Is Marijuana Addictive?

It's Rare, but Addiction Can Happen

Is Marijuana Addictive?
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The majority of pot smokers do not develop a marijuana addiction, but some smokers do develop all the symptoms of an actual addiction after chronic marijuana use.

Most marijuana users never come close to being addicted to weed. They do not lose control of its use; they generally use the amount they want to use and when they want to use it. When they use marijuana, they get the exact results they expect and intend to get.

Marijuana Addiction

The fact that most users never develop an addiction doesn't mean that it never happens. Some marijuana users will exhibit all the classic behaviors of someone who has an addiction.


The National Institute on Drug Abuse previously reported that about one in seven marijuana users would develop problematic use with the drug. Now the agency is reporting that 30% of marijuana users will develop problems with its use, known as marijuana use disorder.

Users who begin smoking marijuana before they reach the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a disorder compared with those who wait until after 18 to smoke, according to the NIDA.

Higher Potency Factor

The NIDA also reports that the higher potency of marijuana available today may be another factor in the rising number of people who develop a problem. Marijuana confiscated by law enforcement today contains an average of 9.6% of THC compared to 3.7% in weed confiscated in the 1990s.

Marijuana that is consumed in products that are made from marijuana extract can contain from 50% to 80% THC. Researchers are investigating if higher potency is the reason for an increase in emergency department visits by people testing positive for marijuana.

Marijuana Abuse v. Dependence

There is a difference between marijuana abuse and marijuana dependence. These terms were the way that substance related problems were previously defined until the DSM-5 classified these patterns under the broader label of substance use disorders. Marijuana abuse occurs when someone continues to use the drug despite negative consequences, such as losing a job, poor academic performance, or getting arrested.

Just as with other drug use disorders, people who continue to use marijuana in spite of continued negative consequences, by definition, have a marijuana use disorder.

But, is it an addiction?

Classic Addictive Behavior

Someone who becomes addicted or dependent upon marijuana has a cannabis use disorder, but will also display some of the classic behavioral symptoms of addiction:

  • Will begin to lose control, needing increasing larger amounts
  • Will spend more time thinking about using
  • Will deny claims from those close to him that he has changed
  • Substance use will begin to take a central role in life
  • Will spend more time and money acquiring more marijuana
  • Will become irritable or agitated if they run out
  • As negative consequences mount, they will continue to use

Physical Dependence

Most experts agree that dependence on a substance is accompanied by a build-up of tolerance to that substance, requiring increasing larger amounts, and withdrawal symptoms when someone stops using the substance. Most marijuana smokers do not experience either tolerance or withdrawal.

Most early research into marijuana addiction revealed that marijuana use rarely produced tolerance and withdrawal. But the marijuana that is available today is more powerful than the marijuana of the 1960s, containing higher levels of the active ingredient THC.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Today's research shows that tolerance does develop to THC and that withdrawal symptoms do occur in some users. Studies of chronic marijuana users who quit smoking show that some experience these withdrawal symptoms:

  • Anxiety and insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive salivation
  • Decreased pulse
  • Irritability
  • Increased mood swings
  • Increase in aggressive behavior

Researchers believe that because today's pot is much more potent it makes it more likely to develop physiologic dependence in some users.

Even if not physically or chemically dependent on marijuana, some users will at the very least develop a psychological dependence upon the drug.

Seeking Treatment

Whether marijuana has become more addictive or not, the number of people seeking treatment for marijuana abuse has increased significantly. According to studies, the number of children and teenagers in treatment for marijuana dependence and abuse has increased by 142% since 1992.

As with most substances of abuse, people who abuse marijuana usually decide to seek help when their use of the drug becomes painful due to increasing negative consequences. Many who seek treatment for marijuana do so due to pressure from family, friends, schools, employers or the criminal justice system.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Article Sources
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  1. Patel J, Marwaha R. Cannabis Use Disorder. [Updated 2019 Jun 5]. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. 

  2. Drugs and Society. Google Books.

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  4. Bonnet U, Preuss UW. The cannabis withdrawal syndrome: current insights. Subst Abuse Rehabil. 2017;8:9-37. doi:10.2147/SAR.S109576

  5. Marijuana Addiction. Australian and New Zealand Addiction Conference. Published August 20, 2017.

Additional Reading
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Marijuana." Research Reports. August 2016.

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Marijuana: Facts for Teens." April 2009.
  • University of Wisconsin Health Services. "Marijuana: Addiction and Other Issues." 5 April 2006.