Recent legal changes have helped to cast a positive light upon marijuana, and American society seems on the verge of happily forgetting all of the drug’s social stigmas in the past. Despite its recent cultural acceptance, however, marijuana has still been proven to be addictive, and its users must be aware of the health consequences pertaining to marijuana use and withdrawal.
Marijuana withdrawal is comparatively mild to other drugs, but still present nonetheless. Studies show that marijuana has a longer half-life than most other drugs, which keeps it in the system for lengthy periods of time. Since the user will not feel any withdrawal symptoms until the drug has left their system, most marijuana users do not readily feel the effects of withdrawal and claim it does not exist.
Marijuana addiction, however, is hardly fictional. The first noted case of addiction was scientifically documented in 1944 (The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York: Sociological, Medical, Psychological and Pharmacological Studies). In this study, researchers note how “practically all” of their users stated they could stop smoking “without any undue disturbance from the deprivation”, meaning that at least one participant did not agree that they could quit. This study also says that a chronic smoker may “give up the drug voluntarily without experiencing any craving for it or exhibiting withdrawal symptoms”, but new science suggests chronic users who stop may be experiencing minor withdrawal symptoms without knowing it due to the prolonged half-life of the drug.
For further evidence of marijuana addiction, one simply has to refer to American hospitalization records. In 2011, for example, marijuana users accounted for 18 percent of 177,879 emergency visits for substance abuse treatment and detoxification. Clearly, thousands of marijuana users were unable to quit on their own and sought professional medical treatment to help them stop.
The number of hospitalizations are relatively low considering its widespread use. 56 percent of young adults have tried it, and 42 percent of the nation’s 18-year-olds, along with an astonishing 82 percent of 50-year-olds, admit to using marijuana for all of their lives. Still, their use is largely confined to occasional use in a social context. Only 20 percent of marijuana users feel the compulsion to partake daily, and they are the ones most likely to suffer from withdrawal.
As for physical dependence, heavy marijuana use showed structural changes to the hippocampus (the area of the brain which regulates thoughtful response and emotional reactions) of adolescent rats. Additionally, the THC caused the rats to develop “an altered reward system”, which means that the rats were unable to properly regulate their brain chemistry without the assistance of marijuana. This new reward system encourages the routine administration of outside chemicals to achieve happiness, supporting the supposed “gateway theory” of future drug use.
Attempts to map the human brain after marijuana use yielded inconclusive results. While some studies suggest heavy marijuana use can physically alter the volume and neural synapses of the brain, other studies have found no such conclusion. Imaging the human brain is extremely difficult and open to multiple interpretations until the technology improves.
Brain scans aside, one 2012 New Zealand study found that chronic marijuana abusers typically have an average loss of 8 IQ points by the time they reached mid-adulthood. Consequently, users who began using marijuana heavily as an adult did not experience any IQ loss. This could mean that chronic THC exposure has a negative impact on young minds as they develop, which falls in line with studies showing cognitive development changes in adolescent rates.
Although marijuana users would most likely disagree, science consistently supports the theory of marijuana withdrawal – even in an era when the drug is heavily favored. When questioning the legitimacy of marijuana addiction, one should ask themselves how nearly every other substance in the world can lead to addiction, yet THC does not. The evidence is simply not there.