There’s a new terror on the horizon for cannabis users. According to none other than the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 9 percent of cannabis users develop a “marijuana use disorder.” With a growing number of states legalizing recreational cannabis for adult use, the nation appears to be on the brink of a pot-addiction epidemic.
Marijuana addicts can reportedly suffer from irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety and cravings if they’re cut off from the drug. Teens who use cannabis are said to be especially at risk of developing marijuana use disorder along with regular users.
However there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that users develop physiological dependencies for cannabis in the same way that they do for cocaine or opioids. They might become irritable and anxious, but they probably won’t become ill or suffer hallucinations or any of the things we often associate with withdrawal from addictive substances.
In fact it seems like much of the idea of cannabis dependence centers around the violation of a principle rather than any actual harm stemming from regular or heavy use.
Story vs. Reality
There are negative effects associated with cannabis, but many affect only a small subsection of the population (like cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome or cannabis allergies) or those who started using too young. The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites delusions and psychosis as side effects of smoking high-potency cannabis regularly, but fails to mention that any stressor can serve as a trigger for psychotic episodes, including all drugs, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job and any other number of highly charged life events. Research has time and again found a correlation between cannabis use and psychotic experiences, but even the most seemingly damning studies admit that the causative relationship is unclear—like an infamous study published in The Lancet Psychiatry in 2019, in which its authors state, “Unfortunately, not all the evidence utilizing different methods is consistent about causality. For example, studies using genetic data have found evidence possibly consistent with shared genetic etiology between risk of psychosis and likelihood to use cannabis.” Meaning a person who is genetically predisposed to have a psychotic episode could be self-medicating with cannabis.
But we all get so stuck in the murky details discussing this that we skip over the most important question: If there’s little harm in using cannabis regularly and plenty of benefits, but scant evidence of physiologically addictive properties—is cannabis “dependence” really all that harmful? If a person can use cannabis daily, and it doesn’t negatively affect their ability to function as a valuable member of society, and they have access to a legal supply, where is the problem, exactly?
Consider the idea of vitamin supplement dependency. It’s no joke, and a number of people claim to “suffer” from it. When they are deprived of their supplements, they experience negative health and mental effects that are consistent with withdrawal symptoms. Of course, instead of calling them “addicts” suffering from “withdrawal,” we say that they are “deficient” in vitamin-whatever and send them to the nearest grocery store’s health aisle.
This might all sound cheeky, but it really is a matter of perspective. Without a doubt the most dangerous side effect of using cannabis is being thrown in jail by the stewards of the War on Some Drugs, and they are the very ones who have been spinning the narrative that marijuana use disorder will soon be overtaking the nation.
Now that our state has legalized recreational cannabis, we’re going to start seeing more daily weed consumers. It’s time to start thinking more rationally and recognize that the only victims afflicted by their “dependencies” are pharmaceutical companies and police unions.
In 2014 The Nation published a scathing article exposing the deep connections between anti-pot lobby groups and their financial backers, pharmaceutical companies and police unions. Investigators found that the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America (CADCA) and the Partnership to End Addiction (formerly the Partnership For a Drug-Free America and the Partnership For Drug-Free Kids)—two organizations that have helped push the idea that cannabis use disorder is a threat to our society—were funded by prescription opioid producers and police lobbyists.
Police unions have a reason to create panic around the drug and oppose cannabis legalization. They have to worry about losing federal funding that comes from drug enforcement programs and losing funding taken through asset forfeiture.
The role of pharmaceutical companies in this drama has far more sinister implications. CADCA was found to be funded by Purdue Pharma, makers of the highly addictive opioid OxyContin. There’s no room here to describe the damage that’s been done to the U.S. by opioids in general and OxyContin in particular, so it seems fishy that Purdue would be concerned over the dangers posed by pot addiction. Whether it’s competitive maneuvering, concern over cannabis advocates’ claims that the drug battles opioid addiction or sincere civic duty is up to the reader to discern.
But one thing is for sure: There’s a lot of dirty money behind the narrative that cannabis is addictive, and they should be carefully considered before being accepted as fact.
In the short life of this publication, we’ve covered scientific research that has found evidence that regular cannabis use can battle inflammation—the culprit behind the majority of deaths in the world, according to a study published in the journal Nature Medicine—treat cancer symptoms (and maybe even shrink tumors), stave off cognitive decline and improve mental health in a number of ways. We’ve also learned that regular cannabis users are more active and have a lower prevalence of obesity than non-users.
If you or anyone you know is dealing with addiction and is seeking help, please visit the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Service Administration’s National Helpline. It is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.