Is Marijuana Addictive? A Registered Nurse Puts It To The Test

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Guest Post by Lanny Swerdlow, RN, LNC

Title card for Is Marijuana Addictive?

I am a long-time marijuana smoker having started over 50 years ago.

Over the last 20 years I have also been a prodigious marijuana smoker imbibing multiple times every day. I have used it primarily to treat anxiety, reduce stress and to enjoyably alter my consciousness.

Some might claim that I am addicted to marijuana. Addiction is defined online at dictionary.com as “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”

Is Marijuana Addictive?  Let’s Find Out

I recently had the opportunity to determine if I was addicted to marijuana.

On September 9 I took off from LAX for 10 days of snorkeling, hiking and sightseeing in Maui. Flying with marijuana has always been fraught with fears of arrest and even in these days of tolerance as legalization continues to make advances, being caught with some bud can cause problems.

I have always been super cautious as I appear to be a “person-of-interest” when it comes to inspections. Twice when flying, twice when returning from an ocean cruise and more times than I can remember when crossing the border into the U.S. from either Mexico or Canada, I have been pulled from the line of people waiting to be inspected to be taken to a private room where a government agent conducted a personal inspection of my luggage.

Over the last couple years, when I arrived at my destination or returned home from flights, I have found notices enclosed in my luggage that they had been inspected by government agents.

As a consequence, I never have any cannabis on my person or in my luggage where I am likely to undergo an inspection. Usually when I arrive at my destination, like when I was in Washington DC last March to attend Americans for Safe Access National Unity Conference, it was easy to score marijuana so I didn’t go without.

Unfortunately, this was not to happen on my trip to Maui,

No Maui-Wowie for Me

In the land of the fabled Maui-Wowie one might think it would be relatively easy to score, but it is not. Although medical marijuana is legal in Hawaii, I was informed that there was only one legal dispensary in Maui and that my medical marijuana recommendation from a California doctor would not cut it in the “Aloha state.” Not knowing anyone living there, I had no local sources to score for me.

I wasn’t about to hang around sleazy bars, dim alleys, or any other usual haunts where marijuana may be found.  So for the next 10 days, I went without so much as a single hit.

It is the longest period of non-consumption that I can remember enduring over at least the last 25 years.

Whether I wanted to or not, I was soon to find out if I was addicted to marijuana to the extent that I was “enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”

“Trauma” is a very subjective word, but one definition found in Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury.”

The Effects of Ceasing Marijuana Use After 25 Years

Fair enough – trauma can be psychological as well as physical.  So did I experience physical and/or psychological trauma when I suddenly ceased consuming for 10 days?

There were no tremors, sweats, shaking, nausea, vomiting and hallucinations which are commonly associated with abstinence from alcohol or other addictive substances that have been consumed consistently over a long period of time.

Even though some anti-cannabis aficionados may go overboard in describing the perils of cannabis, most of the reefer-madness crowd of drug warriors admit that the physical manifestations of marijuana withdrawal are minor.

Not so for the psychological withdrawal symptoms. Claims of psychological addiction to marijuana are the stock-in-trade for groups like SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) which claim that marijuana withdrawal symptoms run the gamut from weakness, hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness), and psychomotor retardation, to anxiety, restlessness, depression, and insomnia.

During the entire 10 days, I experienced no weakness, no hypersomnia or the slowing of my ability to do things. Although I do use marijuana to treat anxiety, I didn’t seem to develop any when I was not able to use it.

Furthermore, I had no problems falling asleep. Although cannabis does indeed help with these concerns, I probably had none due to the fact that I spent my entire Maui stay snorkeling, hiking and exploring so that by the end of the day, being 73 years old, I was too worn down to have any energy left for anxiety.  All my body wanted to do was get a good night’s sleep.

As for being depressed, I wouldn’t say I was depressed when I couldn’t find any marijuana, but I was disappointed.

If I had really been craving it, I would certainly have been out scrounging around and no doubt I would found it, but I was not about to sacrifice time away from swimming with fishes or hiking in the rainforest to search out some local bud.

How Marijuana Is Like a Chocolate Milkshake

Did I miss smoking marijuana?   I sure did, but I like to compare it to chocolate milkshakes.

I love chocolate milkshakes — they are a culinary delight that is a definite physical sensory pleasure of the highest order. One could say I was “addicted” to them as I would drink three to four chocolate milkshakes a week.

The problem is there are over 1,000 calories in an average milkshake and there I was consuming over a day’s worth of calories every week in just chocolate milkshakes.

Not good. So I cut my milkshake consumption down to one a month at most.

When I pretty much ceased drinking the milkshakes I had no physical withdrawal symptoms. But I did have psychological symptoms because I liked drinking them and when I stopped, I missed drinking them.

Cannabis is the same way – when I stopped smoking cannabis, I missed smoking because I so enjoy smoking. For example, I am writing this missive totally stoned not because it helps me write better, but because I so thoroughly enjoy being stoned that it makes the time spent writing more entertaining, exciting and enjoyable.

I missed consuming marijuana, but that is not depression, and it certainly is not the result of substance addiction. When you stop doing something you like, stop consuming something you like, or stop seeing someone you like, you just miss it (or them).  That doesn’t mean you were addicted.

Back to Normal

I am now back from Maui and have resumed my daily multiple consumption of cannabis.

Unlike chocolate milkshakes which are bad for me because of all the saturated fat, sodium and sugar contained in each 1,000+ calorie shake, cannabis provides multiple health benefits including reducing the risk of cancer, strengthening the immune system, facilitating neurogenesis (creation of new nerve cells), enabling a good night’s sleep, mitigating depression without anti-psychotics and, in the elderly, slowing the development of Alzheimer’s, treating glaucoma, providing chronic pain relief, and lessening movement disorders.

Further, because it is so fun and relaxing, it promotes socialization and consciousness alteration without the use of alcohol.

One might reasonably conclude that it is a bad thing that cannabis is not addicting. Imagine how healthy our communities would be if exercise, eating veggies and consuming cannabis were addicting!

It is good that I was able to quit smoking marijuana without any withdrawal symptoms because it is not addicting.  However, not smoking marijuana for 10 days was not good for my health.

I certainly hope that the day will come when traveling with marijuana is as de rigueur as traveling with clean underwear.

I also hope the day will come when I can travel without fear of incessant inspections and am no longer a person-of-interest.

Lanny Swerdlow, RN, LNC

Author Lanny Swerdlow, RN, LNC

Lanny Swerdlow, RN, LNC is host of the Internet radio show Marijuana Compassion & Common Sense and founder of the Marijuana Anti Prohibition Project and the Brownie Mary Democratic Club. Contact him at [email protected].

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