Is THC addictive?

Yes, contrary to popular belief you have the potential of becoming addicted to THC. Studies report that THC use can lead to dependence and heavy use can result in withdrawal symptoms when you stop using THC. More on the addictive properties of THC here.

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Yes. You may not believe it. But you can get addicted to THC.

In fact, the addictive properties of weed are well known and documented.  Withdrawal symptoms such as panic attacks, anxiety, depression, and aggression can occur when you stop taking THC suddenly. But what makes THC addictive? And how do you know that you’ve become addicted to THC, or not? We review these questions here and invite your questions about the addictive potential of THC at the end.

What is THC used for?

While the national debate surrounding medical use of marijuana continues, THC has been made legal in some states for medical purposes. While not covered by many medical insurance companies, people seek out its use to treat cancer, disease, mental disorders, and other conditions. While THC can be used to medicate, THC is also used for recreational purposes.  Still, THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is in its own classification of substances: Cannabis. The reason THC is in its own class is that its reactions with the brain and body are unique. In other words, THC can’t be purely classified as a stimulant or a depressant because THC can produce both effects.

What is THC made of?

THC is harvested from the buds of the female part of the cannabis plant. These are clipped dried and chopped up much like tobacco. Like tobacco it is then smoked through several different process. Sometimes THC is extracted in more potent quantities and comes in a waxy or synthetic substance. Other times, THC is created synthetically in laboratories.  Is THC in Spice, a blend of synthetic cannabinoids?  No.

How addictive is THC?

THC is a schedule I substance, grouped with substances like heroin or cocaine. It is federally illegal to use THC and can result criminal charges. Why and how does marijuana affect the brain? THC leads to changes in the brain that disrupt the chemical neurotransmitters linked to feelings of pleasure. Specifically, cannabis affects nerve receptors which influence memory, thought, concentration, and sensory time perception.

There are many different opinions on how addictive THC is. Contrary to popular belief, research shows an increasing likelihood that habitual abuse leads to addiction. Still, the psychological element of addiction plays a role in how likely it is that you become addicted to THC. Sometimes, a psychological dependence on THC can be harder to overcome than physical dependency. However, most experts agree that the addictive potential of THC increases with the level and consistency of use.

THC dependence vs. addiction

THC dependence is not necessarily the same as THC addiction. Physical dependence on THC manifests as withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking THC. Withdrawal symptoms are one sure sign that you’ve become dependent on THC because the body needs the presence of THC to function normally. Additionally, note here that THC does present withdrawal symptoms. They can include anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.

In contrast, addiction to THC is characterised by psychological symptoms of cravings and compulsive use. That is, the main symptom of THC addiction is that you feel you need THC to self-medicate and deal with the stressors of life. However, the more you use THC, the harder it is to stop using it. Addiction can happen in those who start to abuse THC beyond medical reasons or who use THC to simply get high.

How do you get addicted to THC?

New evidences is mounting that indicate that prolonged use of THC leads to addiction. While people use THC to treat real medical conditions, the abuse potential of THC is increasing. Its ever growing popularity is changing its societal acceptance. Ways you can get addicted to THC include:

  1. Habitual use
  2. Self-medicating
  3. Using THC like alcohol at the end of the day or at parties
  4. Using THC to avoid the presence of withdrawal symptoms

Signs of THC addiction

Sometimes noticing the difference between dependence and addiction can be hard to determine. However, addiction involves the craving for the drug and a need to us it to feel normal. Possible signs of addiction of THC include:

  • rationalizing THC as a better drug than such and such
  • using THC even in the presence of adverse effects
  • using THC to mitigate withdrawal symptoms
  • using THC to self-medicate

THC addiction potential questions

Do you still have questions about the addiction potential of THC? Please leave your questions, comments or feedback here. We are happy to help answer your questions personally and promptly. And if we do not know the answer to your particular THC question, we will refer you to someone who does.

Reference Sources: NHTSA: Cannabis
National Institute of Drug Abuse: Marijuana
NYC: Chemical dependency
NCJRS: Marijuana myths 
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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