Thursday, April 10, 2008
Marijuana Withdrawal? What Marijuana Withdrawal?
AlterNet article calls pot addiction "laughable."
Wondering why you're feeling anxious, sleepless, irritable, sweaty, and scared when you stop daily pot smoking? Don't worry, Paul Armentano has the answer: You're full of bullshit.
Armentano, in an article for AlterNet entitled "B.S. on the idea of 'marijuana addiction'," asserts that "there's little consensus that such a syndrome is clinically relevant -- if it even exists at all."
The proof? "According to state and national statistics, up to 70 percent of all individuals in drug treatment for marijuana are placed there by the criminal justice system. Of those in treatment, some 36 percent had not even used marijuana in the 30 days prior to their admission. These are the 'addicts'?"
No, these are not necessarily the addicts. These are people undergoing mandatory treatment dictated by the criminal justice system. As Armentano points out, they may or may not have been using drugs before their court-mandated treatment sessions.
In contrast, marijuana addicts are people with a propensity for addiction who suffer a clearly delineated, verifiable, and vivid set of withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit. Armentano doesn't seem to have much interest in this cohort.
Armentano cites a study by the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine--and then completely misses the point. According to the report, "[A]lthough [some] marijuana users develop dependence, they appear to be less likely to do so than users of other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), and marijuana dependence appears to be less severe than dependence on other drugs."
What part of "some marijuana users develop dependence" does Armentano not understand?
The author appears to be making the common mistake of assuming that if pot causes withdrawal in some people, then it must cause withdrawal in everybody. And if it doesn't, it's not very addictive. This kind of thinking has been overtaken by the growing understanding that a minority of people suffer a chemical propensity for addiction that puts them at high risk, compared to casual, recreational drug users. The fact that most people don't get addicted to pot and don't suffer from withdrawal is no more revealing than the fact that a majority of drinkers do not become alcoholics.
The author further suggests that, since the Institute of Medicine report characterizes symptoms of weed withdrawal as "mild and subtle," there is nothing to this subject but hot air. Another way to think of "mild and subtle" is: not potentially life threatening, as in the case of abrupt withdrawal from alcohol. Pot doesn't kill. But we knew that already.
In addition, the author highlights the Institute of Medicine's estimate that "fewer than 10 percent of those who try cannabis ever meet the clinical criteria for a diagnosis of "drug dependence" (based on DSM-III-R criteria)." But this common estimate falls right in line with overall estimates placing the total addictive population for all drugs at between 10 and 15 per cent of the population.
Perhaps the most egregious error in the piece is the assertion that "pot's mild after-effects do not appear to be either severe or long-lasting enough to perpetuate marijuana use in individuals who have decided to quit." This statement is simply not true, as an overwhelming number of heavy pot smokers can attest. (For dozens of case histories that refute this contention, see the comments section of my post, Marijuana Withdrawal.)
The author also asserts that "the concept of pot addiction is big business," but it is unclear what he means by this, beyond his dismissive vote-of-no-confidence on anti-craving medications as an adjunct to addiction treatment.
I do, however, agree completely with Armentano on one point: None of this justifies "the continued arrest of more than 800,000 Americans annually" for pot violations.
Photo Credit: Javno