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Is Marijuana addiction real?

Tracy Woolrich's picture
The majority of the more than 160 million Marijuana users in the world have no issues with dependence.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the world. In reality it was an established medicine until it was federally criminalized in 1937 in the United States. Some states are adopting laws to change all of that. Today the majority of Americans believe marijuana should be legally regulated, yet there continues to be a concern about addiction. Researchers now believe that it is the smoker’s behavior and not the level of THC that can predict addictive behavior. If you were to try it would you be at risk?

The majority of the more than 160 million Marijuana users in the world have no issues with dependence. This includes both for medicinal and recreational use. That is especially good news for the states where it is now legal. However, statistics show that one in 10 may become dependent.

New and improved?
With the recent increase of the THC concentration in cannabis, it has been suggested that there is an increase in the risk of cannabis dependence. After all, this is not the same caliber of weed smoked by Cheech & Chong in the 1970’s.

However it was discovered that people who smoke cannabis with a higher THC concentration adapt their smoking behavior to control their THC exposure. In other words they would reduce the amount smoked in a joint or pipe or reduce the level of inhalation.


In a study conducted in the Netherlands and published in Addiction Magazine, smoking habits were examined. This study included 98, mostly male, young adults that were considered frequent marijuana users. Each of the participants indicated that they smoked at least 3 days a week and had done so for over a year.

Interviews were conducted at the beginning, 18 months into the study and then again another 18 months after that. The smokers that smoked stronger varieties of cannabis did not roll smaller joints. They did however smoke at a slower rate and inhaled less smoke. They would in reality regulate the amount of THC exposure

The conclusion was, the total monthly exposure to THC did predict the severity of dependence at the end of the study. Younger users preferred stronger cannabis and were able to control their exposure to some extent by inhaling less smoke. That did not however put them at higher risk of dependence.
It was the behaviors that were better predictors. This included how much of a joint was smoked each time and how frequently they puffed on it that predicted dependence. This was regardless of THC exposure or the dependence status at the start of the study.

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So what would put you more at risk for dependence? Perhaps it is more to do with your personality than anything.

Addictive Personality

A study from the National Academy of Sciences indicates that while there are no specific characteristics for addictive personalities, there are common elements. Such behaviors include:

  • Impulsive behavior, that includes a difficulty in delaying gratification and a disposition toward sensation seeking in general.
  • Nonconforming behavior, that includes a difficulty committing to the goals of society.
  • Most importantly, is having a life that has a heightened level of stress. This is thought to be the reason why the transition periods during adolescence there is a higher level of drug and alcohol dependence.

Take home message
We all on some level have a concern about becoming addictive. This is true with alcohol, drugs, weight loss (or gain), smoking, excess of spending, sex or work. Also consider activities such as caffeine consumption (that is me), eating of chocolates, television watching, playing video games and even exercise.

Not all addictions are equally harmful and not all behaviors could lead to addiction. However when it comes to consuming drugs (both legal and illegal) you should first look into the reasons why you want to do this. Is it medicinal or medical? Do you have an already underling addictive personality? If you do, you should consider the possibility that you may be switching one addiction out for another if you decide to partake in cannabis.


Lopez-Quintero C., Cobos J. P., Hasin D. S., Okuda M., Wang S., Grant B. F. et al. Probability and predictors of transition from first use to dependence on nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine: results of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). Drug Alcohol Depend 2011; 115: 120–130.

Cascini F., Aiello C., Di T. G. Increasing delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9-THC) content in herbal cannabis over time: systematic review and meta-analysis. Curr Drug Abuse Rev 2012; 5: 32–40.

van der Pol, P., Liebregts, N., Brunt, T., van Amsterdam, J., de Graaf, R., Korf, D. J., van den Brink, W. and van Laar, M. (2014), Cross-sectional and prospective relation of cannabis potency, dosing and smoking behaviour with cannabis dependence: an ecological study. Addiction. doi: 10.1111/add.12508