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Is Weed Addiction Real? Here's What Experts Have to Say

By Jon McKenna
Research shows that about 1 In 10 regular marijuana users become addicted.

Why do so many Americans refuse to believe weed is addictive? Perhaps it’s the relaxing quality of a marijuana high or the inability to tie deaths directly to overdose.

Judgments could be colored by the 11 states that allow recreational marijuana sales to buyers age 21 or older, and the 33 states that allow purchases for medical treatment. And maybe the common presence of marijuana plays a role, with half of respondents to a 2017 Marist poll admitting they had tried the drug.

“Early in their recovery from other substances, people hang onto the thought that they can keep smoking marijuana,” Meghan Marcum, PsyD, tells WebMD Connect to Care. She’s the chief psychologist at A Better Life Recovery treatment center in San Juan Capistrano, CA.

Experts on Marijuana Addiction

But popular opinion is not the same as objective medical science, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say about 1 in 10 regular marijuana users will become addicted. Among people who begin using marijuana before age 18, the addiction rate rises to 1 in 6, according to the CDC.

Meanwhile the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says 30% of people who smoke or ingest marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder that can lead to addiction symptoms once they stop. Among those symptoms are: 

  • Irritability 
  • Sleep problems
  • Decreased appetite
  • Physical discomfort

As of 2015, about 4 million Americans met the diagnostic criteria for a marijuana use disorder, according to the NIDA. And NIDA Director Nora Volkow has estimated that 2.7 million Americans meet the criteria for marijuana dependence, which would rank weed behind only alcohol for substance dependence.

It’s important to remember, the NIDA notes, that dependence is not the same as addiction, which is when someone cannot stop using a drug even though it interferes with their normal life. In fact, one reason critics question how many people are really addicted to marijuana is that studies use dependence as a proxy for addiction, the NIDA says.

“Marijuana is not the most addictive of all the drugs out there, but it definitely does have addictive properties,” Marcum warns. “Chronic use can lead to serious consequences. In the last 3 or 4 years, I have seen symptoms of psychosis, similar to schizophrenia, from marijuana withdrawal.”

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If you or a loved one is struggling with marijuana addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.

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