Is Cannabis Addictive? A Research Review

Updated: Apr 5

The topic of potential addictive characteristics of cannabis is controversial. The overall issue of use disorders serves to further conflate the issue, angering activists and prohibitionists on both sides of the argument.

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Prohibitionists believe that cannabis use may lead to a lifetime of negative impacts, including addiction and a slew of side effects resulting from that addiction, such as problems with interpersonal relationships and job performance.


Simultaneously, anecdotal reports from daily users who must cease marijuana consumption for a period (typically for a drug test) indicate only minor withdrawal symptoms that last a few days or perhaps a week. These symptoms may include anxiety, irritability, depression, sleep disturbances, and cravings for cannabis.


Prohibitionists believe that cannabis use may lead to a lifetime of negative impacts, including addiction and a slew of negative side effects. What does the research say?

With so much contention about cannabis and addiction, laypeople and even industry professionals may easily become confused and overwhelmed. As is our habit here at Higher Learning LV, let's turn to the science: What does the research say about cannabis and addiction?


The Research

A 1997 study entitled "Relationships Between Frequency and Quantity of Marijuana Use" that was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence investigated "the association between levels of cannabis use and last year dependence" with "a nationally representative sample of adolescents and adults who used marijuana within the last year."

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The study, ordered by the German Federal Health Ministry, involved 1,458 "current or previous cannabis users." The researchers reported that both the frequency and quantity of cannabis use within the past year, "are linearly associated with the...probability of being dependent on marijuana."


"Frequency [of use] appeared to be more important than quantity in predicting dependence," noted the scientists. The study concluded that the addiction rate of the participants for which it gathered data ranged from two to 10 percent, depending on age and consumption habits.


The study concluded that the addiction rate of cannabis is 2-10 percent, depending on age and consumption habits.

The study demonstrated a positive correlation between frequency of use and addiction rate, citing a 1 percent rate for "occasional users," seven percent for "individual users," 10 percent addiction for "recreational users," and a whopping 28 percent for what the arguably biased study categorized as "permanent users."


A 2002 study entitled "A Review of the Published Literature into Cannabis Withdrawal Symptoms in Human Users" that was published in the journal Addiction conducted a literature review (an investigation of previous research studies) on the topic of cannabis addiction and possible withdrawal symptoms. The goal of the study was to determine if there are true withdrawal symptoms suffered when cannabis users cease consumption.

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The study noted that past research involving animals does not indicate "a consistent withdrawal effect." The report noted that "studies conducted to date do not provide a strong evidence base for drawing any conclusions as to the existence of a cannabis withdrawal syndrome in humans."


A 2014 article entitled "No Joke: About 9 percent of Marijuana Users Risk Addiction" that was published in the Denver Post explored the addiction rates of different substances, including alcohol and cannabis.


"The vast majority of people who use recreational marijuana are not addicted."

The newspaper quoted Patrick Fehling, an addiction therapist at the Center for Dependency Addiction and Rehabilitation at the University of Colorado Hospital. "Marijuana advocates will say it's not as addictive as tobacco and they're correct," Fehling said.

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"The numbers change with other substances," reported the article, citing an addiction rate of 10-15 percent for alcohol and about nine percent for cannabis (nearly identical to the addiction rate of caffeine).


Added Fehling, "The vast majority of people who use recreational marijuana are not addicted." Concluded the article, "One in 11 people is at risk for addiction to cannabis, especially if that person has a mental health disorder or has a genetic predisposition for a mental health disorder."


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