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Counselors argue medical marijuana is addictive drug
Written by Mark Lineberger   
Sunday, 19 February 2012 00:00

With the debate leading up to the passage of Arizona’s recent medical marijuana law, many in support of the proposal argued that marijuana isn’t addictive.

That’s not the case, according to John Schuderer, a drug addiction counselor with the West Yavapai Guidance Clinic, and Wayne Sisson, another counselor with nearly 20 years of experience.

The two addressed a group of people in Prescott and Cottonwood as part of a Lunch ’n’ Learn session hosted by MATForce, a group dedicated to fighting substance abuse in Yavapai County.

MATForce Executive Director Merilee Fowler introduces the topic of marijuana’s addictive qualities at a MATForce Lunch ’n’ Learn program in the Yavapai County Supervisors meeting room at the county complex in Cottonwood on Thursday, Feb. 9. Program presenters John Schuderer and Wayne Sisson spoke from Prescott during the teleconferenced meeting.According to Sisson, 9 percent of all marijuana users fit the classic definition of being addicted. Depending on how often a person uses marijuana, the percentage of those who become addicted goes up, Sisson said.

“A person may not even realize they are suffering from addiction,” Schuderer said.

If a person tells themselves they need marijuana to feel better, and it’s changing their personality, Schuderer said they may have a problem.

Schuderer said that people may justify that marijuana use isn’t as bad as using harder substances.

While proponents of medical marijuana put forward many benefits, Sisson noted that few hospices or oncology departments had come out with an endorsement.

Of course, many people can use marijuana without ever becoming addicted, Sisson said. Some people try it just once or a few times and never to pick it up again.

Sisson said he’s outlined five stages of marijuana addiction that are very similar to recognized addictions to other substances.

The first stage, Sisson said, is the initiation phase, an initial period of marijuana use in social situations or just to enjoy the high.

Next comes the socialization phase, as people may choose their groups of friends based on who wants to smoke pot. Self-image can also change, Sisson said, as people start to identify themselves as pot-smokers, and they depend on it to reduce tension.

Sisson defines the third stage as the pronounced addiction phase, when addictive behavior becomes stronger as people become preoccupied with getting marijuana. Their tolerance to the substance starts to build, and users may feel uneasy or irritable if they can’t get high.

“It’s a problem when people spend money on pot instead of on their kids,” Sisson said. “When people wear old ratty clothes because they don’t want to buy new ones when they can buy marijuana.”

The fourth stage is the full-force addiction phase, a phase marked by people avoiding social marijuana use whenever possible because they don’t want to share their own supply accompanied by the inability to resist the urge to get high.

Finally comes impacting results, when people would rather smoke pot than pursue old goals or interests they may have had, and mental capacity is decreased.

Sisson said it’s important to know that for those who do become addicted, it’s possible to break the addiction at any one of his defined phases.

“Medical marijuana passed,” MATForce Executive Director Merilee Fowler said. “We want to make sure that it stay only medical.”


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