Why Is Marijuana Still Illegal? - Part 2

Welcome back to the second installment in our “Why Is Marijuana Still Illegal” series here on the True Blue Terpenes blog. If you remember from last week, we got in-depth with some common misconceptions about marijuana. In particular, we talked about whether or not marijuana is dangerous, how dangerous it is compared to other drugs, and what dangers it poses. To briefly summarize our findings from last time, marijuana is significantly less dangerous to users and to others than both alcohol and cigarettes. While it is impossible to overdose on marijuana, there have been deaths correlated to marijuana use because of risky behavior and actions by people who are high - yet because marijuana stays in your system for so long, results are inconclusive on whether or not cannabis was the cause of the fatalities.

With studies proving that there are more deaths related to alcohol and tobacco than marijuana, why are those drugs legal at the national level and weed is not? Unsurprisingly, the “dangers of marijuana” are not the only reason this substance has had a hard time reaching legal status for both recreational and medical use. In today’s blog, we’re getting into the nitty-gritty on what may be the main reasons marijuana is considered by many Americans to be a “bad drug.” We often see drugs as being addictive, and the debate on whether or not marijuana is addictive has been going on for decades. So let’s look at what an addiction is, and if a marijuana addiction is even possible.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

This is another complicated subject. When we talk about marijuana use, the term “recreational” is often used. By definition, something “recreational” is “relating to an activity done for enjoyment while one is not working.” Basically, something done for fun. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “recreational drug” in particular as any drug used for its psychoactive effects with the belief that it is not habit-forming or addictive. However, while we frequently talk about recreational marijuana use, we don’t often hear about “recreational crack/meth/heroin use.”

What constitutes a drug addiction? Drug addictions look different for different people, and for different drugs. A drug addiction, in general, is “a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.” While drug use is often a choice before an addiction forms, continued use can lead to changes in the brain that limit a person’s self-control and ability to resist urges to use the drug.

Addiction has a very real effect on the brain. In simple terms, when a person uses a drug, the part of the brain that is associated with rewards and pleasure is stimulated. As you use a drug more frequently, that part of the brain adjusts to the influx of pleasure by reducing the production of dopamine (the feel-good chemical). This does several things. First, it means that a person needs to consume more of a drug to feel a significant high - they develop tolerance. Additionally, when that “reward circuit” of the brain is not being stimulated with drugs, a person can feel sad or apathetic because there is not enough dopamine production, even while doing fun things. This creates a dependence on the drug to feel good.

Many scientists and psychologists agree that people can become addicted to marijuana, however, addiction to weed occurs much less frequently than addiction to other drugs. Marijuana addiction is referred to as Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD), and is characterized by the following 11 symptoms:

  • Cannabis is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control cannabis use.
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain cannabis, use cannabis, or recover from its effects.
  • Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use cannabis.
  • Recurrent cannabis use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Continued cannabis use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of cannabis.
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of cannabis use.
  • Recurrent cannabis use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  • Cannabis use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by cannabis.
  • Tolerance, as defined by either a (1) need for markedly increased cannabis to achieve intoxication or desired effect or (2) markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.
  • Withdrawal, as manifested by either (1) the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for cannabis or (2) cannabis is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms

The DSM-V - which is essentially the big book of psychological disorders - suggests that having just two of the above symptoms indicates a case of cannabis use disorder. However, a professor of Social Work at the University of Washington emphasizes that while this criteria is important, the biggest issue is “overreacting when just one or two of these indicators are present.” He also states that focusing too much on just a few of these criteria can “dilute instances of legitimate need for help.” Basically, people who use marijuana recreationally might have several of these symptoms even if marijuana is positively impacting their lives, and that the real danger of addiction comes when someone meets most of these criteria.

In relation to marijuana, addiction can look more like a dependence than anything else. While someone who is suffering withdrawals from heroin or cocaine will exhibit a lot of physical symptoms such as nausea, bone pain, excessive sweating, and involuntary muscle spasms, withdrawal from marijuana is usually more mental and less dramatic. Marijuana withdrawal can include irritability, anxiety, depression, and loss of focus. Cannabis use disorder is more-or-less a big gray area. While there can be a physical addiction and dependence, it manifests in a less-intense way than addictions to other drugs, and is much rarer.

Ending Misconceptions About Marijuana

Sometimes misconceptions about marijuana don’t look great for cannabis enthusiasts. While we’d love to tell you that it’s impossible to become addicted to marijuana, science tells us otherwise based on the definition of an addiction. However, there is a very wide spectrum of severity of dependence on marijuana, and most users do not experience any of the 11 criteria that the DSM-V outlines as a cannabis use disorder, let alone enough to require help. (Not to mention that cigarette manufacturers use additives to make tobacco products more addicting - and those are, of course, legal. We’re just saying.)

In our next blog in this series, we are going to discuss the dreaded “gateway drug” that our parents warned us about, as well as start talking about the laws that prohibit the national sell and use of marijuana.

In the meantime, it is important to remember that True Blue terps contain no THC or CBD, and therefore have no psychoactive effects. Our pure terpenes are natural, food-grade extracts that are designed to enhance and mimic the flavor profile of your favorite marijuana strains. Shop our weed flavor drops and natural terps today.