The emergence of marijuana, a once-taboo drug, has been quite a sight to witness in the United States and abroad. During the past several years, the drug has been at the forefront of the media and received much publicity due to several states axing their marijuana laws and regulating it similarly to how they regulate alcohol. With that being said, just because alcohol is a legal drug doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous.
While that topic is subjective, as many people will argue that marijuana isn’t as dangerous as alcohol, it does pose similar threats as alcohol. People drive under the influence, underage children use alcohol while their brains are still developing, and the substance causes many major health problems.
In 1996, California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in a measure known as Prop 215. The measure wasn’t without its controversies. Many people believed the laws were too relaxed and that anyone, healthy or sick, could get a prescription for the drug and visit one of the infamous shops. In 2012, Colorado and Washington state became the first to legalize the drug for recreational use. Fast forward to today, many states across the country have followed suit and submitted their own proposals for legalization or followed through. For some, this is a revolutionary point in history. However, for others, it’s a pivotal moment that could shape our future, and not for the better.
Marijuana Is Still an Illegal Drug in the U.S.
Although weed is legal in 16 states, it’s still federally illegal and considered a Schedule I drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), along with LSD and heroin. Despite its mixed reputation, half of it being “non-addictive,” it is still seen as having a high potential for abuse. According to Psycom, cannabis use disorders (CUDs) are often associated with dependence, meaning a person will experience withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug. When dependence and other factors lead to CUD, a person won’t stop the drug unless it interferes with their life. An estimated 9 percent of those who use the drug will become dependent on it. These rates increase when it’s used by teenagers.
However, the primary question many grapple with is, “Is marijuana addictive?” According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction can occur. An estimated 30 percent of those who use the drug have some degree of marijuana use disorder. To expand upon the facts above, those who use the drug before they turn 18 years old are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder. In 2015, an estimated 4 million people met the criteria for marijuana use disorder in the United States, with 138,000 voluntarily seeking treatment.
It can lead you to wonder if there are any alternatives to weed. If so, what are some health marijuana substitutes? We’ll answer those questions and more below.
How Weed Works
According to NIDA, weed works by acting on natural cannabinoid receptors in our brain. These natural chemicals are responsible for regulating our thoughts, feelings of pleasure, appetite, concentration, pain, and memory. Cannabinoids found in weed are also related to the THC in the substance. They’re responsible for the intoxicating effects produced when the substance is smoked or ingested orally.
Weed is commonly used to treat nausea associated with chemotherapy, increase the appetite, influence muscle control problems, and reduce pain and inflammation. Another variation of the drug, known as CBD, is also a cannabinoid that does not produce a high like THC, which is the active ingredient in weed. CBD products are not practical for recreational use because they don’t cause any intoxicating effects. It’s primarily used to control seizures, treat pain, and reduce inflammation.
Signs of Weed Addiction
Weed addiction is classified in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5), which uses specific criteria to determine someone’s pattern of behavior. The criteria include the following:
- Weed is taken often and used in larger amounts than intended.
- There’s a persistent desire, coupled with an unsuccessful effort, to slow down or stop using weed.
- The individual invests a lot of time obtaining or using the drug or recovering from its effects.
- The individual has Cravings or an overwhelming desire to use weed.
- Recurrent weed use leads to failure in fulfilling role obligations at school, work, or home.
- Weed use continues despite the persistent or recurrent interpersonal or social problems that weed’s effects cause.
- There is tolerance, which is defined by an increase of weed to achieve desired effects, or a diminished effect with continued use of the same amount.
- Withdrawal, which is when the drug is used to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Weed is a more addictive drug than it’s made out to be, and if you’ve been using it for a prolonged period, it may be time for an alternative.
Are Alternatives to Weed Available?
Fortunately, some alternatives to marijuana exist if you’re concerned about addiction or you’re recovering from it. Many of these treat the same symptoms and conditions as weed, so considering some plants, herbs, and over-the-counter medication may be vital in keeping you healthy.
Natural plants and herbs have earned their respect in the medical community and been used for centuries to treat conditions or supplement your health. Some herbs contain cannabinoids that act on the same receptors as weed, providing similar sought-out relief. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health offers information about natural substances used to treat similar symptoms and conditions for which weed may be desired. While some are highly effective for people, risks are involved. There isn’t conclusive research on some of these substances.
Below are some health marijuana substitutes, including the following:
- Hemp: Even though hemp is a form of cannabis Sativa, state laws indicate it must have below 0.3 percent THC, resulting in zero psychoactive effects. Smoking the hemp flower as a marijuana alternative allows you to receive the taste and smell you’re used to with weed without its psychoactive effects. It eliminates chemical dependency, but it doesn’t provide any relief for pain or inflammation and can be harmful due to the smoke.
- Herbal cigarettes: Similar to CBD cigarettes, herbal cigarettes smoke identical to a standard cigarette. Instead of tobacco or marijuana, they’re packed with jasmine, corn silk, licorice root, lotus leaf, and others. It allows you to smoke without worrying about chemical dependence. However, smoking anything is not good for your lungs.
- Ginger: Ginger is a great weed substitution that helps with nausea. It’s been used to treat upset stomachs for centuries. It can be made into a tea or eaten raw. It’s much safer than smoking and has no severe side effects. However, it may interact with blood thinners.
- Valerian root: This plant is available as an herbal supplement to treat anxiety or insomnia. However, evidence linked to it is inconsistent and may cause dizziness, itching, headaches, or an upset stomach.
- Kava-kava: This substance can produce a sense of calm, relieve stress, and ease anxiety. However, it has been linked to the risk of liver disease, which is worsened when used with alcohol.
- Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: These are two common over-the-counter pain relievers that aren’t addictive. Since treating pain is the objective of medical marijuana, these pain relievers can be substituted for and reduced.
- Anti-nausea medications: These are prescription drugs like Zofran, which are used to treat nausea. It’s a safer alternative than potentially becoming addicted to marijuana.
We encourage you to explore weed substitutes. However, before doing so, you must speak with your primary care physician to determine if these drugs are safe to mix with anything you’re taking.