ABC News Is Addicted to Reefer Rhetoric

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 6, 2009

    Many years ago the former head of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Alan Leshner made this statement when forced to confront the fact that tens of thousands of patients were successfully using cannabis as a medicine:

    “The plural of anecdote is not evidence.”

    Someone ought to pass on Lesnher’s cop out to ABC News, whose recent feature, “Reefer Madness Redux: Is Pot Addictive?“, is little more than a series of anecdotes from folks claiming that it’s becoming harder and harder for some individuals to quit weed.

    Here’s a typical example:

    The biggest hurdle in treating these patients is that marijuana “still has a positive spin to it,” he said. “People don’t believe it’s a problem.”

    “Plenty believe that they can’t get addicted or hold on to the idea that it’s only psychologically addictive and ‘I can think my way out of it,'”said Massella. “But once you develop a dependency, there is always a dependency.”

    Naturally, John Massella, like many of the so-called experts quoted in the ABC story, has a financial incentive to promote the “marijuana is seriously addictive” claim. After all, he runs a drug rehabilitation center. Claiming that many of his clients are “pot addicts” is far more socially acceptable than admitting that most of his so-called ‘marijuana treatment admissions’ are really just young people who were busted for pot possession and ordered there by the court as a condition of probation.

    But putting the anecdotes aside, what does the science actually say about pot and dependence?

    Well, according to the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine — which published a multiyear, million-dollar federal study assessing marijuana and health in 1999 — “millions of Americans have tried marijuana, but most are not regular users [and] few marijuana users become dependent on it.” The agency added, “[A]though [some] marijuana users develop dependence, they appear to be less likely to do so than users of other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), and marijuana dependence appears to be less severe than dependence on other drugs.” (In fact, more recent research indicates that marijuana use may actually help some people kick their hard drug habits!)

    Just how less likely? According to the IOM’s 267-page report, fewer than 10 percent of those who try cannabis ever meet the clinical criteria for a diagnosis of “drug dependence” (based on DSM-III-R criteria). By contrast, the IOM reported that 32 percent of tobacco users, 23 percent of heroin users, 17 percent of cocaine users and 15 percent of alcohol users meet the criteria for “drug dependence.” In short, it’s the legal drugs that have Americans hooked — not pot.

    But what about the claims that ceasing marijuana smoking can trigger withdrawal symptoms? (According to ABC, these symptoms include “sleeplessness”, “anxiety,” and — shudder! — “dry mouth.”) Once again, it’s a matter of degree. According to the Institute of Medicine, pot’s withdrawal symptoms, when identified, are “mild and subtle” compared with the profound physical syndromes associated with ceasing chronic alcohol use — which can be fatal — or those abstinence symptoms associated with daily tobacco use, which are typically severe enough to persuade individuals to reinitiate their drug-taking behavior.

    The IOM report further explained, “[U]nder normal cannabis use, the long half-life and slow elimination from the body of THC prevent[s] substantial abstinence symptoms” from occurring. As a result, cannabis’ withdrawal symptoms are typically limited to feelings of mild anxiety, irritability, agitation and insomnia.

    Most importantly, unlike the withdrawal symptoms associated with the cessation of most other intoxicants, pot’s mild after-effects do not appear to be either severe or long-lasting enough to perpetuate marijuana use in individuals who have decided to quit. This is why most marijuana smokers report voluntarily ceasing their cannabis use by age 30 with little physical or psychological difficulty. By comparison, many cigarette smokers who pick up the habit early in life continue to smoke for the rest of their lives, despite making numerous efforts to quit.

    So let’s review. Marijuana is widely accepted by the National Academy of Sciences, the Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and others to lack the severe physical and psychological dependence liability associated with most other intoxicants, including alcohol and tobacco. Further, pot lacks the profound abstinence symptoms associated with most legal intoxicants, including caffeine.

    That’s not to say that some cannabis smokers don’t find quitting difficult. Naturally, a handful of folks do. And it appears that ABC News has found them all.

    93 responses to “ABC News Is Addicted to Reefer Rhetoric”

    1. Krist says:

      I haven’t smoked cannabis for about 6 months now, it wasn’t hard at all. I just got too afraid of having all my freedoms taken away. Plus it’s easier to fight these ridiculous laws when you can prove that weed isn’t addicting by not having smoked it for the longest time. I probably won’t smoke it again till these stupid laws are changed.

    2. Mike says:

      Boycot ABC, It’s no longer a choice on my TV

    3. safety 1st says:

      i full on agree i stoped smoking ciggerts by smokeing pot then i stoped smoking pot with very little problems as of 2 years after stoping the ciggerts i have not smoked pot allso thou i miss the pot and WILL toke up agin no matter what right now i take 5 10/325 oxycodone a day for pain and if i could get pot legle i would use that but healthnet probley wont cover weed as a med lol and as i could get a random ua at any time i wont use weed thou no ua test as of yet in 2 years oxycodone ROCKS i love the and i can DRIVE lol np scary hahahaha but pain free

    4. R.O.E. says:

      I cant attest to this post. Over my life I have started and stopped smoking cannabis many many times…without problems. Insomnia? ….humm maybe…it did make me sleep good… but then I never really sleep ‘Good’ without it. I think some of you can say what 12 hour swing shifts do to a person. In my opinion, working 12 hour swing shifts is MUCH worse for you than smoking a 4 gram bag of cannabis evryday for a month…or years …W/E. A pot ADDICT…LOL. ok W/E. I could smoke cannabis for a year, quit and not have anyproblems or go back to it for a year. NO PROBLEM!

      It took me 10 years of trying to quit smoking cigarettes after 18 years of smoking cigs, Now thats ADDICTION! Never , ever, touch those nasty things again!

      If cannabis was legal, I would smoke some now and then…I know it wont be a problem! FACT!

    5. Jerry D. Moler says:

      I read ABC news online a lot and your right they like to talk about cannabis quite frequently. Most of it is bullshit and is amusing to me but to the uneducated it probably makes sense. The idea of using cannabis to get yourself off of more harmful substances is true. It was the way I quit using tobacco. I had tried many times to quit and was not able until my friend suggested this method. I have been tobacco free for over 20 years now. I still use cannabis and have for over 40 years and I don’t show any signs of bad health from it.

    6. Marc says:

      Garbage article from ABC.

      All I have to say is that the SPECIAL INTERESTS are scared out of their minds right now. The marijuana movement from the younger generation is only helping the Baby Boomers.

      You can’t tell me, being a marijuana advocacy group, you didn’t expect this crap to happen?!

      Be ready to explain to people why it is happening.


      They have much to lose when marijuana becomes legal.

    7. bob says:

      even after 40 yrs. if necessary to put food on the table,do auto repairs or any necessity it is no problem to stop for months it’s just a Bummer

    8. Sean McC says:

      Great piece. Keep up the good work. Its great to see the public finally starting to come around and even see through the propaganda and nonsense.

    9. Buc says:

      Always ask yourself the question, WIIFM? Or ‘What’s In It For Me?’

      This is how to determine if a person is genuine in how they feel with regards to drug policy or if they are just in it to profit.

      It’s not surprising that police, prosecutors, drug court personnel, rehab clinic personnel and DEA agents consistently come out against drug reform. Most of them probably could care less what you do in your house, but without drug policy, they either lose money or are out of a job.

      On the other hand, economists consistently come down against drug prohibition. Why? Is it because they’re all druggies? It’s certainly possible some of them consume other drugs besides alcohol and nicotine, the legal 1-2 punch, to have their fun. However, one thing they all share is an understanding of basic economics. Very few of them would benefit financially from an ending of prohibition.

      Similarly, libertarians all share the belief that your body is yours and not the government’s. After all, if you believe in drug laws, you believe that the government has the final say on what goes into your system.

      It’s just too bad more people can’t see through the smog and understand that authorities are not out there for your good, but rather for their own.