Is marijuana addictive? You can bet your heroin on that!

marijuana“Is marijuana addictive?” seems to be the ultimate question for many people. In fact, when discussing addiction, it is rare that the addiction potential for marijuana doesn’t come up.

Some basic points about marijuana:

The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain (CB1 and CB2). Since it is a partial agonist, it activates these receptors, though not to their full capacity. The fact that cannabinoid receptors modulate mood, sleep, and appetite is why you get the munchies and feel content and why many people use it to help with sleep.

But how is marijuana addictive? What’s the link to heroin?

What most people don’t know is that there is quite a bit of interaction between the cannabinoid receptor system (especially CB1 receptors) and the opioid receptor system in the brain. In fact, research has shown that without the activation of the µ opioid receptor, THC is no longer rewarding.

If the fact that marijuana activates the same receptor system as opiates (like heroin, morphine, oxycontin, etc.) surprises you, you should read on.

The opioid system in turn activates the dopamine reward pathway I’ve discussed in numerous other posts (look here for a start). This is the mechanisms that is assumed to underlie the rewarding, and many of the addictive, properties of essentially all drugs of abuse.

But we’re not done!

Without the activation of the CB1 receptors, it seems that opiates, alcohol, nicotine, and perhaps stimulants (like methamphetamine) lose their rewarding properties. This would mean that drug reward depends much more heavily on the cannabinoid receptor system than had been previously thought. Since this is the main target for THC, it stands to reason that the same would go for marijuana.

So what?! Why is marijuana addictive?

Since there’s a close connection between the targets of THC and the addictive properties of many other drugs, it seems to me that arguing against an addictive potential for marijuana is silly.

Of course, some will read this as my saying that marijuana is always addictive and very dangerous. They would be wrong. My point is that marijuana can not be considered as having no potential for addiction.

As I’ve pointed out many times before, the proportion of drug users that become addicted, or dependent, on drugs is relatively small (10%-15%). This is true for almost all drugs – What I’m saying is that it is likely also true for marijuana (here is a discussion of physical versus psychological addiction and their bogus distinction).

Citation:

Ghozland, Matthes, Simonin, Filliol, L. Kieffer, and Maldonado (2002). Motivational Effects of Cannabinoids Are Mediated by μ-Opioid and κ-Opioid Receptors. Journal of Neuroscience, 22, 1146-1154.

About Addiction: Synthetic drugs, binge drinking, and recovery

You didn’t think we’d let you go a whole week without giving you another of our amazing updates about addiction news and research from around the globe did you? I’m sure you didn’t, and you were right! Here we are again with some good old discussions of marijuana, alcohol binge drinking, and other issues relevant to addiction and drug use. We hope you like it.

Synthetic Drugs and Marijuana

Greenbay Press Gazette– K2 is being sold and marketed as a legal substitute for marijuana and is also referred to as “Spice,” “Genie,” “Zohai” or simply “legal weed”. Apparently, cops in Wisconsin don’t like it too much and even though it hasn’t been banned in that state, they’re making trouble for those who sell it and store owners are complying by removing K2 products from their shelves.

Time– Another article examining the question “is marijuana addictive?” According the DSM, addiction is the compulsive use of a substance despite ongoing negative consequences, which may lead to tolerance or withdrawal symptoms when the substance is stopped. Although only about 10% of people who smoke marijuana become addicted to it by this definition, the real issue is how harmful the drug may be and what consequences it may produce for individuals who are using compulsively.

Science Daily– Speaking of negative impacts of marijuana use, this article discusses the possible neurobiological implications of marijuana and alcohol use during adolescence. Binge drinking in adolescence is a relatively common occurrence in many circles and it can detrimentally affect  cognitive functioning, especially in terms of attention and executive function.  Marijuana was found to, not surprisingly, leave adolescent users with impaired memory performance. The fact that this drug use is occurring during a sensitive developmental period likely doesn’t help.

ABC News– Kids aren’t the only ones who binge drink. Mothers who binge drink during pregnancy are increasing the chances that their babies will develop attention and memory deficits. It was estimated that about 40,000 infants are born each year with neurological and developmental damage that was caused by binge drinking. We’ve written about fetal alcohol syndrome in the past, and this piece touches on the same issues.

Addiction, recovery, and the good old drug trade

The Messenger– This article uses everyday language to explain the evolution of addiction and specifically seven signs that causal substance use is evolving into dependence. I can’t say I agree with everything said here, especially some of the statistics, but it’s a nice read, and as long as you recognize it for what it is – a very dumbed-down version of the real account of things – you’ll hopefully enjoy it!

Breaking the cycles– Sober Living Environments (SLEs)  is a term which is often spoken in  addiction/alcoholism treatment and recovery programs. Sober living houses provide recovering addicts with a drug-free environment in order to complete the transition from a residential treatment setting to stabilization and reintegration to a normal life.

Addiction Inbox– The UN has been monitoring designer drug trade. This report displays emerging trends in synthetic drug use. The drugs that are being observed are amphetamine-type stimulants, as well as designer drugs such as mephedrone, atypical synthetics like ketamine, synthetic opioids like fentanyl, and old standbys like LSD. The article gives a complete list of the findings of drugs used in a variety of countries and it is very fascinating.