From Dylan and the Beatles to Afroman and Snoop – with a little bit of Willie sprinkled on top – the best songs for stoners of all stripes
From Louis Armstrong to Lady Gaga, countless musicians have gone on record about their love for weed. Smoking can help with creativity, aid in relaxation, even expand the mind. But some artists take the practice even further, going out of their way to write musical odes to the sticky green stuff, whether it’s coded as a love interest – see the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life” or D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar – or right there in the name, like Afroman’s “Because I Got High.” No matter how you roll it, songs about pot keep the party going in any genre. Here are the 20 best weed-themed songs of all time.
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Marijuana Can Be Addictive: Who Gets Hooked and Why
In recent years, marijuana has been legalized and touted for its medicinal purposes. But how do you know when use becomes abuse?
Millions of Americans can pick up, and put down, marijuana relatively easily. But that’s not the case for everyone. For some, marijuana use poses a substantial likelihood of developing an addiction.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse recently released data that suggests that 30 percent of those who use marijuana may have some degree of “marijuana use disorder.”
They add that people who use marijuana before age 18 are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop this use disorder than adults.
Researchers estimated that 4 million people in the United States met the criteria for marijuana use disorder in 2015. Of them, 138,000 voluntarily sought treatment.
The use disorder, according to researchers, can morph into an addiction when the person can’t stop using the drug even when it interferes with their daily activities.
The Canyon, a treatment center in Malibu, California, lists 10 signs that someone might have an addiction to marijuana. Among the signals is a growing tolerance for the drug’s effects, as well as using more marijuana than they initially intended to use.
Genes are one strong predictor of developing an addiction, said Dr. Alex Stalcup, medical director of the New Leaf Treatment Center in Lafayette, California.
Studies of identical twins raised in different families support this theory. They have higher rates of an addiction co-occurring, which means that if one of them develops an addiction, the other is at greater risk for developing one, than fraternal twins raised apart.
But family ties may also help some people avoid progressing to a state of addiction.
“When we look at the criteria for addiction, it has a lot to do with people tempering their behavior,” explained Carl Hart, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Columbia University in New York and author of “High Price,” in a 2016 interview with Healthline.
“It has a lot to do with responsibility skills… It’s not perfect, but when you look at the people who are addicted, and you look at people who have jobs and families, they have responsibilities, they’re plugged into their societies, they have a social network, the addiction rates within those kind of groups are dramatically decreased from people who are not plugged in with jobs, families, social networks.”
Those who don’t become addicted also tend to have more options.
“Most of us have a lot of choice in life of things that make us feel good,” said Gantt Galloway, PharmD, executive and research director of the New Leaf Treatment Center and senior scientist at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, in a 2016 interview with Healthline.
“Those who have fewer choices, who perhaps don’t have as rich a set of social interactions because their family life is difficult or because they have emotional problems that are stopping them from forming close friendships… those people may find drugs such as marijuana more attractive and be at greater risk for addiction.”
Mental health conditions, which have both genetic and environmental causes play a large one in a person’s chance of developing an addiction.
“Mental health is a huge risk factor for addiction,” said Stalcup. “Drugs work very well, at first, for mentally ill people. If you’re anxious, it’ll go away with a couple of hits, a beer. It’s like magic. But then, the tolerance sets in.
“So, not only do they need to drink more to relieve the anxiety, but every single time they try to stop, the underlying anxiety comes back worse. We conceptualize it as a biological trap. It works at first, it turns on you, it stops working, and then you still have a problem.”
Stalcup estimates that 50 to 60 percent of the people with an addiction to marijuana whom his clinic treats have some sort of underlying mental health condition. The majority of his clients have:
At first, marijuana offers a benefit. It makes the world more interesting to counteract the loss of pleasure in depression. It soothes anxiety. For those with PTSD who experience nightmares, it shuts down the process by which dreams form in the brain.
The discussion surrounding addiction — and addressing addiction concerns — has become more complex.
Currently, 31 states and the District of Columbia have laws legalizing marijuana in some form. In fact, 10 states and the District of Columbia allow marijuana for recreational use.
In recent years, there have been a number of studies that have highlighted the use marijuana in treating certain medical conditions.
One study stated that medical marijuana can help children with seizures and chemotherapy-induced nausea.
A 2017 study reported that adult cancer patients are using marijuana to ease nausea and other symptoms.
A 2014 review looked at the available research regarding people with epilepsy using marijuana to ease their seizures.
There are also the studies that indicate legalizing marijuana can reduce the misuse of opioids, alcohol, and other substances.
On the other hand, there are studies that have issued warnings on marijuana and heart health as well as using marijuana for morning sickness.
Plus, pediatricians and others have long said that marijuana can impair brain functions in people under the age of 25.
There’s also the issue of marijuana potency.
According to a research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the average THC content in confiscated marijuana samples in 1990 was just under 4 percent. In 2014, it had risen to 12 percent.
This conflict of opinions and research has kept marijuana listed as a schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Drugs in that category are considered to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
This classification is something that really grates people who support legalization of marijuana.
“It has long been acknowledged that cannabis is a mood-altering substance with some potential for risk, including the risk of dependence.
That said, cannabis’ potential risks to health relative to other substances, including legal substances like alcohol, tobacco, and prescription medications, are not so great to warrant its continued criminalization and schedule I prohibited status under federal law,” Paul Armentano, deputy director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told Healthline.
“By any rational assessment, the continued criminalization of cannabis is a disproportionate public policy response to behavior that is, at worst, a public health concern. But it should not be a criminal justice matter.”
The conversation around marijuana use has become more nuanced since the World War II era film “Reefer Madness” portrayed the drug as destructive and dangerous.
The drug’s pain-relieving properties make it a potential replacement for pain medication. In 2014, states that had legalized medical marijuana reported a 25 percent drop in deaths resulting from an overdose of pain medication.
In healthy people, marijuana is sometimes used as a substitute for other, stronger substances. Amanda Reiman, PhD, policy manager for the California office of the Drug Policy Alliance, and lecturer at the University of California Berkeley, shed light on this trend.
A 2009 study she conducted on medical marijuana users revealed that:
- 40 percent of them had substituted marijuana for alcohol
- 26 percent for other illicit drugs
- 66 percent for prescription drugs
Reasons they gave included:
- marijuana had fewer unwanted side effects
- it managed their symptoms better
- it presented fewer problems with withdrawal
One marijuana user, Conrad, age 47, of San Francisco, said that when he can’t smoke, he drinks more.
“I’ve always found quitting marijuana to be easy when I needed to because of travel reasons or personal reasons, or professional, or what have you,” he told Healthline.
“I do know for certain that when I’ve been on vacation for a long time, and obviously I’m not smoking, I subconsciously substitute alcohol. I do drink more alcohol to ‘take the edge off.’”
Dependence on marijuana happens when users build up a tolerance for the substance and need more and more of it to experience the same effect.
When a drug enters the brain, it overrides the brain’s natural processes, boosting a specific function far above, or below, normal levels.
The brain may become resistant to the effects of the drug in an effort to protect itself, so that next time the person uses the drug, it doesn’t have as strong an effect. In order to feel the same high, the person has to take larger and larger doses.
Over time, users may graduate from smoking marijuana to using it in high-dosage edible forms or propane-extracted concentrates called dabs.
A 2012 study found that people who use marijuana have fewer receptors in their brain for endogenous cannabinoids, the signaling molecules that marijuana’s active component, THC, mimics.
THC also affects the brain’s reward system and the release of the “pleasure hormone” dopamine.
“It is very well-known that dopamine is one of the most important neurotransmitters that regulates reward, motivation, and self-control,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIDA and one of the authors of the study.
“All of the drugs, whether legal or illegal, that can cause addiction apparently can stimulate dopamine signaling in the main pleasure center of the brain… By stimulating dopamine, they activate the main reward centers of the brain. This is why when someone takes a drug, it is pleasurable.”
Volkow also conducted a 2014 study that found that the brains of people who misuse marijuana have a decreased response to dopamine.
When given a chemical, methylphenidate, that caused dopamine levels to rise in the brain, the marijuana users didn’t respond as strongly or feel as high as nonusers.
And the more blunted their response to the methylphenidate, the more negative emotions they felt, including irritability, anxiety, depression, and aggressiveness.
“The problem isn’t that they are releasing less dopamine, but that the dopamine stimulation in the brain is having a very attenuated effect,” Volkow said.
“The brain doesn’t know what to do with the dopamine. The dopamine signal is not being heard, not communicating properly downstream.”
Volkow thinks that this decreased response to dopamine is likely caused by marijuana use. Another possibility is that marijuana users who become misusers have a dopamine system that’s naturally less responsive, making them more vulnerable to abusing the drug.
“The most common genetic legacy relating to addiction is inherited boredom,” explained Stalcup. “It’s a group of kids we call born bored. What they have scientifically is a pleasure system that’s about 20 percent below normal.
“When they first try a drug, like cannabis, the lights go on. They say ‘Doc, this is the way I’m supposed to feel. I’m so bored. But I don’t care if I’m bored when I’m high.’
“Here’s the bummer. It does benefit them. Their grades often will go up for a period of time. They’re more sociable. They do more things,” Stalcup added. “The tragedy is, they get tolerant.”
This explanation matches the experience that Gray, the writer for Vice, described.
“I smoke just to get through the boring parts of my day: grunt tasks like making breakfast, showering, running errands, and walking to work,” she wrote.
Her habit had increased from once to at least three times a day, smoking “between one and infinity joints at night, depending on how much weed I have.”
Volkow explained that the patterns of activity in the brain shift from the drug activating reward centers to activating other, nearby regions related to the formation of habits.
She said, “They start to recruit instead other [brain] networks that are associated with habits and routines. This allows a transition from a behavior that is predominantly driven initially because it’s pleasurable and rewarding to one that’s automatic because it creates a habit or routine.”
In recent years, marijuana has been legalized and touted for its medicinal purposes. But how do you know when use becomes abuse?