Yesterday evening I had an interesting conversation with a long-term user of cannabis. He said he had
spent the past 15 years trying to decide if he was addicted to marijuana or to tobacco; at the moment
he is coming down on the side of nicotine addiction. The sad fact is, he only started smoking tobacco
when he started rolling joints.
So, what is the truth about marijuana addiction and does it even exist? As ever in the world of drugs –
be they food, tobacco, drink, heroin or pot – the answer is complicated. The truth is that, physiologically
at least, weed is only ever addictive when it used frequently and heavily over a prolonged period of time
and even then any withdrawal symptoms are likely to be psychological in origin. You don’t need detox
to quit weed.
Now, here comes the ‘but:’ many pot-smokers use the plant as self-medication, in the sense that they
use it as a security blanket when their life is not going well; those same people are also likely to roll a
joint to celebrate the fact that ‘today is good.’ Got a cold, coming down with flu? A smoke will help. So,
perhaps weed isn’t addictive in the true sense of the word, marijuana is a lifestyle choice and it becomes
a habit that can be difficult to break. A habitual user is likely to say they use their drug out of choice and
nobody can argue with that – their body certainly doesn’t crave it and will continue to serve them well
with or without the drug – their lifestyle, however, may be built around using the drug and being with
people who have also made that lifestyle choice.
Marijuana as medicine is a good thing, we know from both research and anecdotal evidence that it is
highly effective; marijuana as a life style choice is not necessarily a good thing because a typical cannabis
user will use the drug to medicate his or her feelings on a daily basis.
So my long-term user friend might well be addicted to nicotine; his lifestyle, however, dictates that he
needs to use cannabis. That might not be a physical addiction but the social and financial outcomes can
be just as dire in terms of time lost to the ‘medication’ of choice.
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