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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

Is Marijuana Addictive?

Jan 31, 2016 09:30PM
Since February 2015, D.C. residents have the legal right to possess, privately consume and grow limited amounts of marijuana in their own homes.

With the nationwide spotlight on marijuana, some have been seeking more information about the addictive properties while considering the overall health benefits, if any, of marijuana. Natural Awakenings publisher, Robin Fillmore, recently spoke with Dr. Charles Gant, M.D., Ph.D, about this topic.

RF: As more states (in addition to the District of Columbia) are liberalizing usage of marijuana (both recreational and medical usage), do you have concerns with this trend from a medical perspective?

CG: Like every informed American, I am concerned about addiction to marijuana or any other psychotropic chemical, illicit, “recreational” (alcohol, tobacco) or pharmaceutical, especially in those whose brain’s have not completed the final “hardwiring”, which research suggests occurs sometime around 20 to 23 years old. Before that age, marijuana can have devastating medical and psychiatric consequences. After that age, it is still addictive and poses risks, but much less so.

RF: What makes this drug so attractive to users?

CG: The psychoactive cannabinoids in marijuana compete with the brain’s “natural pot” called endocannabinoids. With regular use, the brain responds to the artificial cannabinoids by synthesizing less of its natural endocannabinoids, and in the withdrawal state, the symptom of craving occurs. An addiction is born.

RF:   What makes marijuana different from other addictive drugs?

CG: Anyone who has “gotten high” on marijuana can certainly recognize its unique effects, which are related to its effects on endocannabinoids, a very different kind of neurotransmitter in the brain. Most mood-related, natural neurotransmitters, including serotonin (brain’s natural Prozac), dopamine (brain’s natural cocaine), endorphins (brain’s natural heroin or oxycontin), GABA (brain’s natural Valium) and acetylcholine (brain’s natural nicotine), flow in the stream of consciousness, from the past to the future. Endocannabinoids are retrograde neurotransmitters and flow in the opposite direction, from the post-synaptic side of the brains synapses (connection points between cells) to the presynaptic side (the side usually releasing neurotransmitters). This opposite direction flow of endocannabinoids downregulates and inhibits other neurotransmitter release and the stream of consciousness. When endocannabinoid receptors are artificially overstimulated, neurotransmitter flow slows down to the point that time seems to stop. The future and past essentially cease to exist, which many users find quite relaxing. Of course the withdrawal phase is the opposite, until the brain has a chance to regenerate and utilize its normal complement of endocannabinoids again.

RF: As a medical professional who has successfully treated thousands of addicted individuals (tobacco, alcohol, prescription pain-killers), how do you approach a patient who wants to overcome their addiction to marijuana?

CG: Like all addictions, the success rate is high if the patient is motivated. Unfortunately, the “amotivational syndrome,” a well-researched sequelae of regular marijuana abuse, lessens the addicts desire to be motivated to do anything. Often, marijuana addicts become re-motivated when a significant life event puts them into a situation where they are called upon to make a difference or stop using, such as a pregnancy, the birth of a child, a job that mandates drug testing, abstinence requirements while on probation or a profession that imposes work demands which require a good working memory and clear-headedness.

RF: What specific steps do you take with the patient and what is the success rate for these patients?

CG: If some motivation exists, either inwardly directed or imposed from some outside force like probation and regular drug testing, I attempt to determine through diagnostic lab testing, genetic testing and medical/nutritional history the patient’s capacity to synthesize their own innate endocannabinoids and other supportive neurotransmitters, so that they can rapidly reduce the cravings for marijuana and improve their mood. The main endocannabinoid, Anandamide (N-arachidonoylethanolamine) is synthesized in the brain from the exact ingredients in its longer name—arachidonic acid and ethanolamine. The former is derived from animal fat and the latter from lecithin. Eggs have both, so one option is to encourage the patient to eat lots of organic eggs, perhaps a dozen a day. Eating lots of organic butter and taking lecithin capsules is another way to accomplish this. The cravings during marijuana withdrawal will be far greater for individuals who do not consume the foods that provide ingredients with which to synthesize their own natural endocannabinoids. The combined effect of counseling treatment, support groups and a neurotransmitter replenishment treatment gets very high success rates in motivated individuals.

RF: Is there any medical condition or disease for which you would support a prescription of marijuana? Are there other treatments that provide the same benefits without the harmful properties the drug?

CG: Cannabinoids stimulate two main kinds of receptors, CB1 (mainly in the brain) and CB2 (mainly in the body, especially white blood cells).  Stimulation of the latter may be beneficial in pain management, and any patient suffering from intractable pain who has exhausted all medical options should not, in my opinion, be denied this avenue of treatment.  Of course, we have so many better ways to manage pain, from anti-inflammatory strategies to meditation, that cannabinoid pain management is rarely necessary.

For more information about Dr. Gant and his practice, call 888-727-6910 or visit


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