My Friend Smokes Weed, Is It an Addiction?

Marijuana use disorder is more common than addiction

young man laying in grass smoking marijuana
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If your friend smokes weed and you are concerned that it is a problem, then talk to them about it.

A clear sign that recreational substances, such as alcohol or marijuana, have become an addiction is when your friend's family life, daily activities, and ability to work is impeded, or they can't stop using the substance even though they want to quit.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

A marijuana addiction is uncommon and only diagnosed in severe cases.

Only 9 percent of users will develop a dependence, which is medically less serious than an addiction. The number rises to about 17 percent for those who started using weed in their teens, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

If your friend uses pot occasionally, they do not have an addiction to marijuana.

Marijuana Use Disorder

Rather than use the term addiction, health professionals prefer terms like marijuana dependence and marijuana use disorder. The NIDA estimates that about 30 percent of marijuana users may have some degree of marijuana use disorder.

It is more likely that your friend who smokes weed has a marijuana use disorder than an addiction, but keep in mind that 70 percent of people who use marijuana do not have a marijuana use disorder. The likelihood your friend has a marijuana use disorder is also very low.

Marijuana Dependence

If your friend frequently uses marijuana and has marijuana dependence, then your friend would feel withdrawal symptoms upon stopping the use of the drug.

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms are typically mild, and peak within the first week after quitting and may last up to two weeks.

Withdrawal Symptoms from Marijuana
Irritability
Trouble sleeping
Decreases appetite
Restlessness

Marijuana Effects on the Adolescent Brain

Some studies suggest that teenagers who use marijuana frequently may experience short-term effects such as problems with memory, learning, coordination, and judgment.

As for long-term effects on the adolescent brain, some studies  suggest an association between regular marijuana use in teens with "altered connectivity and reduced volume of specific brain regions," while other studies "have not found significant structural differences between the brains of users and non-users."

A large cohort study, cited by the NIDA, followed nearly 4,000 young adults over a 25-year period into mid-adulthood and found although cumulative lifetime exposure to marijuana is associated with lower verbal memory test scores, it did not affect other cognitive abilities like processing speed or executive function.

Studies have found that frequent use of marijuana as a teenager can be associated with an average IQ loss of eight points that were not recoverable after quitting. However, the same use in adults showed no reduction in IQ. The researchers concluded that their data suggests marijuana's strongest long-term impact is on young users whose brain is still developing.

Marijuana Is Not a Gateway Drug

Marijuana is not a generally considered a gateway drug because the majority of weed users do not go on to use harder, addictive substances, including cocaine and heroin.

The science of addiction is more reliable than a dated hypothesis and shows your social environment might be a more critical factor in determining your risk for trying harder drugs.

It is suggested that if you are more vulnerable to getting involved with addictive substances, then you are more likely to start with things that are more readily available, such as alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana. If you have social interactions with other substance users, then your likeness of trying other drugs increases.

Sources:
National Institute on Drug Abuse: Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug? (2016)

Meier MH, Caspi A, Ambler A, et al. Persistent Cannabis Users Show Neuropsychological Decline from Childhood to Midlife. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U S A 2012;109:E2657-64.

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