05 Dec Will Legal Marijuana Produce More Addicts?
With marijuana now legal as a recreational substance in two states, experts and other interested parties wait to see what will happen. It will take time to find out if legal access will create more users, more accidents, more public health problems and more addicts. Critics of the move to legalize marijuana believe that greater access will churn up all kinds of problems, including a greater incidence of addiction. Proponents say the fears are overblown. The debate continues.
Is Marijuana Addictive?
Researchers have answered that question: yes, marijuana is addictive. The point of contention revolves around the question of just how addictive it is and who is at risk. Dependence risk has been shown to be lower for marijuana than for several other substances. Among those who smoke pot, 9 percent will eventually become addicted. For nicotine, that number is 32 percent, for heroin, 23 percent, for cocaine, 17 percent, and for alcohol, 15 percent. The proponents of legal marijuana always claim that marijuana is much less addictive than harder drugs, but 9 percent is significant.
Marijuana Addiction Is Slow to Develop
One of the reasons the addictive potential of marijuana has been long overlooked is that the process of becoming dependent is slow and steady compared to other drugs. For instance, someone using cocaine for the first time experiences a quick and intense high. As soon as the high wears off, the user is ready to go again. The intensity and rapidity of the high makes cocaine quickly addictive.
With marijuana, the high is a slow-burning, relaxing and prolonged experience. Becoming addicted to the high takes a longer period of time and regular use. Although marijuana targets the same pleasure centers in the brain as other drugs, it acts more slowly and is therefore less addictive. You are more likely to get hooked on smoking pot if you do it every day, for a long period of time.
Teens and Marijuana Addiction
A frightening statistic for parents is that teenagers have the greatest risk for becoming addicted to marijuana. If you start smoking pot after age 25, your odds of getting hooked are low. Becoming dependent on marijuana is much more likely if you start smoking as a teen. This should be worrisome for any parent, but particularly those in Colorado or Washington. Where pot is legal, it follows that it will be easier for teens to access.
A problem with researching the addictive nature of marijuana is that it has long been illegal. It has been far easier to study nicotine and alcohol. If it takes regular and frequent use to develop a marijuana habit, then the legal availability of the drug should result in greater rates of addiction. For example, in a state in which pot is illegal, a person may try it at a party but then not have access to more for a week or a month. In Colorado or Washington, if that person enjoyed the experience, he or she could go to the pot store the next day and the next. Greater availability should lead to more use and more dependence, but only time and research will tell us for sure.
For now, we all have an individual choice to make: to smoke pot or not to smoke pot. The risks may be lower than with other substances, but they are still there. Becoming an addict is a real possibility. The debate may continue, but certain facts will not change. Marijuana is an addictive substance of abuse.
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