Pete Brady has a master’s degree in counseling, and several years’ experience listening to the concerns of pot people and doing marijuana journalism. We welcome your questions on cannabis health, ethics, etiquette or activism. Send your emails to [email protected].
pot dependency?

I smoke pot every day. Am I dependent on it?

Lake Wales, Florida

Drug “experts” have a hard time even agreeing on rational definitions for terms like “dependence” and “addiction.” The American Psychiatric Association defines “dependence” in terms so broad that people who love jogging, sex and other stimulating activities are now described as having a dependence-addiction relationship with their activities.

Extreme interpretations of some recent cannabis neurochemistry studies conclude that cannabis can cause dependence and even a form of “addiction,” but most credible mainstream studies conducted in the last five years (by the British House of Lords and the US Institute of Medicine, for example) refused to call cannabis addictive, and stated that only five to ten percent of people who use cannabis could accurately be described as having “dependence syndrome.”

photo: Pete Bradyphoto: Pete BradyIf cannabis is causing serious problems in your life but you use it anyway because you have a hard time quitting, you might be classified as dependent. But you could also just be a stubborn pot-smoker.

You can determine your level of dependence by abstaining from cannabis for at least a week (which will give a majority of the cannabinoids stored in your body time to be excreted) and carefully monitoring your mood and health to determine if you are experiencing what some call “cannabis withdrawal syndrome.” This syndrome includes unusual irritability, insomnia, headaches, anxiety, body temperature fluctuations, stomach upset, flu symptoms, or depression.

It is important to note, however, that researchers describe cannabis withdrawal as infinitely less problematic than withdrawal from heroin, alcohol, tobacco and even caffeine. Only one percent of chronic marijuana users ever experience withdrawal symptoms that are more than mildly annoying.

From time to time I give up cannabis for a week or more. I encountered a few withdrawal symptoms, usually four to six days after my last high. It felt like I was tired, melancholy, or had a mild cold. The feelings went away within a couple of days. I didn’t experience marijuana cravings or anything anywhere near as severe as what I have seen cigarette and coffee drinkers go through when they tried to quit their habits!

Cutting back

I love smoking herb, but I just got a job that urine tests me. Now I want to cut back on my cannabis use, but I find that I’m missing it a lot. I’m never going to completely stop toking, but what advice can you give to someone who wants to use less?

Indianapolis, Indiana

I admire your spirit of pragmatism. I’ve met people faced with drug testing who abandoned marijuana, missed it a lot, and felt ashamed of themselves for allowing external forces to pressure them into giving up something they enjoyed.

Have you considered or tried products that seek to defeat drug tests? Product manufacturers claim their products work and someday we’ll do a research project that scientifically evaluates their claims, but you could use such products in conjunction with home drug testing kits to see which cleansing products really defeat urine and hair tests.

While awaiting trial on cultivation charges, I was subject to warrantless searches and random drug tests. I felt it prudent to cut back on my use, but I am a medical marijuana patient who experiences increased pain when I don’t use cannabis as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory agent. I had to decrease my use, and I deeply missed its recreational, spiritual and medicinal effects.

Whenever I felt like using more marijuana than I thought I could get away with, I substituted yoga, vigorous exercise, singing, sound-light machines, and other mind-altering activities for marijuana use. Those activities helped get me through my “marijuana withdrawal,” but nothing produces a high like cannabis, and I was so glad when my court case was resolved and I no longer had to worry about drug testing.

I hope you and all pot people will outwit drug testers, find jobs that don’t force you to provide bodily fluids, and help change laws and attitudes so drug testing will be considered an unacceptable intrusion into our Pete Brady