Tuesday September 22, 2015
A common concern for the legalization of marijuana is that it could lead to a society of addicts. If marijuana is a gateway drug, then it stands to reason that, as more and more people try cannabis, more people will find themselves caught in the grips of an unforgiving addiction to hard drugs.
Though there has been plenty of research noting marijuana as a precursor to other drugs like cocaine and heroin, it’s important to note that the use of alcohol and cigarettes show the same trend without causing the same concern for public safety.
Unfortunately, those who oppose marijuana legalization continue to blame marijuana for general drug addiction. Even New Jersey governor and presidential hopeful, Chris Christie, has voiced concern over marijuana’s gateway tendencies claiming that “We have an enormous addiction problem in this country” which justifies his intentions to “crack down and not permit it [marijuana]” even in states that have approved its use.
Though the majority of Americans disapprove of Christie’s intentions to interfere with state marijuana laws, there are still those who agree that marijuana reform must be stopped for the sake of a straight-headed society. What those people don’t realize, however, is that the real cause of addiction may actually be a lot closer to home.
Addiction is a form of adaption. Whether it’s a physical addiction or a psychological one, it is caused by priming the brain through repetition, to behave in a specific way. It’s the same reason you can recite the alphabet so easily and the reason Jimmy Hendrix could wale so hard: practice.
That’s not to say that addiction is all in the mind. On the contrary, physical addiction is very real and involves the body’s amazing ability to adapt. In cases of drug abuse, addiction occurs when the body has adapted to a substance and thus requires more and more to in order to receive the desired effects. Drug tolerance can reach dangerous levels, resulting in the unfortunate deaths of hundreds of thousands of people each year including those who die as a result of obesity and diabetes (because junk food is physically addictive, too).
Psychological addiction is a bit more complicated and can accompany any number of activities. Someone might be addicted to gambling, shopping, tattoos, cosmetic surgery or anything else for that matter. The point is there need not be a substance involved to develop an addiction, just a repetitive action that elicits a generally positive response.
In order for an activity to become an addiction, it must evoke a strong, undeniable desire to be fulfilled. Triggers will often set off an addictive reaction and can be very hard to resist, often resulting in damaged relationships, finances and overall health.
The underlying cause of addiction
There are many theories about what might cause addiction. Some say it’s due to genetics, others say it’s caused by narcotics and yet others believe it to be caused by a simple “lack of willpower”. Recent research, however, points at another, much more depressing answer: loneliness.
Back in 1970, a lab test was conducted by professor of Psychology, Bruce Alexander which aimed to test whether, in fact, cocaine was as addictive as previously believed. To conduct the test, he gave rats access to two types of drinking water: one laced with cocaine and one without. Though all rats tried both types of water, those who had other things to do (stimulating toys, tasty food and “interested” partners) notoriously chose their happy rat lives over the cocaine.
These results are not exclusive to rats, either. At the same time the rat study was being conducted, many men were at war in Vietnam where around 20 percent became addicted to heroin. Despite concerns that we would be faced with a bunch of heroin addicted vets upon their return, around 95 percent of our returned soldiers/heroin addicts simply stopped using it shortly after their return.
People on prescription painkillers would also theoretically become addicted if the “gateway” theory was accurate because they would develop a tolerance to the drug and crave more to reach their desired effects. Such is not the case for the majority of people, even after prolonged exposure to the drug, thus implying that addiction is not caused by the drug itself, but rather to the way the drug helps us adapt to our surroundings.
How to keep America from being a doped-up society
If the underlying cause of addiction is loneliness, then the cure for addiction is not a ban on cannabis. By condemning those who use cannabis to celebrate or medicate, we only drive these wedges further between ourselves. If anything, criminalizing marijuana use may actually exacerbate the tendency toward addiction by casting aside those who need it the most.
If we want to avoid a doped-up society, then it’s time we start listening to each other, not blaming them for their problems. It’s time to become a community of support, because addiction is not the burden of a single person, but of his or her entire community.