Is Marijuana addictive, safe or a gateway drug?

Friday, October 21, 2016 | By JP Emerald Coast

Pick up a newspaper or scan a news site on any day, and you are likely to come across an article on the legalization of the marijuana, known to many as a gateway drug. Many people are in favor of making marijuana more accessible and legal because they think it’s a harmless drug. It’s easy to get at any age and in most social circles. So, is marijuana that bad? Is it dangerous? Is it addictive?

The fact is that millions of Americans every year abuse or become dependent on marijuana. Hundreds of thousands of people admit that marijuana is interfering with their daily lives and their productivity, leading them to get treatment for their addiction in order to get healthy and stay healthy. Seeking treatment is not something that you want to put off. Nipping this problem in the bud can’t prevent future addictions. Taking preventative action now may be able to stop long-term damage to the brain. If you are worried about yourself or someone you love because you suspect marijuana addiction, read on to learn more about the real dangers of marijuana.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

Many people believe that marijuana is not an addictive drug in the same way that drugs like cocaine or heroin are. Marijuana might not be as addictive as harder drugs but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t addictive. It might surprise you to learn that marijuana is, in fact, an addictive substance according to many research studies and anecdotal evidence.

How addicting is marijuana? Studies have shown that people under the age of 18 who are frequent users of marijuana, are 4 to 7 times more likely to become addicted than adults. People who use marijuana can alter their brain’s reaction to the drug, and develop what is called a marijuana use disorder. It’s estimated that 30% of marijuana users have a use disorder.

It’s possible to be dependent on marijuana without being clinically addicted but the ramifications of frequent use are serious. Nine percent of people who use marijuana frequently are dependent upon it. 17% of kids who start using it develop a dependence. This makes it hard for them to quit, even when they want to. People with marijuana use disorder can develop withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using. Symptoms during withdrawal can last up to two weeks, peaking during the first week. Symptoms include:

  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Reduced Appetite
  • Mood Fluctuations
  • Cravings
  • Physical Discomfort

Is Marijuana Safe?

Marijuana today is a different drug than it was two decades ago. This is a result of the way that it’s grown and cultivated. The products that are available on the market today tend to have a much higher THC content than they did in years past. THC (delta-9-tetrahydro-cannabinol) is the psychoactive ( mind-altering component) of marijuana, found in the leaves and buds of the female plant.

Twenty-five years ago, marijuana had a THC concentration of less than 4%. Today the THC content of marijuana averages slightly less than 10%. THC extracts and oils have concentrations ranging from 50% to a whopping 80%. As plant concentrations continue to get stronger, many people, especially kids, do not compensate by ingesting less. They continue to smoke and consume as much as they did a long time ago, unaware of how much more THC they are presently taking in. Emergency rooms see many patients that test positive for high levels of THC.

Marijuana use can affect a user’s brain health. A study that looked at cognitive changes in people who used marijuana over a 25-year period, showed a decrease in verbal memory test scores. A larger study in New Zealand showed that teenagers and young adults used marijuana lost 6 to 8 IQ points, and worse, did not regain them after they stopped in adulthood. Other studies refute this research and claim that IQ points might be the result of genetic tendencies having nothing to do with the use of marijuana. Since it’s hard to know for sure why someone has a lower IQ, it’s better to eliminate the risk of outside influences and get off the marijuana!

One of the biggest safety concerns researchers have for young people is marijuana use. Research has not yet been able to determine the effects of marijuana dependence on younger brains. Some studies indicate that use of marijuana while the brain is still developing in adolescence can cause long-term damage. By the time they become adults, they may have problems with memory and cognitive tasks. These same studies have also demonstrated that the drug physically alters the brain when exposed during adolescence. The result will be that the marijuana user will likely feel drawn to drugs such as heroin and its effects. This research supports the theory of cross-addiction. Some brain scans have shown long-term structural changes in the brain under the influence of marijuana, while other studies have not been able to support that conclusion.

Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?

Debate about whether marijuana status as a gateway drug has raged for years. Many believe that if you use marijuana it will only open up the floodgates of other drug use for you. Others firmly believe that marijuana is not an addictive substance, so they think it can’t create any further problems with addiction to other drugs or alcohol. Research has shown that someone who uses marijuana on a regular basis is, in fact, likely to become addicted to alcohol within three years. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence along with some research shows that most marijuana users don’t go on to become addicted to harder drugs or alcohol. In spite of those who only stick with marijuana use, there does seem to be a link for some people between marijuana use and other addictions. The question is whether there is a direct causal relationship. The answers to this question are mixed, depending on the research study.

There are factors that could cause a marijuana user to become addicted to harder substances. If you have an emotional or genetic predisposition to craving substances to help you deal with your problems and pain, the benefits of marijuana could motivate you to try other harder drugs. If you spend time with other marijuana users who also happen to use other drugs, you might be more inclined to use or abuse the same drugs they are using. If you purchase marijuana from a drug dealer, you’re exposing yourself to the opportunity to purchase and try harder drugs. Therefore, your likelihood of trying drugs and becoming addicted to them will increase.

Some studies have indicated that the THC in marijuana primes the brain for a stronger reaction to harder substances than someone who has not used marijuana. The thinking is that if you use marijuana, there will be a biological drive on your part to become addicted to harder drugs. If you haven’t been using marijuana, you won’t be as likely to become addicted to other substances. In particular, studies with rats exposed to THC seem to become cross sensitized to morphine. What this means is that when you become addicted to marijuana, consistent use of THC actually alters the brain on a neurological level. Therefore, when you expose your brain to morphine, you’ll be drawn to it much more so than in an individual who has never become addicted to THC.

It’s really best if you don’t use marijuana in the first place, to eliminate the risks of greater problems and complications for yourself.

Is Marijuana Cross-Addictive?

Cross-addiction is an addiction to one substance that lends itself to the tendency to become addicted to another substance. Some people would argue that cross-addiction makes no sense. Many people have a personal story of using one substance for a long time and never becoming addicted to another. However, current research supports the validity of cross-addiction. Just because you know someone who smoked marijuana their whole life and never became addicted doesn’t mean your story will be the same.

For many people, marijuana is as easily attainable as cigarettes and alcohol. Some people use these substances because they are easy to buy and are sufficient to meet their needs and wants. One study showed that people who were regularly using marijuana at the beginning of a survey became regular users of alcohol three years later. Though at this point, research hasn’t determined if this alcohol dependency is directly related to the marijuana use or if it’s simply a matter of convenience and easy attainability.

For people with addictive tendencies or for people who are looking for a way to fit in to a new social scene, marijuana can inadvertently be a stepping-stone to experimenting with other drugs such as heroin, cocaine or alcohol.

Many people who have undergone rehabilitation for addictions can tell you their personal stories about starting out with marijuana. At first, it seemed harmless to them because it’s something that is easily accessible for so many people. It’s no secret that it’s easy to get a medical marijuana license and buy it legally. Many people started out with marijuana and then became curious about trying other drugs. The argument seems to be that if you were going to use one drug, it made sense to try others to see how they felt. People became open to experimenting. Before they knew it, they had multiple addictions that were spinning their lives out of control.

Cross-addiction is a real and serious problem. A study was conducted on 6,000 addicts in which 3,000 of the participants had already overcome their addiction and 3,000 of them never were able to overcome addiction. The research took place over a three-year span. You might expect that people who had overcome the addiction were able to maintain that accomplishment. However, the study showed that about half of those people became addicted to the same substance they had a problem with in the first place, over the course of three years. Additionally, about 13% of them actually became addicted to a different substance. For the participants that were never able to overcome their addiction in the first place, 27% of them became addicted to something else in addition to their original drug of choice.

You can interpret the results of this study in a couple of ways. On the one hand, you can say that there are people who are able to successfully overcome addiction by undergoing rehabilitation. Furthermore, these people are able to resist becoming addicted to their old drug or anything new. You can say this because about 50% of the people who stopped using were able to do so permanently. However, on the other hand, you can see a compelling argument for cross-addiction, because almost one third of those who never overcame their addiction found another substance to be addicted to. There does appear to be strong empirical evidence to support the concept of cross-addiction.

Looking at that study, you can also argue that a person who has successfully recovered from a previous addiction and has been able to stay clean for three years, has learned well how to battle addictive behavior. It’s strongly possible that an individual who is undergoing rehabilitation with a quality medical team will gain valuable coping skills to survive without resorting to alcohol or drug use and abuse. In a study where 50% of the participants had used marijuana in the past but no longer had an addiction, it would be hard to push the theory that marijuana leads to drug addiction or is a gateway drug for all users.

Yet another study showed that marijuana is a gateway and cross-addiction drug. Conducted on men and women ages 18 to 25, the results showed that marijuana users are more likely to become addicted to prescription drugs. Men in this group were also likely to become heavy users of alcohol and cigarettes, in addition to marijuana. Of the 55,000 people surveyed, 12% admitted to having an addiction to prescription drugs. In that group of 12%, 34% stated that they were prior users of marijuana. Overall results made it clear to the researchers that the marijuana users were 2½ times more likely than non-marijuana users to become addicted to prescription drugs.

The enormity of this study with 55,000 participants makes it very clear that there is a connection between marijuana use and gateway drug abuse. It doesn’t mean that a person who uses marijuana will definitely become addicted to a harder drug. There are too many factors involved to be able to predict that likelihood. However, a person who is experimenting with marijuana is arguably making choices that indicate a propensity toward drug experimentation or self-destructive behavior. So the case can be made that a person who is using marijuana has a possibility of becoming addicted to another drug in the future. It’s really best if someone doesn’t start using marijuana at all. Moreover, if they are regular users this could be a sign that the person needs help.

How Can You Tell if You Are Addicted to Marijuana?

As with any drug, there is a difference between occasional recreational use and addiction. What are the signs that you or someone you love have crossed the line to addiction?

  • You miss work or school because of your habit.
  • You have low self-esteem because of your marijuana use.
  • You find that you need to use increasing amounts of marijuana to achieve the high that you like.
  • You use more marijuana then you plan to.
  • You tried to cut back but withdrawal makes you irritable and depressed.
  • You worry about having problems with the law because of your use.
  • You have cut out friends and activities because of your use.
  • You spend all your time trying to find marijuana, smoking it or thinking about it.
  • Your relationships with family have been negatively affected.
  • You “borrow” money from others without asking in order to buy more marijuana.
  • You’ve tried to quit on your own but you can’t.

The last sign, trying to quit on your own, but being unable to do so, is especially important. With any addiction, trying to go through withdrawal alone is tough. There are too many factors involved in successful recovery for you to manage while battling the physical discomfort of quitting. To achieve your goal of a drug-free life, you need help. Addiction is a disease. Just as you would not expect to reasonably treat a infection without proper medical care, you should not anticipate great results in fighting your addiction without professional care.

Where Can You Turn for Help and Support?

Drug addiction for any type of drug, including marijuana, can be treated. At JourneyPure Emerald Coast, we can work with you and your family to help you understand and fight your addiction. Why wait to see if marijuana will prove to be a gateway drug? You can get the help you need now. JourneyPure Emerald Coast is located in beautiful Panama Canal City in sunny Florida. We have a brand new facility with everything you need right under one roof, including medical and mental health professionals available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are experts in addiction.

When you call us, we will assist you in getting to JourneyPure Emerald Coast as quickly as possible, where we can begin detoxification and rehabilitation. Here you will find a loving and safe environment to begin your journey toward a healthier life. We use the Enhanced Medical Model of Treatment, which means that we want to make sure that the detoxification process is the safest possible for you. Detoxification does not have to be painful. We use medications when necessary to make the process as comfortable for you as can be. Detoxification is a critical part of rehabilitation that helps you to get your body and mind clean so you can start to be healthier. A knowledgeable and experienced team is especially crucial in cases of cross-addiction or multiple addictions.

When you come to us, we will introduce you to new social settings where you will make new friends who are going through the same process as you are. Group and individual therapy will allow you to work through your recovery on a mental and emotional level. We will also work with your family and invite them to join us in learning how they can best help and support you.

There is invariably a lot of controversy over the safety of marijuana. It’s easily attainable and is a popular topic in everyday conversation. The legalization of marijuana is even hot on the political scene right now. The results of research and studies are open to more than one interpretation. Nevertheless, there does seem to be a propensity for many people to become very dependent on marijuana, if not outright addicted. Even if marijuana is socially acceptable, it doesn’t negate the possibility of permanent, long-term damage to the brain, especially in adolescence. It also creates the risk of addiction to other harder drugs and alcohol. Marijuana experimentation and use isn’t really worth the risk. If you or someone you know is using marijuana, please contact us today so we can provide direction and be a helpful resource to you.

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