My Friend Smokes Weed, Is It an Addiction?

Marijuana Dependence Is More Common than Addiction

young man laying in grass smoking marijuana
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If your friend smokes weed and you're concerned it's a problem, talk to them about it. How do you know when a recreational substance, such as alcohol or marijuana, becomes an addiction? It interferes with the person's family life, daily activities, and ability to work, and they can't stop using it even though they want to quit.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

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

In fact, only 9 percent of users will develop a dependence, which is not the same as and is clinically less serious than an addiction. The number rises to about 17 percent for those who started smoking weed in their teens, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

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

Marijuana Use Disorder

Rather than an addiction, clinicians talk about marijuana dependence and marijuana use disorder. The NIDA estimates that about 30 percent of marijuana users may have some degree of marijuana use disorder.

Therefore, although it is possible your friend who smokes weed has marijuana use disorder, it's more likely they don't.  

Marijuana Dependence

If your friend suffers from marijuana dependence, she would feel withdrawal symptoms when she stops using it. Marijuana withdrawal symptoms are typically mild, peak within the first week after quitting and may last up to two weeks.

 

Frequent marijuana users report withdrawal symptoms including:

  • irritability
  • trouble sleeping
  • decreased appetite
  • restlessness

Marijuana and the Adolescent Brain

Does marijuana damage the adolescent brain? The jury is still out, according to the NIDA.

While some studies do suggest an association between regular marijuana use in teens with "altered connectivity and reduced volume of specific brain regions," others "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."

Another large study found the persistent use of marijuana as a teenager is associated with an average IQ loss of 8 points that were not recoverable after quitting. However, the same use in adults showed no reduction in IQ. The researchers concluded 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 "gateway drug" because the majority of weed smokers 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 a person's social environment might be a more critical factor in determining their risk for trying harder drugs.

It's suggested that people who are already more vulnerable to getting involved with more addictive substances are more likely to start with things that are more readily available, such as alcohol, tobacco or marijuana. Subsequently, they may have social interactions with other substance users, which increases their likeness of trying other drugs.

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

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