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Why Do People Think Marijuana Isn't Addictive?

By Zawn Villines
Most research suggests it is not possible to overdose on marijuana. It is still an addictive drug that can harm relationships and get you in serious legal or financial trouble.

Debates about the safety and addictive potential of marijuana are highly politicized. Though numerous studies have documented its potential medicinal benefits, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency maintains that it is a Schedule 1 drug, with a high potential for addiction and no potential benefits or approved medical uses. 

Marijuana advocates may go to the other extreme, asserting that marijuana is safe in all contexts and is never addictive. One 2016 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences even found that doctors’ political beliefs can sway their opinion on the addictive potential of cannabis. 

You can be addicted to weed, just as you can become addicted to any other mind-altering substance of pleasurable behavior. 

Marijuana as Medicine

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved marijuana to treat any medical condition, it has approved two cannabinoids—substances found in marijuana—to treat seizures, chemotherapy-related nausea, and HIV/AIDS-related weight loss and appetite issues. 

Emerging research suggests marijuana or its ingredients may help with some other conditions, including: 

  • Anxiety
  • Opioid addiction 
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome 
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 
  • Insomnia and other sleep problems 

Recreational Marijuana Use

A 2016 survey in theAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine found that most marijuana users still use the drug for fun, not as a medical treatment. 

It is possible to become addicted to any mind-altering substance, even a prescription drug. Recreational use, though, increases the risk, because the dose may not be consistent and you may be more likely to chase a high. This can cause you to use more and more marijuana, triggering dependence and addiction. 

Is Marijuana Addictive?

Irene Little, PsyD, a psychotherapist with Access Counseling Group, tells WebMD Connect to Care that many people believe marijuana is not addictive because they or people they know used it without any consequences, and without becoming addicted. But, she says, weed can be just as addictive as any other drug. 

“Many people are often surprised to learn that there is a diagnosis of cannabis withdrawal in the latest version of the DSM-5, which health care providers use to diagnose mental health conditions,” Little says. Many people have physical symptoms when they stop using marijuana. “Physical withdrawal from marijuana can include irritability, difficulty sleeping, change in appetite, headaches, lack of focus, and more.” 

As many as 30% of people who use marijuana may be addicted. Some signs of marijuana addiction include

  • Having physical symptoms, such as headaches or fatigue, without marijuana 
  • Feeling like you need marijuana to feel normal 
  • Not being able to stop using it, even though you want to 
  • Making bad decisions to get more marijuana (for example, stealing from or lying to loved ones)
  • Conflict with loved ones over marijuana 
  • Serious legal or financial trouble because of the drug, especially if you keep using in spite of these issues

Get Help Now

If you need help with an addiction to marijuana, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by.

Treatment & Resources for Marijuana Addiction