Is Marijuana Addictive?

by pgh

The vast majority of recreational pot smokers don’t develop an addiction to marijuana. They use marijuana when they want, at the quantities they want, and generally have a safe experience that doesn’t spiral out of control.

However, a small percentage of marijuana users (10%) do develop all the classic signs of addiction, but as far as we can tell, these addictive behaviors aren’t caused by any biological effect inherent in marijuana.

Unlike drugs such as alcohol or heroin, marijuana users – even heavy chronic users – don’t develop strong physical withdrawal symptoms. When withdrawal symptoms are present, they might include symptoms like nausea, sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety. Generally, this means that people quit using rather easily.

So even though weed smokers don’t develop physical tolerance or suffer withdrawal symptoms, we still need to answer the question “is weed addictive”? After all, 10% of users do develop signs of addiction. To understand the question, we should first take a look at our understanding of addiction.

Abuse vs. Dependence

is marijuana addictive

Anti-Marijuana propaganda from 1935 (Wikipedia)

First of all, one important distinction that needs to be made is the difference between marijuana abuse vs. marijuana addiction. Drug abuse occurs when the user continues to use even when it negatively affects their life or health.

Users who let their marijuana use affect their life negatively, such as causing poor academic performance, or losing their job, or getting arrested – are abusing marijuana. One can abuse marijuana even if they’re not technically addicted or dependent.

Marijuana addiction

For someone to qualify as addicted/dependent on marijuana, they would need to be abusing marijuana and also exhibiting the following addictive behavior symptoms:

  • Lose control of their use and require increasingly larger quantities
  • Marijuana use takes a central place in their life
  • When not using, will spend time thinking about using
  • Spends significant money and time acquiring marijuana
  • Becomes angry, agitated, or irritable when they run out of weed
  • Continue to use despite negative life consequences

Perhaps what makes marijuana unique amongst popular drugs is that there are users who can use marijuana heavily, such that it takes a central focus in their lives, yet never suffer any negative life consequences or significant health consequences. At the same time, there are a small percentage of users who allow their marijuana use to negatively affect their life.

Even though a small percentage of marijuana users have displayed signs of addiction in studies, it seems likely that the users for whom marijuana use has a negative effect on their lives are not reacting to the marijuana itself, but rather to their own inability to cope and/or biological proclivities towards addiction.

Users can definitely become addicted to Marijuana, but in the same way that people can get addicted to sex, food, or shopping – the pleasant sensations experienced by the user triggers the reward centers in the brain. For most people, this simply means a pleasant, enjoyable experience, but for those with so-called addictive personalities, the triggering of reward centers in the brain can bring on addictive behavioral patterns. These people – even if marijuana isn’t biologically addictive – do require treatment for marijuana abuse and/or dependence.


Approximately 32% of people who use tobacco will become addicted, as will 17% of cocaine users, and 23% of heroin users. In addition to being significantly more addictive, these substances are also significantly more physically harmful than marijuana.

So ultimately, is marijuana addicting and can you get addicted to weed? Marijuana itself doesn’t have any biological properties that cause physical dependence, and the vast majority of the population cannot get addicted to weed. Although some studies have shown that approximately 10% of recreational marijuana users do develop symptoms of addiction i.e. their marijuana use carries negative consequences in their work and relationships, the addiction is more a factor of ineffectual coping mechanisms than the marijuana itself. For this reason, those with so-called “addictive personalities” might want to consider staying away from marijuana use.

While marijuana isn’t addicting and carries relatively few physical side effects, there have been reputable studies that have shown correlations between marijuana and schizophrenia, especially when used by minors. And of course, there are legal consequences to consider if you live in the United States or other countries like Japan, where Marijuana use (rightly or wrongly) is highly illegal.

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