Cannabis Addiction Is Not Heroin Addiction

A large minority of people have trouble with cannabis, and for those people, it’s important to find help.

When I tell people that I am a clinical psychologist who treats people with cannabis addiction, the response that I receive can often be disbelief. “Marijuana is a natural and medicinal plant,” people tend to voice.

Versions of this argument can also be found in almost every comment section of any cannabis-related news story. This is correct—cannabis is natural. Cannabis can also have medicinal benefits for problems such as certain kinds of pain and chemotherapy-induced side effects.

There is even upcoming research on the use of cannabis and cannabis derivatives in the treatment of particular psychiatric disorders, such as those involving post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms (though this is both a complex and contentious area of research).

Nevertheless, the fact that cannabis can have medical benefits does not preclude its propensity for addiction.

Neither does the fact that cannabis is natural—so are opium, coca leaves, poison ivy, and dirt. Cannabis can be helpful, and it can also be addicting.

Cannabis addiction is not pervasive, but it is also not uncommon. Our best estimate, based on conditional prevalence rates, is that approximately 1 out of 10 people who ever try cannabis at least once during their lifetime will likely become addicted.

Put another way, this means that about 90 percent of people who try cannabis do not become addicted. While the chances of becoming addicted to other drugs can be higher, such as to alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and nicotine, the story is similar with cannabis:

The majority of people who try these drugs do not become addicted.

As you might expect, however, the more frequently that a person uses cannabis (and other drugs), the more likely they are to develop an addiction. This should make intuitive sense: Most of the people whom you know who use cannabis are likely not addicted, but you might know one or two people where you question whether they might have a cannabis problem, particularly if they use it frequently.