh, yes, its illegal and criminalized. These women have been exposed to this substance through a draconic organization of lawmakers’ own making. Instead of receiving treatment from doctors that mean to help her, our crack whore is confined to either the streets or prison, and no one wants to go to prison, so instead we have people using dirty needles and having unprotected sex to get their fix.

    The more dangerous and addictive a substance is, the more the need for control. Drug Warriors would have you think the only means of control is full prohibition when this couldn’t be further from the truth. Tack on the corruption, violence, moral and social schism, economic hazard, and depredation of authority that comes from prohibition and I think any reasonable and just person can see that we need to change our drug policy.

    This summer I smoked pot multiple times a day for about a month. I haven’t touched the stuff for over 3 weeks. There was no point at which I felt an overwhelming need to attain the stuff. At most I suffered from sleeping problems for about a week. I have a 3.33 college GPA and am part of a prestigious study abroad program.

    If marijuana didn’t exist, people would ruin their lives on alcohol or other drugs, marijuana is merely more benign and has countless medicinal uses that the pharmaceutical company doesn’t want to see people getting from plants that can be grown in a back yard.

    It’s disgusting, but fortunately abhorred by reason and logic, which makes it one of my favored points of argument in politics and one of the leading factors of my agenda.

  13. Pingback: Marijuana Addiction, part 3. Danny Chapin responds - Drug WarRant

  14. Mystique says:

    I have been smoking pot for 40 years it is not addictive in any way any way I repeat.
    I have not smoked in 2 years now and every time I stop I think the worse side effect was a slight head ache.
    I cant understand why my country has been wasting so mush time money and man power on pot its crazy that its still against the law and that we are still wasting time on this. It would be funny if it was not so wastfull.And as far as any addiction its a medical problem not a law inforcement problem and untill we learn that lesson we are going to wast even more money and time on this . I think drugs are kept against the law to keep people in there jobs and thats it period.if a person wants to use drugs they will find a way to get them even in prison and if you cant stop drug use in the prisons how could anyone with a half a brain think we can stop drug use in the street.

  15. Leroy Casterline says:

    It would be interesting to know how many of the 300K-plus marijuana admitted for treatment were there as a condition of keeping their job, staying out of jail or being allowed to continue their education. I would guess that many of these people had no need of treatment and thus should be excluded from consideration.

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  17. Jack Carter says:

    Drug Addiction will not only ruin your body but it would also mess up your life.*-,

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    The information is quite useful , my advice is that addiction is not going to do you any good, all it does is to destroy life, so try to avoid any form of drug addiction

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