We’re all familiar with the numerous types of anti-pot propaganda that use fear mongering and scare tactics to reduce overall marijuana use, especially among the youth. Many people have grown to believe that cannabis is a gateway drug that could lead to heavy drug use of potentially deadly substances like heroin or opioids. While the anti-drug lobby’s efforts are well-intentioned, research suggests that marijuana has multiple medical applications. The question becomes: when does cannabis use become a problem?

According to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) “the prevalence of marijuana use more than doubled between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013.” Among the users, almost 30% of them exhibited symptoms of marijuana use disorder between 2012 and 2013. Marijuana use disorder is characterized by compulsive cannabis use despite significant and negative biological, behavioral, and social consequences. Most users can have a healthy relationship with weed, but some users are more vulnerable to dependence issues.

Compared to other substances like alcohol or opiates, marijuana use is relatively harmless. That doesn’t mean that marijuana use should be taken lightly. It’s not possible to become physically addicted to marijuana, but many people may experience some form of distress due to increased tolerance and psychological dependence. Dependence can occur when a person has built up a tolerance to weed. In order to feel the same effects, users require more and more cannabis over time. The brain protects itself by reducing the amount of cannabis that can affect a person.

Without more research, it’s hard to define or agree upon what qualifies as marijuana dependence. Some signs of “addiction” may seem benign at first like smoking more than usual, trouble concentrating, lowered motivation, short-term memory problems, and more. Marijuana use becomes a problem when the user neglects their responsibilities in order to continue their cannabis habit. Many users have experienced failed jobs and marriages, but cannabis use is rarely the only reason for a downturn in life.

Cannabis users have been sold on the idea that weed can help their medical conditions, but too much of it could potentially make things worse. For example, people with mental illnesses have flocked to marijuana to reduce their anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. After a while, however, users begin to develop a tolerance making cannabis an unsustainable treatment option. As a result, heavy users turn to high-potency cannabis products to reap the same effects.

Marijuana dependence isn’t fatal, but shouldn’t be dismissed as a fake disorder conjured up by anti-marijuana groups. Most people can stop or take a break when they feel their marijuana use is going overboard, but a small percentage of people may feel like marijuana is the only solution to their unrewarding social or financial prospects. While marijuana may cause some unintended withdrawal effects for heavy users, the effects will subside over time. It’s up to the individual person to be self-aware enough to realize when their marijuana use becomes a problem, which is what makes marijuana dependence such a difficult thing to assess.

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