How addictive is marijuana? Experiences and insights?
April 23, 2005 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Marijuana is said to have the potential for psychological addiction. I just started using it, and I'm hyper-paranoid about such things (even when not high!), so I'm wondering about this. Has anyone here struggled with this? How do you tell the difference between "psychological addiction", and just wanting to do something fun, because it's fun? Is psychological addiction a bunch of anti-drug scaremongering? How do you tell if you're starting to become addicted?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (39 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you still do the other things you thought were fun before you started smoking, I'd guess you're OK. If smoking is becoming/has become your sole source of fun, find a new hobby (frisbee?).
posted by jaysus chris at 12:23 PM on April 23, 2005

Try to stop. See what happens. If you can't go a week or so, including a couple of weekends, without finding some excuse for smoking, maybe you've got a bit of a problem. See if you can still have fun without it.
posted by pracowity at 12:25 PM on April 23, 2005

Marijuana is NOT addictive.

It has been said to have the potential to be "habit forming," but that can be applied to almost any pleasant human activity.

I'm not advocating marijuana, but any claim that it is addictive is ideological and polemical only. "Addictive" means something quite specific: physiological adaptation to a substance or activity so that it's withdrawl causes a specific, highly aversive, physiological readjustment to its absense.

I'm not advocating for marijuana -- frequent use can may one (well, me...) unmotivated and dull, but let's leave the "war on drugs" propaganda aside.
posted by curtm at 12:28 PM on April 23, 2005

curtm is correct. You will note, modern drug research (the kind not funded by a government) avoids use of the term 'addiction' entirely, because it has become so misused as to be meaningless.

Marijuana is not physically habit forming. Some people do use it pathologically/compulsively, but some people play Dungeons and Dragons pathologically or poke holes in their legs with hatpins compulsively, so that doesn't mean anything about marijuana itself, just people who lean towards compulsive behaviour.
posted by Jairus at 12:39 PM on April 23, 2005

Merriam-Webster's Medical Desk dictionary defines addiciton as:
compulsive physiological need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly : persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be physically, psychologically, or socially harmful
Marijuana definitely isn't in the former category, and it definitely can be in the latter category. And the clear meaning of "psychologically addictive" is that second category. Arguing that the poster should have used words that are more acceptable to you just wastes time.

As far as whether it is psychologically addictive for you, what pracowity said. And what Jairus said about compulsive behavior.
posted by grouse at 12:42 PM on April 23, 2005

sure marijuana isn't addictive, but i still find it virtually impossible to resist whenever it's around. I wasn't like this before, now I struggle to stop. I'm not chemically addicted, but the "habit" is irresistable. I also have to avoid alcohol -- i think my dependence on them both arose about the same time; once a casual drink or several was just casual, then i found i needed a cup of wine to start the day and a pint of spirits to get through it. (posted for an anonymous friend)
posted by anadem at 1:00 PM on April 23, 2005

I think it depends on when, why and how heavily you're smoking it. If being stoned becomes an excuse to not deal with shit that you want or need to be dealing with, then it's a crutch and you should cut it out. If you find that you're having trouble dealing with people that don't smoke, that's probably also a bad sign.

Someone I'm really close to smokes a lot. We used to have a strong friendship. Now...not so much. When he's stoned he tends to close off emotionally, becoming sardonic and chilly where he used to be very engaging. He's having a good time, I'm sure, but can't be bothered to communicate or share that with people who aren't baked.

I'd say watch out for that, but if you get to that point, you probably won't care.
posted by felix betachat at 1:09 PM on April 23, 2005

I think a more layperson, or at least more simplified, definition of addiction would be when the body adapts to a substance and cannot function within the realm of normality without it. A good example is heroin, which, as it is used with more frequency, begins to replace neurotransmitters in the brain that are naturally produced and that are responsible for pleasure. As a result, when heroin use stops, the neurotransmitters are no longer being manufactured by the brain and there is no artificial means of obtaining them (ie heroin), so the user goes through withdrawal and, from what I understand, an immense amount of physical pain.

I am by no means a doctor and I exist outside of the world of practiced science, so I imagine someone will be able to improve or clarify what I have said. I just think that with marijuana, there is a stigma attached to it because it is lumped in with drugs such as heroin and cocaine as "illegal" while tobacco and caffeine are not. As for addiction to marijuana, I have no first hand experience to make a judgement. Though I imagine that trying to glean anything close to a definitive answer from public opinion about the substance will prove fruitless. My advice: experiment if you like it enough and listen to your body.
posted by benightedly_heedful at 1:11 PM on April 23, 2005

Marijuana is addictive in the same way that, say, porn is addictive. Or playing computer games. Or [insert enjoyable activity that some people get carried away with.] As long as you don't make it the focal point of your life, you'll probably be fine. If you make a conscious effort to use it with some moderation [that is, you don't plan to light up several times daily or something], you're unlikely to get into a position where you're psychologically dependant on it to get by in your daily life.

As curtm said, this is very different from physiological addiction. Most people deal with things like porn or computer games just fine. If you have had problems with addictive behaviour the past [including use of other substances to avoid dealing with problems], you might have cause for concern with marijuana. Otherwise, I would definitely keep tabs on how much time/money you spend on it, but I wouldn't start out worrying too much.
posted by ubersturm at 1:15 PM on April 23, 2005

I've always drawn the line with drugs (inc alcohol) when I realize I'm not doing it any more because I'm enjoying it, I'm just doing it out of habit.

The question you have to ask yourself is, "am I doing this for fun, or am I doing this because I can't think of anything else better to do?" If it's the latter, you've de-funned it, and it's time to move on....
posted by forallmankind at 1:19 PM on April 23, 2005

Whether or not it ever qualifies as any kind of "addiction", pot can definitely develop into a harmful habit. As a once-frequent user who still has no problem with it, in principle, I think I'm one of many people here who can attest that warnings like this are not automatically just "drug war" propaganda. I know a lot of people, including some very good friends, whose lives have basically ground to a halt under a haze of smoke, and I've skirted that risk myself.

Like most other self-destructive behaviors, that _usually_ means that it's masking some other, deeper issue--it's not that pot's necessarily addictive, it's just that it's a _perfect_ crutch for avoiding your problems. Staying constantly baked is a great way to avoid the fact that you hate your job, or that your relationship is going down the drain, or that you're desperately lonely.

Basically, if you're worried about how much you smoke, then you _should_ be. Smoking a lot makes you apathetic, even when you're not actually baked, so if you've still got warning bells going, it's almost certainly a very good sign there's something going on. Your best bet, though, is to figure out what's really bothering you, and deal with that. If you can straighten out the real problem, it definitely _is_ possible to still smoke every once in a while and stay emotionally/psychologically healthy.
posted by LairBob at 1:28 PM on April 23, 2005

Using heroin, cocaine, crack or methamphetamines is like playing russian roulette with three of the six chambers loaded--smoking dope is like shooting yourself in a dark room with a BB gun--no one actually knows the real consequences as it is not subject to randomized controlled experimental studies. Personally I would rather go for a long run, read a book or scan AskMetafilter--Clinical intuition tells me that for most persons, when used seldom and with friends, it probably is relatively benign--clinical experience tells me that for some, more than proponents would like to acknowledge, it leads to dullness, emotional blunting, impaired judgement and reduced motivation for life roles (I guess that is called slacking) Go for a run
posted by rmhsinc at 2:02 PM on April 23, 2005

Like anything else, pot affects different people differently. That is why you can shrug off anyone who generalizes its effects. Including people who say it affects different people differently? I dunno, but I digress.

Anyway, for me, when I have pot, I smoke it, and today's shit is so strong that one very small toke is enough to send me for a loop for hours. Even when totally zonked, eventually I gotta take one more hit, say 30 minutes after the last. I am stoned every waking minute until it's gone.

If I can score more, the train ride continues. If I can't, I fret about it for weeks. Then the whole feeling goes away, and I wonder what all my fuss was about.

Then I score another quarter, and it starts all over again.

Call it what you will, compulsion or psychological addiction, it's all rhetoric. The bottom line is that for some us, pot can completely dominate our lives.

posted by mischief at 2:25 PM on April 23, 2005

I'd like to add, in response to the last part of rmhsinc's comment, that claims that marijuana leads to a lack of motivation, reduced mental capacity/memory, etc. are impossible to back up because it is often hard to separate those who are affected by something as a result of use and those who enter into habits of use who are predisposed to such life choices. If your study consists of people who are naturally slackers with low IQ's, then your results won't be telling of real world situations. Case and point: drug use among the affluent and well educated; it doesn't seem to affect the memories or mental abilities of those who are just naturally smarter. Also, any graduate student will tell you: you can make research say anything you want it to say.
posted by benightedly_heedful at 2:27 PM on April 23, 2005

What they all said.

I think as long as you are (a) aware of your behaviour and (b) able to arbitrarily not partake, you'll be okay.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:41 PM on April 23, 2005

While it's certainly not even remotely as addictive as nicotine, it's still very difficult to stop smoking pot after prolonged, frequent use.
After a reasonably difficult battle with it, I managed to stop smoking pot about a year and a half ago after having smoked almost daily for about three years. Quitting pot won't make you feel bad the way quitting cigarettes (on my to-do list still, after several attempts) does. However, you will feel uncomfortable, restless, sleepless, anxious, and disoriented while giving up pot. The upside is, after a week or two of avoiding it, you'll feel back to normal.

Smoking pot certainly won't kill you or lead to experimenting with other drugs. Smoking pot does, however, make you perfectly happy with being bored, boring, unproductive, forgetful, and inarticulate. It also can SERIOUSLY reduce your libido. Additionally, it's far more expensive than it's worth. Even though it's not "addictive" you're likely to find yourself always making sure that you either have some weed around or have enough money to get some more. You'll also find that you start selecting and retaining friends based on the fact that they smoke pot. It's not "addictive" but it becomes a lifestyle pretty quickly. I had to stop hanging out with about 75% of the people that I knew in order to quit.

Yeah, there's a whole lot of antidrug scaremongering out there. Much of it is exaggerated or untrue. Nevertheless, smoking pot still isn't a very good idea.

Really, it's not worth it. After being off that stuff for over a year, I'm only recently starting to feel like the smart person that I was before I started. It'll take a while to get your brain back.

Honestly, you should avoid it. I wish that I had not wasted my time or my money on it. If you've got enough free time that smoking pot is starting to look like a good idea, PLEASE fill you time with something else. I really wish that I'd had the forethought to have spent all those hours doing something that would have made me a smarter, more interesting person instead of being stoned.

Smoking pot is really only a moderately entertaining way to completely waste a couple hours. It makes boredom a little more fun. But you're only ever bored if you're a boring person.

You won't start to really "feel addicted" and you won't even notice that your usage is increasing. Just be aware of finding excuses or justifications to smoke. Until you become aware that it's easy for a reasonably smart person to scrape by being stoned all the time or until you become used to existing and operating in a constantly stoned or burnt out state, you'll probably have a quiet, nagging voice of better judgement telling you, "I have work/class tomorrow. I probably shouldn't get high," or, "I have somewhere to be soon. This probably isn't a good idea." As long as you consistently listen to that voice, you'll stay in control and you can indulge infrequently (as recommended).
posted by Jon-o at 2:55 PM on April 23, 2005

There's a difference between light smoking and heavy. Over 5 joints a week seems to hurt global intelligence somewhat, under 5 seems to do the opposite but don't take that as a given.
posted by Gyan at 3:02 PM on April 23, 2005

Anecdotally, a few years ago I would smoke joints on a daily basis, then I'd go away to teach for periods of 3-4 months, during which time I would not suffer from any withdrawal symptoms, nor from any real "jonzing". Others would suffer from jonzing though, so I guess that is what they mean when they say marijuana is not physically addictive the way heroin is, but can be psychologically addictive.

Most of the people I know who are psychologically addicted to marijuana are those who believe they can't get to sleep without it and nothing more serious than that.

I also agree with what benightedly_heedful said, and can point to friends who smoked 3 times a day and successfully completed computer engineering degrees. Personally I can't focus very well on anything when I smoke, others have no problem.
posted by furtive at 3:03 PM on April 23, 2005

benightedly_heedful , as I said--it was just clinical experience not a scientific study-everybody is right--the effects are extremely variable--however--I have had plenty of bright middle/upper class patients.\, including students and professionals, who will tell you that their lives significantly improved when they decided there were things more interesting than smoking dope--Take Care Frank
posted by rmhsinc at 3:05 PM on April 23, 2005

The people who want to insist on physiology being the only marker for addiction are missing the point (dictionary definition aside). Cocaine is also not physically addictive (notice it was not in the definition along with heroin, nicotine and alcohol), but people, monkeys and rats will starve themselves in order to get it. Pot is not nearly like that, but it can be something that some people have trouble controlling. That is not anti-drug propoganda, and saying it is does a disservice to anyone trying to be an informed consumer, as you are, anon.

What everyone else said about being aware of your use and reacting accordingly. Pot is fun, don't not use it out of fear, just pay attention to yourself and your habits.
posted by OmieWise at 3:12 PM on April 23, 2005

As the drugs of abuse go, marijuana's pretty innocuous. If you don't believe that intentionally altering your mental state is inherently a bad thing, then the major problem you're likely to encounter with marijuana are the effects of smoke inhalation.

Among other things, chronic marijuana use appears to prevent the development of seizures and epilepsy, and the effects last years beyond the time that the marijuana use is stopped. This interests me because it suggests that permanent changes in brain function are being effected, but it's not clear at all that they are necessarily bad/harmful changes.

I don't use the stuff myself - never have done. However, the president of my med school class was an avowed weekend pothead, and he was someone I respected deeply for his intelligence, wisdom, competence and compassion. I would have entrusted him with my life at any time. Anecdotally, I'm sure many of us have known potheads on either end of that spectrum, and it appears to me that the pot use probably has nothing to do with it in either case.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:10 PM on April 23, 2005

it's far more expensive than it's worth

I dunno about that. I can get way more stoned from $50 of pot than I can get drunk on $50 beer, wine or liquor.

Further, for its adrenaline rush, my current poker hobby is far more expensive. (FWIW, I haven't smoked any weed in about a year and a half.)
posted by mischief at 4:15 PM on April 23, 2005

I watched a friend of mine try to cook while high, when I hadn't smoked myself. She put the ham in, left it in for an hour, and then discovered the oven was off.

That's all it took for me!
posted by jon_kill at 4:44 PM on April 23, 2005

It also can SERIOUSLY reduce your libido.

It can also SERIOUSLY improve libido.

It also makes television much, much better. But that's hardly a ringing endorsement of either!
posted by five fresh fish at 5:01 PM on April 23, 2005

Dude, I've been smoking only for 10 years (im 37)

and I am not addicted.

It's an experience thing. - Get baked, go to a movie or even sex-

it's cool as hell. period.

BTW, I don't drink or smoke squares-

POt is all I need.
posted by phredhead at 6:37 PM on April 23, 2005

I dunno about that. I can get way more stoned from $50 of pot than I can get drunk on $50 beer, wine or liquor.

$50 dollars can get you a whole heck of a lot of lsd. which will mess you up way more than the $50 of pot will.
posted by juv3nal at 6:52 PM on April 23, 2005

Unfortunately, finding pure LSD (without the speed and all the other 'contaminants') has always been next to impossible.
posted by mischief at 7:43 PM on April 23, 2005

Blotter acid is either pure acid or a rip-off. No strychnine or speed or other stuff. Nowadays, there's a risk that instead of LSD, the blotter might contain 5-MeO-AMT. But that's a direct substitution. Acid in pills or putative acid in vials or cubes is a different story.
posted by Gyan at 8:20 PM on April 23, 2005

Ignore mischief. No-one puts speed in LSD (or heroin in MDMA or turpentine in pot or whatever). At least, that's what the DEA (who test every batch they find) have found.

Not to mention, you would need an LSD tab the size of a tic-tac to put enough speed in it for the speed to become orally active.
posted by Jairus at 8:20 PM on April 23, 2005

I guess things have improved substantially since the 70s. ;-P
posted by mischief at 8:40 PM on April 23, 2005

Don't get scared by hearing it can reduce your libido. Personally, at 33 (not that I have a libido problem to begin with), I find that it increases my libido. As a matter of fact, I can perform much longer if sex occurs during the height of the buzz. This, along with heightened tactile sensation makes marijuana a very positive thing in my book for me personally. Your mileage my vary.

I've used it quite a bit since I was 16. My real advice:
- Don't smoke it every day. Not only will you think that you might be addicted, the enjoyment of the high decreases with long-term constant exposure.
- Take breaks. After going through that last quarter or fifty take at least a month off. Longer is better. When you come back to it you will realize why.
- Find a method of ingesting it without smoking. Baking (in the oven, silly) and vaporizing are popular alternatives that are healthier for your lungs.
- If you smoke it, don't smoke cigarettes. All that crap in your lungs and decreased blood flow seems to stifle the absorption.
- If you smoke it with a pipe, use a glass one and clean it every three or four sessions using alcohol, salt, vigorous shaking and q-tips. If you have ever used a pipe that's been used heavily for even a short span of time without proper cleaning, you'll find that you can't seem to get as much out of a pull and thus end up wasting it. A clean pipe means you burn less of it and you will have a stronger effect.
- Listen to music that Johnmc doesn't like while under the influence.
posted by melt away at 8:40 PM on April 23, 2005

It sometimes interferes with short term..... uh, what was the question?

Seriously, pot doesn't have addictive properties, so the real question is are you prone to compulsive behavior? If so, doing drugs (or alcohol) isn't a very good idea.

Physical addiction is like this: you take substance X and after the high or sedation or analgesic wears off, you feel sick / hungover. So you take some more to feel better (and taking more makes the sickness go away immediately). If substance X also causes you to develop a tolerance and you need higher and higher doses to keep from getting sick, you're addicted.

Pot doesn't do this. Nobody gets sick when they stop using it.
posted by warbaby at 8:58 PM on April 23, 2005

If you're concerned that you might be in too deep, take a look at the 12 questions of Marijuana Anonymous.
posted by Rash at 9:37 PM on April 23, 2005

Pot doesn't do this. Nobody gets sick when they stop using it.

I think what was said above about generalizations is important to keep in mind. Some people really get to start feeling like they're not really alive or relaxed or content without pot; define 'sick' however you want, but people can start to seriously dislike the feeling of sobriety after enough mj use. And other people don't have withdrawal symptoms from alcohol & nicotine etc. The important thing is to stay aware of how your own reactions are playing out. Personally, I always take 'fasts' from bad habits now & then, just to remind myself it's an indulgence, not a necessity.

But whether something is a 'bad' habit or just a habit is a definition you have to come to. Consider what you consider to be the positive effects of the substance (short term pleasure? escape from pain/trouble? enhanced creativity?). Consider what negative effects you've noticed (apathy? confusion? antisocial behavior? financial cost?). Compare the pluses & minuses, and think about how the habit effects your life, and make decisions accordingly about the degree to which you engage...
posted by mdn at 9:43 PM on April 23, 2005

think of pot like music. who cares about "addictions?" just understand what's happening and how you're involved in that

ps i'm curious to talk to 1sd users, e-mail me if you dare
posted by foraneagle2 at 9:45 PM on April 23, 2005

- Listen to music that Johnmc doesn't like while under the influence.

LOL, scared my girlfriend i laughed so hard...even though i like to listen to at least some of what jonmc likes (as far as i can tell from the music posts lately.)

I definitely think pot can control your life...but it is an experience drug like phredhead said.

*have you looked at the back of a twenty dollar bill? On weed?
posted by schyler523 at 11:39 PM on April 23, 2005

I love this analogy rmhsinc:

"Using heroin, cocaine, crack or methamphetamines is like playing russian roulette with three of the six chambers loaded--smoking dope is like shooting yourself in a dark room with a BB gun"

That being said, however you want to twist the semantics of "addictive", pot is it. I had too many roommates in uni who did bong hits everyday before breakfast- (to get the 'old motor revving.)
posted by Dag Maggot at 3:45 AM on April 24, 2005

Of course pot can be addictive for some people. A few of my friends spent about a decade as daily, wake-and-bake users. They held down jobs and kept out of trouble (mostly), but it was if their lives were on hold--no career or personal advancement, no long-term plans, just a passive, meandering life. I am still in touch with one, he is ten years off of pot now and thriving and will tell you that it was the pot that kept him down.

On the other hand, pot is far less addictive than alcohol, nicotine, or a dozen other things named on this thread.
posted by LarryC at 7:36 AM on April 24, 2005

Gross over-generalizations about marijuana and marijuana users don't really provide much useful information in my opinion. Here's my subjective experience: I'm 19, in college in America. I've been smoking pot daily for just under a year now, and socializing for me does indeed center around the ritual of the toke. The longest I've gone without in over a year is one week. I suppose that would make me addicted -- marijuana is an inseparable part of my current lifestyle.

When a substance has such influence over human behavior as to foster its own lifestyle, it's hard to pin down "effects" of its use. Here's what I can tell you. One reason I smoke so much is because I like to think. Since picking up this habit, I have been much more likely to engage in intense introspection. This might manifest in some as paranoia, but I am too naive for that. I simply tend to daydream. I daydream about music, my friends, philosophy, and love. I daydream at school, I daydream at work, I daydream at home, and I always daydream in transit.

And you know, that just makes my head into a big ol' echo chamber. If a friend makes me angry, I'll stew over it for hours. But among potheads, those matters always get resolved at the next bowl. Now if a woman shows interest in me, she's in my head for days. This, combined with the fact that I'm a romantic at heart anyway, makes my interactions with females awkward and confusing, and flirting a nearly hopeless endeavour. Having no relationship experience at all doesn't help, either. But you know, being stoned makes it easy to forget all that emotional ego bullshit and look down upon your own life from above. Where everything is much, much funnier. So then, I find myself toking to reduce frustration. And that's a vicious circle, the true meaning of addiction.

On the flip side, I've found that being high always makes me a more capable musician and a more receptive improviser. During the time of my life when I was smoking the most pot, I was able to pick up the drums fast enough to play with a band for a live audience in four months. Now I play drums with my friends or work on solo music while stoned about three times a week, and I put down my sticks feeling exhausted and refreshed every time. I don't want to give up pot because I value this newfound fluency probably more than anything else in my life. One day I might put down the pipe, but as long as I'm making music, that just won't happen. Sorry for the long post -- hope I wasn't just rambling!
posted by Laugh_track at 12:46 PM on April 24, 2005

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