Marijuana: Smoking Style Tied to Addiction Risk


The word addiction means “enslaved by” or “bound to”, and anyone who has experienced an addiction themselves or has witnessed a loved one struggling with an addiction knows how very much the word lives up to its reputation. As with many other addictions, it seems that it is behavior, rather than the potency of marijuana itself, that determines the risk of addiction to the drug.  It also does not seem to matter, according to a cross-sectional study reported in Addiction, how much of the psychoactive chemical delta-9-tetracannabinol, more commonly referred to as THC, that the smoker consumes.  It comes down to behavior.

Researchers wanted to determine whether marijuana smokers who smoked higher potency joints were more or less likely to become dependent on the drug.  According to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, youth 16 years of age and younger who reported using alcohol, marijuana or tobacco were more likely to be substance users when they reached adulthood.  Furthermore, users of all three of these chemicals at an early age were more than two times as likely to become addicted to marijuana.  For this particular study, lead author Peggy van der Pol of the Trimbos Institute of the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction notes that many people do not fully appreciate that there is not a single drug without risk.

The report, Cross-sectional and Prospective Relation of Cannabis Potency, Dosing and Smoking Behaviour with Cannabis Dependence: an Ecological Study, was released in Addiction this month, and states that previously, many in the medical field believed that high THC doses in marijuana was what influenced pot smokers to become addicted.  Van der Pol notes that this is not so; there are other factors that influence addictive behaviors.

At the beginning of the study, 98 subjects were recruited from coffeehouses in the Netherlands where it was legal to smoke marijuana, and 33 percent of those involved were identified as meeting the criteria for being addicted to marijuana.  Three quarters of the participants were male and roughly 23 years of age.  Every 18 months, and then another 18 months after that, researchers would interview participants to determine what they could about the rates at which they smoked pot.  Users were instructed to bring their own cannabis into the room and roll their own joints, and these joints had varying concentrations of THC in them.

Researchers learned very quickly that smokers would automatically adjust the volume of smoke they took in based on the dose of the THC; the higher the dose, the lower the inhalation volume.  They also tended to smoke at a slower rate than their peers with lower doses of THC in their marijuana.  What this showed researchers was that it was smoking style or behavior and not the dose of THC in the marijuana that governed whether they became addicted.

Behavioral patterns such as how much of the joint they smoked or how frequently they puffed were the only consistent predictors of whether someone was addicted by the time the three-year study was over.  Their level of addiction to the drug prior to the study did not seem to be a factor in their level of addiction at the end of the three years, either.

One finding that remained consistent, however, was that those who smoked joints with higher doses of THC generally were exposed to greater amounts of the drug.  No matter how much smokers self-adjusted their marijuana intake either by adjusting their inhalation volume or how quickly they smoked, their smoking behaviors were the predictors of whether or not they were addicted at the end of the three-year study.  Regardless of the dosing, it is the behavior of the marijuana smokers that govern their addiction, not the dosing of the drug itself, which smokers can adjust for to a degree.  Van der Pol notes while the study sample size was small, the study revealed telling information about smoking behaviors.  She says while smoking behaviors may be largely unconscious in nature, users may also be unaware they try and adjust for the THC dose they take in when they smoke marijuana.

By Christina St-Jean




UT San Diego

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17 Responses to "Marijuana: Smoking Style Tied to Addiction Risk"

  1. Twas4kids (@twas4kids)   June 24, 2014 at 11:31 am

    . Addiction-for-Profit is a business model that must be called into question. How can we stand by when Wall Street prospectors openly call for investment in a market which hinges on addictive consumption? We have an equation where new corporations can internalize private profits, while 80% of profits are gleaned from 20% or chronic users. Meanwhile social costs are externalized to the public — for drug treatment and other mental health care costs, unemployment benefits, remedial education, public safety violations, emergency room visits, and enforcement costs. The list of social costs is long. The net outcome is a drain on public coffers.

    We are on the threshold of a mental health crisis in America. Recreational drug use makes the problem worse. Mental health parity is the law of the land — and justly so. But this also means that compromised mental health creates new and substantial costs and burdens on the American healthcare system. Better that we handle drug abuse as a mental healthcare problem rather than a strictly criminal problem. But by expanding supply and acceptability of recreational drug use we are in the business of manufacturing MORE addicted individuals — with addiction-for-private profit schemes, and then moving drug addicted individuals into treatment programs — more often at public expense. The public and personal costs of this avoidable mental health crisis will be substantial.

    — Addiction to marijuana is on the rise.
    — CBS News: Where there is rising marijuana addiction, there is rising heroin addiction.
    — Bloomberg: Scientists are bracing for marijuana abuse as laws ease.
    — Washington Times: House votes to halt federal meddling in marijuana states
    — NIH: Is Mj addictive? Yes. The number goes up to about 1 in 6 in those who start using young (in their teens) and to 25-50 percent among daily users.
    — Colorado State University took a sober look at the the fiscal impact of the proposed Amendment 64 tax measures.
    Revenues will not reach the overly optimistic projections of $40 million (which would not build even ONE new school).
    Marijuana tax revenues may not cover the incremental state expenditures related to legalization.
    Peak marijuana revenues will be the initial years, before flattening and declining.
    The analysis is suggesting that there are no public good fiscal justifications to legalizing this drug.
    — Rand is looking at the scale of marijuana use in Washington leading up to their “Grand Opening”. Youth use is on a sharp incline.

  2. Rip The Bowl (@RipTheBowl)   March 30, 2014 at 10:12 am

    You people should be ashamed of yourselves spreading this filth across the internet. We sent people to the moon 50 years ago! How in the hell do we still live in a country where being anti human nature and spreading lies is not only socially acceptable it’s encouraged. You are not a journalist Christina St-Jean you are a liar and a fraud.

  3. pete   March 29, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    Almost ridiculous how wrong they got this. Experienced smokers are just trying to achieve a certain high that fits their mood and the situation. You smoke a lot more and thus slower with regular weed.

  4. Mergatroid   March 29, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    There’s no such thing as an addiction to marijuana. Why don’t you people get your heads out of your a$$es.

  5. Duncan20903   March 29, 2014 at 11:34 am

    That was great fun! Tell us another fairy story mommy!

  6. Doc   March 29, 2014 at 10:56 am

    I’ve been reading google news headlines for years now, and only recently did “Guardian Liberty Voice” articles start popping up. This is the third one I’ve read, and each one has been a head-scratcher. One was straight up plagiarism from a Mother Jones piece. Who are these people? Certainly not journalists. By the way, “addiction” is a medical term with a specific definition, and THC is not addictive.


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