We know, we know: it's easy to poke fun at the notion that someone could really be addicted to pot.
But as The Washington Post reports, the fact remains that although it poses little risk to most people, cannabis addiction is very real for a minority who say they're badly struggling — and the social stigma around it isn't exactly helping the folks who are struggling with a weed dependency.
"It's been frustrating because you’re not taken seriously," a 37-year-old Missouri mother named Courtney recently told WaPo of her marijuana addiction. "People say it's not as severe as meth, or alcohol, that it's not that bad. They think it's not an addiction."
WaPo interviewed numerous people struggling with weed dependency and addiction, and though their stories differ, striking similarities remain. Weed, they say, has cost them an exorbitant amount of money; withdrawal symptoms are difficult and often destructive; and above all else, like other addictions, it's been a controlling force in their lives.
"The problems that come up with cannabis-use disorder are very real," a 24-year-old who went only by the initials MB told WaPo, confessing that she had stolen money from her family in order to pay for weed. "This was not always something that was talked about."
Per WaPo, MB attends Marijuana Anonymous, a space designed specifically for those struggling with weed addiction.
"We were sort of laughed out of 12-step spaces," she told WaPo of her experience with Alcoholics Anonymous.
Meanwhile, as WaPo notes, the numbers support these folks' claims. According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 16.3 million people in the United States suffer from some level of cannabis-use disorder — or, in other words, cannabis addiction. And though most cases are seen as relatively mild, roughly 26 percent of all cases are considered moderate, and a sizeable 16 percent are considered severe. (As WaPo also points out, a study published in July of last year linked higher levels of THC to the development of cannabis-use disorder.)
"It's the second-most common addiction Americans are struggling with," James H. Berry, a psychiatrist and addiction expert at West Virginia University, told WaPo, "but nobody hears about it."
That all said, some skepticism about weed addiction is warranted. America's history with cannabis is complicated, and weed has often experienced an irrational villainization — seriously, the alarmist posters from the 1940s and 50s were, uh, something — before swinging very far the other way, into what some might call arguably less-than-sufficiently-scrutinized territory.
"Because there are so many mixed messages in our society about cannabis, I think it's very easy for people to minimize and rationalize problematic use of cannabis," Aaron Norton, a Florida mental health counselor, told WaPo. Norton, for his part, told WaPo that while he believes that marijuana should be legalized, it should also be strictly regulated.
There's also the reality that marijuana offers legitimate medical benefits, and has been used medicinally for thousands of years. And as a recreational drug, most folks are able to have a casual relationship with the substance.
But regardless of how low-stakes the drug remains for most, if we've learned anything from TLC, it's that people can get addicted to, well, anything. From sex to shopping to sugar, a slew of common addictions revolve around actions, items, and substances that are normal pieces of our everyday world.
"Addiction is a fact of life," Darren Weiss, president of Verano, a cannabis venture that currently does business in 13 states, told WaPo. "There are folks who are addicted to caffeine, to sex, to all sorts of different things."
At the end of the day, different people have their own individual relationships with substances. Weed can do a lot of good — it can offer some relief for a variety of medical conditions, help users relax and sleep, and can just be nice and fun. But a dependency on any substance can quickly turn problematic, and if you find yourself or witness a friend struggling with a reliance that feels like it might be bordering on addiction, maybe don't discount it.
"The majority of people who use cannabis products in general can handle it," Adrianne Trogden, a Louisiana addiction counselor, told WaPo. "But there are still people who cannot — and they need help."
More on marijuana: Smoking Weed Appears to Make Alterations to Your Genetic Code
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