In the mental health profession's "bible," the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a diagnosis of cannabis dependence (a type of substance dependence) requires a person to meet a specific set of criteria.
A number of investigators have addressed this issue and found that, unlike drugs such as crack, cocaine, or even nicotine, only a very small percentage of those who try marijuana will ever become addicted. On the following list, marijuana does not even come close to the substance and dependence abuse rates of the others listed.
Many factors determine whether you'll become addicted to a drug: your genetic makeup, social history, the drugs your friends take, how much money you make. But the chemical makeup of drugs guarantee that certain drugs are more addictive than others.
A team of researchers led by professor David Nutt of London's Imperial College once set out to determine which drugs were most harmful based on their addictive properties (the resulting article suggested that alcohol and tobacco are more harmful than cannabis and ecstasy, and led to Nutt getting fired as the UK's top drug adviser). Dutch scientists replicated the London study and devised a "dependency rating" that measured addictive potency of the biggest drugs out there on a precisely calibrated scale of 0-to-3.
The Top 10 Most Addictive Substances
10. GHB - Dependence Rating (Out of 3): 1.71
Last on the list and being the weakest in terms of dependence is a depressant and club drug that may itself be a neurotransmitter. It has cross-tolerance with alcohol--if you drink regularly, you'll need to ingest more GHB to get high--as well as a short half life in the body and a brutal withdrawal syndrome that causes insomnia, anxiety, dizziness and vomiting. The combination is nasty: Take a lot of GHB to make up for your tolerance to alcohol and you could be hooked.
9. Benzodiazepines - Dependence Rating: 1.89
There's a reason your doctor will tell you to taper off these prescription anti-anxiety drugs (Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, et al) after taking them for awhile. Each one increases the effectiveness of a brain chemical called GABA, which reduces the excitability of many other neurons and decreases anxiety. Because benzodiazepines cause rapid tolerance, quitting cold turkey causes a multi-symptom withdrawal that includes irritability, anxiety and panic attacks--enough to make just about anybody fall right back into benzo's comforting arms.
8. Amphetamines - Dependence Rating: 1.95
Adderall users beware: Regular amphetamine (classified as pure or blended dextroamphetamine without methamphetamine, and including Adderall, Dexedrine, and Desoxyn) might not be quite as addictive as meth, but because it acts on the same reward circuit, it still causes rapid tolerance and desire for more if used regularly or in high doses. Quitting cold turkey can cause severe depression and anxiety, as well as extreme fatigue--and you can guess what extreme fatigue makes you crave...
7. Cocaine - Dependence Rating: 2.13
Cocaine use has decreased dramatically but it is another drug that costs families, and our society as a whole. It is a heavily habit forming drug. While it does enter the list as slightly less addictive than Nicotine and Caffeine, the effects of Cocaine's (and heroin's) use are far more serious. Drug rehab programs list cocaine as one of the top addictions they face daily. Cocaine prevents the reabsorption of dopamine in the brain's reward areas. After you use enough blow, your brain reduces the number of dopamine receptors in this region, figuring it's already got plenty of it. You can see where this is going. Because there are now fewer receptors, stopping the drug makes you crave it--after all, the body needs its dopamine. Cocaine doesn't destroy dopamine neurons like methamphetamine, which makes its effect less powerfully addictive, but the fast method of use (snorting), short high (less than an hour) and rapid tolerance put it in the top ten.
6. Alcohol - Dependence Rating: 2.13
Because alcohol is legal and often consumed in social settings, alcohol addiction is complicated. But as an addictive agent, it's remarkably simple--and effective. Alcohol's withdrawal syndrome is so severe that it can cause death, and its effects on the brain's reward system cause well-documented and intense craving in heavy drinkers. Regardless of the mechanism, 17.9 million Americans (7% of the US population) were classified as being addicted to or abusing alcohol in 2010. It acts as a relaxant, causing the user to feel more comfortable in an environment and leading to increased sociability. However, in larger doses alcohol begins to have serious detrimental effects on a person's health. Addiction to alcohol, as well as being expensive, can lead to serious liver problems, diabetes, cancer and heart problems. Short term effects of alcohol include dehydration, alcohol poisoning and intoxication.
5. Crystal Meth - Dependence Rating: 2.24
According to some research, Crystal Meth is regarded as one of the most addictive recreational drugs in existence. Directly mimicking a natural neurotransmitter "teaches" your brain to want a drug--that's how nicotine and heroin work. Crystal methamphetamine takes it to the next level: it imitates the reward chemical dopamine and the alertness chemical norepinephrine, causing your neurons to release more of both--all the while training your brain to want them more. What's worse, the drug can damage dopamine- and norepinephrine-releasing neurons, which leads to a drastic decrease in their production, thereby making you crave more meth. It's an addict's nightmare and a marketer's dream. Crystal Meth is used to make the user feel more alert, heightening their awareness and bringing on an intense feeling of exhilaration. Meth also has the ability to keep the user awake for many hours. The drug can be taken in a variety of ways, but the most common method is via injection as this is the fastest acting way of taking the drug. Crystal meth addiction can lead to a hideous array of effects, including violent mood swings, short term memory loss, damaging of the nervous system and even death.
4. Methadone - Dependence Rating: 2.68
In a clinical setting, tolerance to this drug is actually considered a good thing when treating a heroin addiction. A junky getting treated with methadone will quickly become resistant to its euphoric effects and use it to keep heroin withdrawal symptoms at bay. The problem is this: tolerance to methadone is a sign of an addiction to methadone.
3. Nicotine - Dependence Rating: 2.82
Though nicotine doesn't cause the rush of heroin or crack, it's biologically similar in a crucial way: it mimics a common neurotransmitter--so well that scientists named one of the acetylcholine receptors after it. Nicotine is considered one of the most addictive drugs of all time. Although studies vary, it is generally believed that well over 30% of those individuals who use nicotine for a period of time become addicted. That is a high number considering the availability of the product, the manner in which it is marketed towards young people, and the deadly consequences of a lifetime of use. Smoking regularly reduces the number and sensitivity of these "nicotinic" receptors, and requires that the user keep ingesting nicotine just to maintain normal brain function. There are a shocking 50,000,000 nicotine addicts in the US, and one in every five deaths nationwide are the result of smoking.
2. Crack Cocaine - Dependence Rating: 2.82
Crack cocaine is a cheaper form of the purer Cocaine drug, and is far more dangerous as a result. It is watered down and 'cooked' cocaine, and is usually smoked in a pipe or (rarely) injected intravenously. Although crack cocaine and powder cocaine have similar chemical compositions and effects, smoking processed crack causes a faster, higher rush that lasts for less time (about 10 minutes, versus 15-30 for powder cocaine). Crack brings on an increased sense of confidence, awareness and euphoria, while simultaneously causing a dilation of the pupils and constriction of the blood vessels. Crack cocaine is so addictive because of the incredible low experienced after the short period of euphoria, during which users can feel depressed and tired and are easily irritated or angered. Crack addicts therefore continually seek new ways to feed their addiction to avoid the low which comes after crack usage. The intensity of the high combined with the efficient method of ingestion--smoking--are the big reasons why addiction rates are dramatically higher for crack than they are for snorted powder. In 2010, there were an estimated 500,000 active crack cocaine addicts in the United States.
1. Heroin - Dependence Rating: 2.89
Although one-hundred years ago Heroin was used for a variety of medicinal purposes, the medical community in all their infinite wisdom woke up to the realization that people were becoming addicted in record numbers. Heroin is one of the most common recreational drugs in the world, with an estimated 50 million regular uses of the drug worldwide. As an opiate, it affects opioid receptors throughout the body and mimics endorphins, reducing pain and causing pleasure. Areas of the brain involved in reward processing and learning are stocked with tons of these opioid receptors, so when you inject heroin, you are basically training your brain to make you crave it. Pair that with nasty withdrawal symptoms and high fat solubility (which allows it to get into your brain quickly), and you have the most addictive drug in the world. An estimated 281,000 people received treatment for heroin addiction in the US in 2003, and according to the National Institute on Drug Addiction, a full 23 percent of people who have ever used heroin become addicts.
Heroin is usually injected directly into the blood stream, though it can also be snorted or smoked by its users. Continuous usage of Heroin can lead to collapsed veins, heart disease and decreased liver function. Heroin addicts also typically bare numerous hideous abscesses on their skin, as well as scars where they have repeatedly injected themselves over the course of their addiction.
Although not on David Nutt's list,
Caffeine is also considered to be on par if not a greater addictive drug than amphetamines and much higher in dependence than marijuana. Caffeine would have ranked high on this list if it was included in the study because almost 30% of casual users become addicted. This stimulant is found is so many things we consume every day that you have to look hard to find a product without it. Caffeine is a commonplace central nervous system stimulant drug which occurs in nature as part of the coffee, tea, yerba mate and some other plants. However, it also an unnatural additive in many consumer products, most notably beverages advertised as energy drinks. Caffeine is also added to sodas such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, where on the ingredients listing, it is designated as a flavouring agent.
Roland Griffiths, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said that studies had demonstrated that people who take in a minimum of 100 mg of caffeine per day (about the amount in one cup of coffee) can acquire a physical dependence that would trigger withdrawal symptoms that include headaches, muscle pain and stiffness, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, depressed mood, and marked irritability.
High Fructose Corn Syrup Is Causing Addiction Similar To Cocaine
Results presented at the 2013 Canadian Neuroscience Meeting shows that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can cause behavioural reactions similar to those produced by drugs of abuse such as cocaine.
These results, presented by addiction expert Francesco Leri, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Applied Cognitive Science at the University of Guelph, suggest food addiction could explain, at least partly, the current global obesity epidemic partly caused by these ingredients.
To the shock of many who study drug dependence, marijuana rarely ranks compared to others dependent drugs. Government studies will often focus on recreational use rather than dependence, but there is a big difference. For example, in a large-scale survey published in 1994 epidemiologist James Anthony, then at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and his colleagues asked more than 8,000 people between the ages of 15 and 64 about their use of marijuana and other drugs. The researchers found that of those who had tried marijuana at least once, about 9 percent eventually fit a diagnosis of cannabis dependence. The corresponding figure for alcohol was 15 percent; for cocaine, 17 percent; for heroin, 23 percent; and for nicotine, 32 percent. So although marijuana may be addictive for some, 91 percent of those who try it do not get hooked. Further, marijuana is less addictive than many other legal and illegal drugs.
Harmful drugs are regulated according to classification systems that purport to relate to the harms and risks of each drug. However, the methodology and processes underlying classification systems are generally neither specified nor transparent, which reduces confidence in their accuracy and undermines health education messages. One study in a 2007 publication in the Lancet developed and explored the feasibility of the use of a nine-category matrix of harm, with an expert delphic procedure, to assess the harms of a range of illicit drugs in an evidence-based fashion. The ranking of drugs produced by their assessment of harm differed from those used by current regulatory systems. Their methodology offered a systematic framework and process that could be used by national and international regulatory bodies to assess the harm of current and future drugs of abuse. Again marijuana use was found to be less addictive than all of the above listed in the top 10.
Both cannabis (marijuana) and alcohol have very different and complex actions on the brain. The long term effects of both are often quite different from their short term effects. We have been led to believe that cannabis is a dangerous and addictive drug that has destroyed the lives of countless teens and adults. We have also been encouraged to accept through poorly designed scientific studies, that cannabis causes lung cancer and is a “gateway” to harder drugs. The government has even tried to convince the public that people who use cannabis are more at risk to themselves and the public than those who use alcohol. What we have been led and encouraged to believe through mainstream education about cannabis and its reality, are two entirely different things.
6 THINGS MAINSTREAM MEDIA DOESN'T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT MARIJUANA
1. Not Associated With Mental Decline
Dozens of studies have made pseudoscientific attempts to indicate that young people who use cannabis tend to experience psychological, social problems and mental decline. However, there is no evidence that marijuana use is directly linked with such problems, according to the results of a study published in The Lancet.
"Currently, there is no strong evidence that use of cannabis of itself causes psychological or social problems," such as mental illness or school failure, lead study author Dr. John Macleod of the University of Birmingham stated.
"There is a great deal of evidence that cannabis use is associated with these things, but this association could have several explanations," he said, citing factors such as adversity in early life, which may itself be associated with cannabis use and psychosocial problems.
Macleod and his team reviewed 48 long-term studies, 16 of which provided the highest quality information about the association between illicit drug use reported by people 25 years old or younger and later psychological or social problems. Most of the drug-specific results involved cannabis use. Cannabis use was not consistently associated with violent or antisocial behavior, or with psychological problems.
Cannabis use was not consistently associated with violent or antisocial behavior, or with psychological problems.
In another study, Scientists from King's College, London, found occasional pot use could actually improve concentration levels.
The study, carried in the American Journal of Epidemiology, tested the mental function and memory of nearly 9,000 Britons at age 50 and found that those who had used illegal drugs as recently as in their 40s did just as well, or slightly better, on the tests than peers who had never used drugs.
'Overall, at the population level, the results seem to suggest that past or even current illicit drug use is not necessarily associated with impaired cognitive functioning in early middle age,' said lead researcher Dr Alex Dregan.
Dr Dregan's team used data on 8,992 42-year-olds participating in a UK national health study, who were asked if they had ever used any of 12 illegal drugs. Then, at the age of 50, they took standard tests of memory, attention and other cognitive abilities.
Overall, the study found, there was no evidence that current or past drug users had poorer mental performance. In fact, when current and past users were lumped together, their test scores tended to be higher.
2. Marijuana Use Is Not Associated With a Rise in Incidences of Schizophrenia
Over the past few years, the worldwide media, as well as federal officials in the United Kingdom, Canada and the U.S. have earnestly promoted the notion that smoking pot induces mental illness.
Perhaps most notably, in 2007 the MSM reported that cannabis "could boost the risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life by about 40 percent" -- a talking point that was also actively promoted by U.S. anti-drug officials.
So, is there any truth to the claim that pot smoking is sparking a dramatic rise in mental illness? Not at all, according to the findings of a study published in July in the journal Schizophrenia Research.
Investigators at the Keele University Medical School in Britain compared trends in marijuana use and incidences of schizophrenia in the United Kingdom from 1996 to 2005. Researchers reported that the "incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia and psychoses were either stable or declining" during this period, even the use of cannabis among the general population was rising.
"[T]he expected rise in diagnoses of schizophrenia and psychoses did not occur over a 10-year period," the authors concluded. "This study does not therefore support the specific causal link between cannabis use and incidence of psychotic disorders. This concurs with other reports indicating that increases in population cannabis use have not been followed by increases in psychotic incidence."
As of this writing, a handful of news wire reports in Australia, Canada, and the U.K. have reported on the Keele University study. Notably, no American media outlets covered the story.
3. Marijuana Smoke Doesn't Damage the Lungs Like Tobacco
Everyone knows that smoking pot is as damaging, if not more damaging, to the lungs than puffing cigarettes, right?
Wrong, according to a team of New Zealand investigators writing in the European Respiratory Journal in August.
Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand compared the effects of cannabis and tobacco smoke on lung function in over 1,000 adults.
They reported: "Cumulative cannabis use was associated with higher forced vital capacity [the volume of air that can forcibly be blown out after full inspiration], total lung capacity, functional residual capacity [the volume of air present in the lungs at the end of passive expiration] and residual volume.
"Cannabis was also associated with higher airways resistance but not with forced expiratory volume in one second [the maximum volume of air that can be forcibly blown out in the first second during the FVC test], forced expiratory ratio, or transfer factor. These findings were similar amongst those who did not smoke tobacco. By contrast, tobacco use was associated with lower forced expiratory volume in one second, lower forced expiratory ratio, lower transfer factor and higher static lung volumes, but not with airways resistance."
They concluded, "Cannabis appears to have different effects on lung function to those of tobacco."
Predictably, the scientists' "inconvenient truth" was not reported in a single media outlet.
Another comprehensive study, led by UCSF and University of Alabama at Birmingham, collected data from more than 5,000 U.S. adults for more than 20 years. It was yet another large-scale study suggesting that even moderate use of marijuana is less harmful to users’ lungs than exposure to tobacco, even though the two substances contain at least some of the same components.
4. Cannabis Use Potentially Protects, Rather Than Harms, the Brain
Does smoking pot kill brain cells? Drinking alcohol most certainly does, and many opponents of marijuana-law reform claim that marijuana's adverse effects on the brain are even worse. Are they correct?
Not at all. Actually low doses of marijuana's psychoactive components prevent brain damage from other toxic drugs. Behavioural Brain Research and Experimental Brain Research demonstrated that even extremely low doses of THC (Marijuana's psychoactive component) -- around 1,000 to 10,000 times less than that in a conventional marijuana cigarette -- can jumpstart biochemical processes which protect brain cells and preserve cognitive function.
Findings published this in the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology also found contrary evidence to the idea that pot kills brain cells.
Investigators at the University of California at San Diego examined white matter integrity in adolescents with histories of binge drinking and marijuana use. They reported that binge drinkers (defined as boys who consumed five or more drinks in one sitting, or girls who consumed four or more drinks at one time) showed signs of white matter damage in eight regions of the brain.
By contrast, the binge drinkers who also used marijuana experienced less damage in 7 out of the 8 brain regions.
"Binge drinkers who also use marijuana did not show as consistent a divergence from non-users as did the binge drink-only group," authors concluded. "[It is] possible that marijuana may have some neuroprotective properties in mitigating alcohol-related oxidative stress or excitotoxic cell death."
To date, only a handful of U.S. media outlets -- almost exclusively college newspapers -- have reported the story.
5. Marijuana Is a Terminus, Not a 'Gateway,' to Hard Drug UseAlarmist claims that experimenting with cannabis will inevitably lead to the use of other illicit drugs persist in the media despite statistical data indicating that the overwhelming majority of those who try pot never go on to use cocaine or heroin.
Moreover, recent research is emerging that indicates that pot may also suppress one's desire to use so-called hard drugs.
In June, Paris researchers writing in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology concluded that the administration of oral THC in animals suppressed sensitivity to opiate dependence.
Also this summer, investigators at the New York State Psychiatric Institute reported in the American Journal on Addictions that drug-treatment subjects who use cannabis intermittently were more likely to adhere to treatment for opioid dependence.
Although a press release for the former study appeared on the Web site physorg.com on July 7, neither study ever gained any traction in the mainstream media.
6. Government's Anti-Pot Ads Encourage, Rather Than Discourage, Marijuana Use
Sure, many of us already knew that the federal government's $2 billion ad campaign targeting pot was failing to dissuade viewers from toking up, but who knew it was this bad?
According to a new study posted online in the journal Health Communication, survey data published by investigators at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania found that many of the government's public-service announcements actually encouraged pot use.
Researchers assessed the attitudes of over 600 adolescents, age 12 to 18, after viewing 60 government-funded anti-marijuana television spots.
Specifically, researchers evaluated whether the presence of marijuana-related imagery in the ads (e.g., the handling of marijuana cigarettes or the depiction of marijuana-smoking behavior) were more likely or less likely to discourage viewers' use of cannabis.
Messages that depict teens associating with cannabis are "significantly less effective than others," the researchers found.
"This negative impact of marijuana scenes is not reversed in the presence of strong anti-marijuana arguments in the ads and is mainly present for the group of adolescents who are often targets of such anti-marijuana ads (i.e., high-risk adolescents)," the authors determined. "For this segment of adolescents, including marijuana scenes in anti-marijuana (public-service announcements) may not be a good strategy."
Needless to say, no outlets in the mainstream media -- many of which donated air time to several of the beleaguered ads in question -- have yet to report on the story.
For the record, I do not endorse in any way, shape or form the use or consumption of any of the highly addictive substances in the above top 10 list. Moreover, due to the therapeutic effects of raw, juiced and extracted oils of cannabis, I do not promote the smoking of marijuana to achieve maximum medicinal benefits. So although I strongly support cannabis use, I DO NOT SUPPORT smoking it. Nothing good ever comes from burning a plant.
Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.