An Elephant in the Room: Marijuana User or Addict?

Cathy Lee Taylor

Many adults from the generation before Gen X have fond memories of frat parties and smoking grass to get a buzz and let off some steam. NEWS flash: those days are over … and the marijuana that children have access to today is a whole new world.
Narconon.org reports, “… since marijuana potencies have been increasing for the last two decades, there is a greater chance of adverse mental effects when the drug is abused. The simple fact is that marijuana today is much stronger than what they used to have back 20 years ago.”
Data on the consequences of long-term marijuana is also more available today from several bureaus and the cost as it turns out is much higher than imagined.
For example, USA Today reports that 6.9 percent of the population admits to marijuana use¹ — making it the most commonly abused drug in the United States.
No distinction is found between a user becoming physically addicted (with documented withdrawal symptoms), versus having a mental and/or emotional addiction.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that about “1 in 6 people who start using as a teen, and 25-50 percent of those who use it every day, become addicted to marijuana.”
Some people develop what is classified as a serious mental illness, while others experience depression, but the data is still not conclusive as to whether marijuana leads to depression or suicide.
The National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (NSDUH) reports: Persons 18 or older, those who first used marijuana before age 12 were twice as likely to have serious mental illness … than those who first used marijuana at age 18 or older.
The American Journal of Psychology reported on August 1, 2011 that: “What is less well known is that longitudinal studies associate marijuana use with depression. While infrequent marijuana use does not appear to be associated with depressive disorders, the medicalization of marijuana encourages regular use, and regular use has a modest but significant association with depression that endures even after controlling for possible confounders.
“A recent prospective cohort study of 7,735 adults with no history of anxiety or mood disorders found that adults who used marijuana at the beginning of the 3-year study period were at an increased risk of having a first depressive episode (odds ratio=1.62, 95% CI=1.06-2.48) in comparison to nonusers and this association was stronger with more frequent use.”
So what exactly are the effects of marijuana use?
The NIDA reports the use of marijuana causes: “distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and problems with learning and memory … As a result, someone who smokes marijuana every day may be functioning at a suboptimal intellectual level all of the time.”
Further NIDA research indicates that marijuana use impairs daily life in the areas of life achievement, including physical and mental health, cognitive abilities, social life and career status. Employers have reported that marijuana smoking increases absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ compensation claims and job turnover.
Except many marijuana users don’t think so. Ask any user and they will tell you that they are able to fully function: able to drive, able to converse at high levels of intellectual conversation (in fact they love to match wits with others), as well as able to attend college and learn at the same rate as non-users.
No matter what the truth is in regard to physical and mental functioning while under the influence of marijuana, there is an elephant in the room that is barely ever spoken about … and that is the idea that marijuana can be addictive. Users and their parents need to carefully rethink this idea.
Even though most users tell you they are not addicted to the drug, the admitted addicts who can be found in places such as Marijuana Anonymous beg to differ because their lives have been permanently altered by this readily accessible chemical.
So exactly when does smoking for fun become a life-altering experience?
According to the code of Marijuana Anonymous (MA), there are clear signs that the use of marijuana has moved past recreational and into the realm of addiction. These signs include: (repeated here verbatim from the MA doctrine as questions posed to the user):
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 smoke 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 dope smoking?
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 pot smoking is damaging your relationship with them?
United States struggle with legalizing marijuana
Proponents of legalization cite hundreds of cases of people being helped by marijuana with every kind of illness from anxiety to cancer. It is also easy to find online reports of people who have successfully used this drug to relieve pain. But true medicinal use of this drug is a different subject that is not addressed here.
Legalization of marijuana use brings up a similar question to the battle fought during prohibition over the right to certain individual freedoms versus the safety and well-being of people and our communities.
Today anyone can walk into a medical clinic and say he/she has anxiety or insomnia and obtain a medical marijuana certificate on the spot. They will even point you to the local ‘pharmaceutical’ source.
Did you know that people can use vaporizers that don’t require the smoking of marijuana … tools that allow one to draw the vapor into their lungs and wait for the hit. Other people can’t smell it so it becomes that much more difficult to detect who is using.
Some users argue that marijuana can’t be addictive because quitting doesn’t present withdrawal symptoms. But reports from both the NIDA and MA show that long-term marijuana abusers can experience several withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit including: irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety and a drug craving. If you doubt it, just sit in on a MA meeting and listen to the people’s stories.
People use marijuana for different reasons … for some it is alleviating chronic pain. But for many others, it may start out as fun but can quickly become a substitute coping mechanism to temporarily forget problems. But the majority of marijuana users will agree that smoking it “makes you OK with doing nothing.”
The downside is that inner demons always come back and in the meantime, users create a habitual craving that continues to ruin the quality and outcome of their lives.
Are you listening stoners?

¹USA Today: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/washington/story/2011-09-08/National-drug-survey-shows-big-drop-in-methamphetamine-use/50309360/1?csp=34news
http://www.samhsa.gov/data/spotlight/Spot098SuicideByState2012.htm
³NIDA National Institute on Drug Abuse can be found at www.drugabuse.gov/Share
4More data on the effects of marijuana drug use on mental health dating back to 1989 through 2012 can be found at http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH.aspx

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