Is medical marijuana addicting? Can I develop dependence on, tolerance of or experience withdrawal from medical marijuana? These are real concerns for medical marijuana patients. Substance abuse (dependence) is diagnosed when three or more of the following criteria occur within a 12-month period:
- Medical marijuana is used in larger amounts for a longer period of time than was intended
- There is a persistent desire to cut back on usage with unsuccessful attempts to do so
- Substantial time and effort are spent obtaining medical marijuana
- Social, occupational or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of the use of medical marijuana
- Medical marijuana is used despite patient experiencing consistent physical or psychological problems
Tolerance includes a need for markedly increased amounts of medical marijuana to achieve desired effect or a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount
Withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, restlessness, loss of appetite, depression, irritability, and anger. Often, patients experiencing these symptoms will use medical marijuana or a closely related substance to relieve them.
It is generally accepted that patients using medical marijuana to treat specific conditions, such as pain, headaches or nausea, do not experience the dependency seen with recreational users. The level of usage for medical marijuana patients usually plateaus at a certain dosage.
Patients need to consider whether the side effects from the use of medical marijuana outweigh the side effects from the medications that patients traditionally use to alleviate the symptoms of their medical conditions. For example, medical marijuana is often substituted for opiates for pain relief. Patients using opiates typically experience chronic nausea and constipation while patients using medical marijuana do not experience these side effects.