Can You Become Addicted to Medical Marijuana?
“My name is Neal, and I’m a marijuana addict.”
So begins Neal Pollack’s autobiographical opinion piece recently published in the New York Times. It’s not a piece of DARE propaganda nor a call to push back against legalizing the drug, or prescribing or recommending it as a medication like Ohio has recently done. On the contrary, Pollack advocates for its legality. And at the same time, he admits he is powerless over his addiction to marijuana and that it almost wrecked his life.
It’s not a realization Pollack came too easily. Like most addicts, he lost the tug-of-war he played with the crippling reality of an insatiable addiction more often than he could count. “Like most pot addicts in denial, I spent years telling myself that marijuana isn’t addictive, and so I didn’t have a problem,” Pollack confides. “But clearly I did. And I’m not the only one who suffers this way.”
Pollack tells a cautioning story for anyone experimenting with the drug, including medical marijuana patients or those considering getting a card. It’s about the relatively small but very real risk of addiction.
Wait. Marijuana is Addictive?
We know what you’re thinking — marijuana isn’t addictive, right?
Well…sort of. Cannabis certainly isn’t addictive for most of the population. The vast majority of people can toke, put it down and never really think about it. But for about 9% of all marijuana users, weed addiction is a subtle but crippling reality, even if they might not admit it. For users who start young, that number climbs to 17%.
That’s less than alcoholism, but significant nonetheless.
How to Tell if You are Addicted
Marijuana Anonymous (like AA but for weed, yes it does exist) suggests 12 questions to ask yourself to determine if you have a problem with marijuana.
- 1. Has smoking pot stopped being fun?
- 2. Do you ever get high alone?
- 3. Is it hard for you to imagine a life without marijuana?
- 4. Do you find that your friends are determined by your marijuana use?
- 5. Do you use marijuana to avoid dealing with your problems?
- 6. Do you smoke pot to cope with your feelings?
- 7. Does your marijuana use let you live in a privately defined world?
- 8. Have you ever failed to keep promises you made about cutting down or controlling your use of marijuana?
- 9. Has your use of marijuana caused problems with memory, concentration, or motivation?
- 10. When your stash is nearly empty, do you feel anxious or worried about how to get more?
- 11. Do you plan your life around your marijuana use?
- 12. Have friends or relatives ever complained that your using is damaging your relationship with them?
The American Society of Addiction Medicine characterizes addiction “by the inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”
The trouble with marijuana is it has a long bottom. Problems may not be as acute as other addictions, but can be prevalent nonetheless. A good sign you might be addicted is your ability to stop or feel fulfilled from its use.
Medicinal Use vs. Addictive Compulsion: Understanding the Difference
Cannabis can be effective treatment for a number of conditions. The state of Ohio currently authorizes certified doctors to recommend marijuana for the following 21 conditions:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Chronic traumatic encephalopathy
- Crohn’s disease
- Epilepsy or another seizure disorder
- Hepatitis C
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Pain that is either chronic and severe or intractable
- Parkinson’s disease
- Positive status for HIV
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Sickle cell anemia
- Spinal cord disease or injury
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Traumatic brain injury
- Ulcerative colitis
If you use cannabis to treat these conditions yet think you have an insatiable desire to use that might characterized as an addiction, talk to your doctor about possible alternative treatments. Consider using CBD strains that lack THC or have minimal THC.
If the marijuana ends up causing more problems than it cures, you might need to consider a new path. If you think you have a problem, consider attending an MA meeting if any are available in your area. Online or phone meetings are also available. Marijuana Anonymous also offers an App for Android and iPhone.
Trust your intuition. It may be trying to tell you something.