No one dies of marijuana use. However, did you know that marijuana addiction is real? It is a disorder that includes physical withdrawal, cravings and psychological dependence similar to other substance addictions. Withdrawal symptoms can include chills, sweats, cravings, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, anxiety and irritability.
Have you heard of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome? I spoke with a young woman this week who told me she suffers from CHS. She saw her physician for nausea, vomiting, and severe abdominal pain. As he read the symptoms of CHS, she identified with every one of them. She has been unable to cease her marijuana use entirely despite many attempts to do so. She has no doubt that marijuana addiction is real. CHS occurs more frequently among people who smoke 20 or more days per month and multiple times per day.
About 9% of all marijuana users, and 17% of people who start smoking during adolescence, develop an addiction to it. The rate of addiction to marijuana is lower than addiction to other substances. Cocaine and alcohol rates of addiction are 15%, and 24% of people who use heroin become addicted. The process of dependence is slower for marijuana. It may take months or years before symptoms begin to affect a user’s life.
According to the marijuana industry and the federal government, total marijuana use has remained fairly constant over the past ten years despite increased availability.
Marijuana today is not the same as the pot that baby boomers used when they were teens. The potency is increased with genetically engineered plants and the use of concentrated products. Boomers’ pot had THC levels of 2-4%. Nowadays, the average potency is 20% THC and can exceed 30%. Marijuana concentrates and extracts now range from 40-80% THC.
Marijuana use among older Americans ages 55 to 64 is now slightly higher than their children or grandchildren ages 12 to 17. A study from New York University found that more than 20% of marijuana users over age 65 said their doctors recommended they try it for medical reasons. Medical marijuana can be quite different from black market pot found at parties. Eighteen to 25-year-old Americans are decreasing their use of heroin, but their use of methamphetamine and marijuana is up.
As in all addictions, you may suffer from dependency if you are unable to stop your use and if you experience negative consequences from your use. In the case of the young woman with CHS, she could not stop smoking pot in spite of her medical distress, marital and financial problems. Employment drug screens may also pose a threat to a stable life. Help is available.