It may sound strange to some people that treatment centers receive patients who are addicted to marijuana, but they most definitely exist. While many people defend cannabis as being non-addictive, there is no shortage of marijuana users who experience physical discomfort if they do not smoke it every day. And those who are not defending it as being non-addictive are making the argument that it is no more dangerous than alcohol, a substance which has been legal for quite some time.
The comparison between cannabis and alcohol is actually fairly apt. Yes, alcohol is legal—but in the wrong hands, it can also be quite dangerous. Do not forget that alcohol is the substance that killed Amy Winehouse. And while marijuana has not been shown to put users at risk of overdose death, it can still be dangerous when used by those with addictive tendencies. These are the people who will use too much or use it at inappropriate times. These are the people who will risk careers, relationships, and even safety for the sake of the next high.
Cannabis addicts do not receive a great deal of attention in the press. This is not to say that they are never the focus of recovery-based literature, but they tend to fall by the wayside to make room for discussions of more common addictions such as alcoholism or more fatal addictions such as heroin and opioid abuse. But on 4/20, a day that many have come to know as a “stoner holiday,” we believe it is an appropriate time to give cannabis addiction the focus it deserves. Below, we’ll discuss the common defenses in favor of cannabis before explaining the many dangers of the drug and how one may recover from addiction to marijuana.
Why People Defend Cannabis
Not only do many claim that cannabis is non-addictive, but a fair amount of people even say that it is good for you. They claim that it is all-natural, which makes it safer than synthetic drugs or chemical drugs such as crystal meth. But the real defense of cannabis is found in cannabinoids. These molecules are found in marijuana’s active ingredient, THC, as well as the chemical cannabidiol (CBD). According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, THC can help reduce nausea in chemotherapy patients while helping them to regain their appetite, and can also be used to combat problems with pain and muscle control. Meanwhile, CBD can help with childhood epilepsy while also treating a variety of mental illnesses—including addiction. We’ll get to that one in a bit.
If you know any marijuana smokers, you’ve probably heard them say that the drug increases their focus and creativity. Many would believe this confirmed by the number of actors and musicians who openly confess to cannabis use, such as Seth Rogen and Snoop Dogg. Not only do these people openly confess to smoking cannabis, but they have been quite successful. In fact, some may say that a fair amount of their success can actually be attributed to their weed-smoking personas. And, as is the case with just about any drug to which a person might be addicted, many cannabis users claim that everything from food to music or even work is more enjoyable when they are high.
Then there’s the private sphere defense. Much as the “everything is better” defense, substance abusers will often apply this to just about any drug of choice. Basically, the belief is that a person should be allowed to do whatever they want as long as it is not hurting or inconveniencing another person. According to the private sphere defense, a person who chooses to smoke marijuana, hash, honey oil or any type of resin should be allowed to do so in the privacy of their own home or in the company of friends without interference from any outside authority.
The above covers the three primary defenses in favor of cannabis. Technically two, since the first two points are both aimed at proving that the drug is good for you while the third is simply that the drug is harmless. Now, let’s discuss the dangers that these defenses tend to ignore.
The Hidden Dangers of Marijuana
First of all, note that the medical defense is based largely on certain components of marijuana, not the drug itself. In fact, NIDA’s write-up of the medical benefits notes two important points. First, the FDA has not actually approved marijuana as a medication. They have not conducted enough large-scale studies to be convinced that marijuana, rather than CBD alone, will provide more benefits than risks. Second, CBD does not affect you mentally, and this is the cannabinoid that interests medical professionals the most. They believe that they can isolate this cannabinoid to create medications that will offer the benefits of marijuana without altering the user’s frame of mind. It’s a bit irresponsible for people to claim that cannabis can help fight addiction while leaving out the fact that this benefit lies within the one cannabinoid that does not alter the user’s mental state.
As for the notion that people are more focused and creative after smoking marijuana, this is a rather difficult statement to make from an objective standpoint. People have said the same thing of other “natural” drugs such as cocaine. We’ve met quite a few people who said this of methamphetamine as well. And while marijuana may not be as dangerous as these drugs, it still alters the senses and can impair body movement. It also impacts the user’s memory and their capacity for problem-solving. In such a state, it is neither easy nor advisable for a person to make judgments regarding their own focus and rationale.
In fact, the cannabis user’s judgment can often be rather poor while under the influence of marijuana. Not only does cannabis impair the user’s mental state and motor skills, but it is like many drugs in that it will often lower inhibitions. And according to NIDA for Teens, while marijuana will not lead to fatal overdose, too much use can lead to panic attacks and extreme paranoia. Combine that with lowered inhibitions and impaired motor skills, and many tragic instances can take place.
This leads us to the private sphere defense. A person may smoke marijuana in private, but there is no guarantee that they will not enter the public sphere while under the influence of cannabis. The Colorado Department of Public Safety has reported that, since the legalization of cannabis in the state, marijuana-related ER visits are on the rise. Unfortunately, there are certain details that cannot be ascertained at this time. For instance, the rate of driving deaths in which the vehicle’s operator had THC in their system has gone up by 44%, but this does not actually tell us whether or not they were under the influence at the time of the accident. Other instances of marijuana-related tragedy are also hard to pin down. An Arlington, TX man under the influence of marijuana shot a teenager in 2011 for trying to help his daughter out of a crashed SUV, but it is unclear whether this should be considered the action of a man under the influence of drugs or simply the action of a mentally disturbed individual. Still, there appears to be no shortage of evidence, especially in Colorado, to suggest that cannabis abuse has spread its effects far outside of the private sphere.
Recovering from Cannabis Addiction
In many ways, recovering from cannabis addiction is similar to recovering from addiction to any other drug. The problem lies in social perception. There are many users who may feel afraid to seek help from a treatment center or Narcotics Anonymous because they don’t want to feel as if they will look bad for having their lives affected by a “harmless” drug. But while marijuana has not ruined lives in quite the same fashion as alcohol, cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine, addiction in any form is far from harmless.
The university student who has suffered blows to their GPA, lost their scholarships, or even been kicked out of school because they were cutting class to smoke pot with their friends is not someone who should be ashamed of seeking help for their addiction. Nor is the person who has lost their job after a random drug screen, or the person who has become isolated because they were too busy seeking the next high to notice that their social or romantic relationships were on the rocks. Perhaps there are a lucky, high-functioning few for whom cannabis inspires focus or creativity, but there are also a great number for whom it causes sloth and poor decision-making. Even if they are fortunate enough not to sacrifice their lives or well-being in an automobile accident while under the influence, they may still cause harm to their lives.
Never assume that treatment centers or NA members will fail to respect this. And while some may be worried that sobriety will cause them to lose friends who smoke marijuana, true friends will understand and respect a person’s decision to quit using a substance that has caused more harm than good in their lives. Relationships with those who would abandon you for getting sober are not worth maintaining. If you believe that cannabis use has had a negative impact on your life, we urge you to do something about it today. Throw away all pipes, bongs and other paraphernalia. Delete your dealer’s number from your phone. And if you think that you’ll need help in licking your cannabis addiction for good, contact us today to talk about potential treatment options.
What may have started out as a fun social experiment can easily grow into something with the potential to ruin lives. Don’t let it happen to you or those you love. Seek a change.