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Is Weed Addictive Like Cigarettes?

Is weed addictive like cigarettes? That’s the million-dollar question ladies and gentlemen.  

While the short answer is no, it’s a bit more complicated than that. 

Based on current research, it appears that marijuana is slightly less addictive than regular cigarettes.

While cigarettes are physically addictive in the short term, marijuana tends to be psychologically addictive in the long term. However, there is a shocking lack of recent studies on the effects of marijuana usage in today’s world.

Ironically, this lack of research is most likely due to marijuana’s growing popularity and the legalization of the substance in many states. 

The marijuana accessible in today’s markets is not the same as what was around in the days of Woodstock, and good luck trying to find any research on the effects of the various strains of marijuana available. 

But let’s look a little closer at what makes these substances addictive. 

The Effects of Smoking Cigarettes

The primary ingredient in cigarettes is nicotine, a stimulant that boosts the hormone dopamine in the human brain. Dopamine causes pleasure, increases neural activity and energy, and generally makes people feel more alert and productive.   

The brain’s addiction to nicotine happens very quickly, with the body becoming tolerant to larger and larger levels of dopamine after only a short period of time, requiring more levels of nicotine in order to evade withdrawal symptoms.

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms include, but are not limited to: 

  • Increased Anxiety 
  • Irritability 
  • Depression 
  • Lack of Sleep 

Have you ever worked with someone who was attempting to quit cigarettes cold turkey? They are no joy to be around that’s for sure. Coming off cigarettes is like coming off many drugs… uncomfortable. This is one way in which weed is addictive like cigarettes.

The Effects of Smoking Marijuana

Marijuana gains its effects primarily through a compound known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This is similar to compounds to compounds that are already present in the human body known as cannabinoids. 

Cannabinoids cause effects in the spheres of:

  • Memory
  • Pleasure
  • Cognition
  • Perception of time
  • Coordination

While not immediately physically addictive, prolonged use occurs when the brain adapts to large amounts of the drug, reducing the amount of naturally occurring cannabinoids in the body. 

People who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults. This is why weed is addictive like cigarettes—it has a profound effect on the brain, changing it forever.

When not using marijuana, dependent persons often experience withdrawal symptoms that include:

  • Irritability
  • Mood and sleep difficulties
  • Decreased appetite
  • Cravings
  • Restlessness 
  • Various forms of physical discomfort
  • Psychosis

Estimates of the number of people addicted are controversial. Largely because of the politicization of weed, recent studies don’t factor in the rising potency of the drug over the past few decades.

In the early 1990s, the average THC content in marijuana was less than 4%.

In 2018, average samples had more than 15% THC content.   

The Dangers of Smoking Anything

Even without the specific dangers that come with nicotine or marijuana, it should be noted that smoking any substance is harmful to the lungs and body to some degree.

While an effective and efficient way to bring drugs to the brain quickly, smoking damages the lungs and can eventually develop into cancer or other lung-based diseases.  

Besides the less-than-enticing withdrawal symptoms, smoking can lead to wheezing, acute bronchitis, and the suppression of one’s immune system.  

Physical dangers of prolonged marijuana smoking include memory loss and cognitive regression, as well as depression and anxiety. For young people whose brains are not fully formed, delayed brain development is yet another risk.

Cigarettes, in addition to lung cancer risks, can lead to reproductive difficulties in both men and women.

Women who smoke risk issues with their baby’s weight and overall health. Because cigarette smoke lowers general health and cardiovascular efficiency, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are also common.

So Weed Is Addictive Like Cigarettes, But in Differents Ways

The first one or two cigarettes someone tries is usually not very enticing. Once past the first coughing fit and smoky bitter aftertaste, the allure of cigarettes comes with that heady boost of energy and an extra pep in your step.

Only another burst of nicotine can give you that jump, and “boom!” you’re hooked.

Maybe you had your first cigarette to look cool at a party, or perhaps it was as simple as wanting that extra five-minute break at work that only the smokers were entitled to, but addiction to cigarettes is usually quick after that first one, and hard to walk away from.

Marijuana, well… there’s a difference of opinion in my household on how or why marijuana is addictive.

A person’s desire for using marijuana has a lot to do with how each of our brains are wired.  When you smoke marijuana, you get high, plain and simple. It produces a prolonged state of intoxication.

For some, food tastes better, jokes are funnier, and those movies that need to be returned to Redbox are not as important.

Not the case with me.

My first taste of marijuana was bewildering. I didn’t need jokes to seem funnier or ideas to seem bigger. Life seemed to both slow down and speed up simultaneously. My thoughts felt huge, music over-encompassing, motivation was sucked away, paranoia was rampant in my head and I just wanted it to end.

So many friends enjoyed it that I “tried marijuana” a few more times, but after about the third time, I was done.

Is weed addictive like cigarettes? Not for me.  

In high school and college, most of these friends could smoke or not smoke. Many didn’t exhibit any inclinations to marijuana addiction until later when it became habitual.

Smoking on the weekend became every day after work and then before work and then on breaks.

Cigarettes are more physically addictive while marijuana is more psychologically addictive, but when you break it down, weed is addictive like cigarettes.

Is Weed or Cigarettes More Problematic?

When we think about the term addiction, we think “problem”.

I would go out on a limb and say that the average Joe’s idea of addiction is an image of someone completely throwing their life away. An “addict” is someone under a bridge somewhere, panhandling for their next hit of crack.

Do we call people who smoke cigarettes addicts? We do not. However, based on the research, people are “addicted” to cigarettes.

How about a person addicted to smoking marijuana? How do we classify them? It’s safe to say that more people would call the marijuana smoker an addict than the cigarette smoker.

Cigarettes are physically addictive, but there are not many people who will pawn everything they own to keep their cigarette habit going strong.

I’m not saying that a marijuana user would pawn everything they own either, but I’m trying to paint a picture here. In my experience, a marijuana “addict” is more likely to miss work, let their bills pile up, and live in a heap of dirty laundry.

Marijuana’s effects can be so strong that a person can be completely incapacitated by it. Sure, maybe a marijuana user doesn’t end up under a bridge, but they could stay in their mom’s basement well into their 50s.

A cigarette habit is not likely to keep you playing video games in your mother’s basement for the majority of your adult life.

Marijuana is more problematic when it comes to living life. Cigarettes are more problematic in the sense that they can end your life prematurely. In my opinion, the key component that makes these two substances different is the level of intoxication each one produces.

Even though weed is addictive like cigarettes, it’s the intoxication that you have to look at to truly understand the difference.

Cigarettes, Weed, and Sobriety

Anybody who has spent any time around 12 step recovery meetings knows that there is a lot of coffee drinking and cigarette smoking.

That is, unless the meeting consists of males ages 25-45 who have started overpriced sober homes, cause then you’ll see a lot of vape pens and big beards.

You won’t find many people at those meetings who will say you aren’t sober because you smoke cigarettes and drink coffee.

However, both of these products contain addictive (and some would say mind-altering) substances. How is this different from cocaine or heroin? Or, yes, marijuana?

If you show up to a 12 step meeting saying you are sober while everyone knows that you smoke the ganja, you are going to have a serious “talking-to” after the meeting. Marijuana is not considered sober.

There are plenty of addicts who try to “just smoke weed” after they stop doing drugs like heroin and meth. They call this the marijuana maintenance plan. Sometimes you hear that it works out alright for someone. Sometimes you hear that it doesn’t work out at all.

So in this arena, cigarettes and marijuana are different because marijuana is considered to be a drug. Marijuana is not only considered to be a drug, it’s considered to be a gateway drug. 

A boy, let’s call him Michael, goes to high school on his first day of sophomore year. There is a group of juniors smoking a joint in the boys’ bathroom. They offer Michael a hit, and of course, he doesn’t want to refuse them, so he takes it.

He is astounded at how good it makes him feel. “Maybe drugs aren’t so bad after all,” he thinks. This leads to experimentation with harder drugs, which leads to a serious narcotic addiction. 

So you have 2 things going on here:

  1. He tried marijuana. The high produced by weed felt “good”.
  2. He first tried marijuana with some classmates. Hanging around the classmates who smoked weed led to him being exposed to harder drugs.

Couldn’t the same be true of cigarettes though? Those same kids in the bathroom at school could just as well have been smoking cigarettes. 

Anyways, you see what I’m getting at. 

As far as the sobriety/recovery community is concerned, weed is a drug because of the fact that it gets you “high” and usually makes an addict crave the harder drugs they may have been addicted to. 

Smoking cigarettes IS sober because it doesn’t get you “high.” It gives you a buzz sure, but I’d hardly call it a high. From my observation, people in recovery are more likely to return to hard drugs if smoking marijuana rather than smoking cigarettes.  

No, Weed Is Not Addictive Like Cigarettes

Weed is not addictive like cigarettes. Nicotine seems to be more physically addictive than THC. Nicotine also seems to get people physically addicted quicker than THC.

Marijuana is more mentally addictive. 

Both of these are problematic. Cigarettes can cause horrendous health problems and even kill you. Marijuana may not kill you, but you might play Magic the Gathering in your mom’s basement until you’re 55.

So, pick your poison!

What Do YOU Think?

Are you addicted to marijuana or cigarettes? Are you addicted to both?

What are your thoughts on this subject? Let us know in the comments if you think weed is addictive like cigarettes.

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Lindsey Black

Lindsey Black is a writer, artist, and mental health advocate. As a person in recovery herself, Lindsey gives a unique perspective on addiction, mental health, and is passionate about helping victims of domestic violence. She is a runner, avid reader, and a crossword puzzle enthusiast.

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