Let’s talk about that big ‘ol scary concern that comes to mind when you think about marijuana…addiction.  First question that probably comes to your mind is…is marijuana addictive?

Is Marijuana Addictive? How addictive is marijuana? How addictive is marijuana compared to other drugs?

Yea, marijuana does have the potential for addiction just like most other drugs and medications.

Now, exactly how addictive is marijuana?

In a study done in 1994, the researchers surveyed about 8000 people aged 15 to 54 who specifically reported using marijuana to get high, the dependence on marijuana was found to be 9.0%1 out of every 11 people.  

Obviously, these folks were using what’s considered toxic doses of marijuana.  We’ve yet to know what the dependence rate is in patients that are using therapeutic doses of marijuana.  I imagine it’s less than the recreational users.

The statistic will make better sense to when compared to dependence on other commonly used substances like, alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine.

How addictive is marijuana compared to alcohol?

In the same study that I mentioned, amongst the 15 to 54 year olds who drank on average more than 12 drinks in a year, the dependence on alcohol was found to be 14.1% – 1 out of every 7 people.

How addictive is marijuana compared to tobacco?

Again in the same study, amongst 15-54 year olds who at some point in their lifetime smoked tobacco on an every-day basis, the dependence on tobacco was found to be 24.1% – 1 out of every 4 people.

How addictive is marijuana compared to caffeine?

According to Dr. Jack Henningfield who once worked at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, (what’s also known as NIDA), on a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 being the most serious and 6 being the least serious, he rated dependence on caffeine as a 5 and dependence on marijuana as a 6.

More specifically, compared to marijuana,

  • It’s more difficult to stop using caffeine
  • You’re more likely relapse into using caffeine again
  • A greater percentage of people are more likely to become addicted to caffeine
  • More people report a need to use caffeine
  • More people continue to use caffeine in the face of evidence that it causes them harm

Overall, based on the particular study that I discussed, marijuana certainly has less of a likelihood of dependence compared to alcohol and tobacco.  Per Dr. Jack Henningfield, marijuana has less of a likelihood of dependence compared to caffeine.

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In case you’re wondering what exactly constitutes dependence, here’s some more info.

At the time that this study was done, the American Psychiatric Association had established the following criteria to define substance dependence.  Any patient that met at least 3 of the criteria for at least 1 month was considered dependent on the substance.  

  1. Substance is often taken in larger amounts or over longer period than intended
  2. Persistent desire or one or more unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use
  3. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to get the substance (e.g., theft), taking the substance (e.g., chain smoking), or recovering from its effects
  4. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities given up or reduced because of substance abuse
  5. Continued substance use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent social, psychological, or physical problem that is caused or exacerbated by use of the substance
  6. Marked tolerance: need for markedly increased amounts of the substance (> 500/ increase) in order to achieve intoxication or desired effect, or markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount
  7. Characteristic withdrawal symptoms
  8. Substance often taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms
  9. Frequent intoxication or withdrawal symptoms when expected to fulfill major role obligations or when use is physically hazardous

Keep in mind that these criteria were defined back in 1987.  The criteria have since changed.

Research Referenced: