Questions About Cannabis, Part 2
Is Cannabis Addictive or Habit-Forming?
Short answer: yes, it’s possible to become addicted to cannabis or to use it in an unhealthy manner. Up to 9% of people who use cannabis on regular basis will experience this.
However, there’s a problem with the 9% number. That number uses drug treatment programs as one of its criteria for addiction. Many of those people are going through treatment only because the court ordered them to do so, or because their lawyers suggested that it would make the legal process faster and easier. That doesn’t mean they’re actually addicted to cannabis. It doesn’t even mean that they’ve had a negative experience with cannabis — aside from an encounter with law enforcement. (Prohibition remains the biggest cause of negative experiences with cannabis.)
So, while cannabis does carry some risk of problematic use, genuine addiction only occurs in about 4% of regular cannabis users.
How Does Cannabis Affect Your Driving?
Cannabis impairs driving. It is not safe to drive while high.
There’s some conventional wisdom that people who use cannabis and drive tend to compensate for their impairment by driving a little slower, passing less frequently, and increasing their following distance. While that is mostly true, it’s still not safe to drive after using cannabis. Despite efforts to compensate, studies show that impaired drivers still have delayed reaction times, difficulty staying between the lines, and higher collision rates.
While it’s clear that cannabis intoxication makes driving riskier, there are still plenty of questions that need more research:
- What about CBD? It’s nonpsychoactive, so how does it affect driving?
- How much is too much? Cannabis levels are notoriously difficult to measure, so it’s not clear how much people can consume before their driving is impaired.
- We know tolerance plays a factor: people with a higher tolerance to cannabis can consume more before their driving is impaired. How can we turn that into a set of guidelines to help people make safe choices?
Is Cannabis a Gateway Drug?
The gateway drug concept is flawed. Drug use usually comes down to a person’s natural inclinations and their opportunities to act on them. Cannabis is frequently tried before someone tries other drugs, but that’s because cannabis is more easily available. Alcohol and tobacco could just as easily be called gateway drugs too. Those are usually the first drugs people try, again because they are readily available. The majority of people who try cannabis do not go on to try other drugs and even the former U.S. Attorney General doesn’t think it’s a gateway drug.
Currently, prescription opiates are acting as a gateway drug to heroin: 80% of the people who use heroin started off with a prescription for painkillers. I don’t think the problem is so much the drugs themselves; instead, I think it’s about a lack of options for people who feel like they need an escape. In my opinion, the best things we could do to reduce drug abuse would be to improve access to mental health care, decrease poverty, and provide support for people struggling with addiction rather than stigmatizing or imprisoning them.
Teen use of cannabis actually decreases in states that have legalized recreational use. Part of the reason for this is that legalization crushes the black market. The people who sell it legally want to continue to do so, which means they can simply can’t sell cannabis to minors. A regulated market is a far better deterrent than prohibition.
Ask us your questions about cannabis in the comments!