Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is addictive.
There is an ongoing controversy concerning the dangers of marijuana. This controversy is typically focused on considerations for legalizing the drug. There are a variety of arguments posited concerning whether marijuana is dangerous or if it should be legalized and these arguments often boil down to comparisons with tobacco. One of the major arguments presented by proponents of marijuana is that marijuana is less dangerous because it is not addictive. In opposition to this argument, opponents argue that marijuana is equally addictive as tobacco. When examined from this point of view the comparison of tobacco and marijuana, reveals that the addictiveness of tobacco is significantly more powerful and this makes tobacco a more dangerous substance.
There are three primary comparisons that reveal tobacco to be a dangerous substance due to addictiveness. Tobacco and marijuana are often compared in terms of health consequences, due to their addictive qualities. The addictiveness of these substances makes them desired and abused, thus raising the health risks. Using the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA), which provides the criteria for being classified as a dangerous drug, marijuana and tobacco can both be compared. The most important criteria defined in the CSA, that to be considered a Schedule I drug (dangerous), the drug must have no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse (DEA, 2011). According to the Surgeon General, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the National Institute for Drug Abuse, “tobacco has no medical use and a high potential for abuse” (Surgeon General, 1988) (NIDA, 2012) (CDC, 2014).
Marijuana which is already considered a Schedule I drug. However this classification is not entirely accurate,
THC-based drugs to treat pain and nausea are already FDA approved and prescribed, and scientists continue to investigate the medicinal properties of other chemicals found in the cannabis plant — such as cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid compound that is being studied for its effects at treating pain, pediatric epilepsy, and other disorders. (National Institute of Health, 2014)
But contrary to popular belief, marijuana is addictive and approximately nine percent of users become addicted (National Institute of Health, 2014). Since marijuana does have medicinal use, its classification under the CSA relies solely on its addictive properties. Within this framework, the dangers of marijuana and tobacco rely exclusively on the two substances being addictive and the severity of their addictiveness.
Marijuana and tobacco both have varying levels of severity with regard to addiction. There is a great deal of research into each substance independently but there is little research comparing the strength or addictive nature of marijuana and tobacco. Despite this lack of comparison in research, the two substances can be compared in terms of addiction using statistical analysis.
Tobacco dependence is the most common form of addiction in the US (CDC, 2014). The National Institute on Drug Abuse states:
Like cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, nicotine increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which affects the brain pathways that control reward and pleasure. For many tobacco users, long-term brain changes induced by continued nicotine exposure result in addiction — a condition of compulsive drug seeking and use, even in the face of negative consequences (NIDA, 2012).
According to the CDC nicotine dependence is so strong that many users must undertake multiple attempts to quit and many return to smoking due to the stress of withdrawal (CDC, 2014). Similar to tobacco, long-term marijuana users also experience withdrawal from marijuana. Users attempting to quit reported symptoms including irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety, and drug craving, all of which can make it difficult to abstain. In most instances, however, withdrawal can be overcome with the use of cognitive-behavioral techniques such as motivational incentives such as rewards for remaining abstinent. The effort to abstain from marijuana use is significantly less than the effort needed to quit tobacco which can require drug and cognitive therapy (CDC, 2014).
The addictive nature of both marijuana and tobacco greatly increase the dangers of these substances because the addictive quality causes people to use the substances for longer periods. As a result of this factor, the dangers of marijuana and tobacco can be compared in terms of difficulty abstaining from either substance.
When one examines the statistics of individuals who quit smoking it becomes obvious that the longer someone uses tobacco the less likely they are to quit.
1. 46.8% of smokers aged 25–44 years were able to quit for more than 1 day in a year (CDC, 2014).
2. 38.8% of smokers aged 45–64 years were able to quit for more than 1 day in a year (CDC, 2014).
3. 34.6% of smokers aged 65 years or older were able to quit for more than 1 day (CDC, 2014).
Similar to tobacco, the longer someone uses marijuana the less likely they are to quit.
1. In a study comparing tobacco and marijuana withdrawal it was found that overall withdrawal severity was similar in frequency and intensity for the first five days of abstinence (Vandrey, Budney, Hughes, & Liguori, 2008).
2. Sleep disturbance was a key feature in marijuana abstinence during the first five days (Vandrey, Budney, Hughes, & Liguori, 2008).
The addictive nature of both tobacco and marijuana raise the dangers of long term exposure. But despite both substances sharing an addictive quality the long-term implications of these addictions is extremely different. Long-term addiction to tobacco presents far more negative outcomes than marijuana. Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death, disability, and disease in the US (NIDA, 2012). More deaths occur from tobacco than from “HIV, illegal drugs, alcohol, motor vehicle accidents, suicides, and murders combined.” (CDC, 2014) The death rates resulting from cigarette smoking are estimated at 443,000 annually (CDC, 2014). “Tobacco smoke contains a deadly mix of more than 7,000 chemicals; hundreds are toxic, and about 70 can cause cancer.” (CDC, 2014)
In contrast to the results of long-term tobacco use, marijuana has no reported deaths directly linked to the use of the substance. The only annual deaths resulting from Marijuana use are those deaths that have resulted from interactions between prescription drugs and marijuana. Between the years of 1997 and 2005, the FDA reported 279 deaths resulting from reactions with medical marijuana (National Institute of Health, 2014). In a large study, published by the British Medical Journal, it was reported that marijuana users had no greater mortality rate than non-marijuana users (Sidney, 2003).
Because nicotine is so addictive, it has a deadly impact on users because of the inherent chemicals and carcinogens contained in the substance. Marijuana, while also an addictive substance, does not seem to possess the toxic quality of nicotine. When the addictiveness of the two substances is compared, tobacco seems to produce a significant larger danger than marijuana. When seen within this framework, tobacco presents a far greater danger than marijuana.
CDC. (2014, February 6). Smoking & Tobacco Use. Retrieved February 6, 2014, from Center for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/
CDC. (2014, February 5). Smoking Cessation. Retrieved February 5, 2014, from Center for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/cessation/quitting/index.htm
DEA. (2011). Drugs of Abuse 2011 Edition DEA Resource Guide. Washington , D.C., United States.
FDA. (2012, April 16). Section 206 of the Tobacco Control Act — Tar, Nicotine, and Other Smoke Constituent Disclosure to the Public. Retrieved February 4, 2014, from Food and Drug Administration: http://www.fda.gov/tobaccoproducts/guidancecomplianceregulatoryinformation/ucm261863.htm#In_General
National Institute of Health. (2014, January). DrugFacts: Marijuana. Retrieved from National Institute of Health: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana
NIDA. (2012, December). DrugFacts: Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products. Retrieved February 7, 2014, from National Institute on Drug Abuse: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cigarettes-other-tobacco-products
Surgeon General. (1988). Surgeon General’s Study On Tobacco, Called It An Additive Drug (1988) (Action News 7). Retrieved February 4, 2014, from Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/tobacco_ybx27a00
Vandrey, R., Budney, A., Hughes, J., & Liguori, A. (2008). A within-subjects comparison of withdrawal symptoms during abstinence from cannabis, tobacco, and both substances. . Drug Alcohol Depend., 48–54.