Every potentially addictive substance has its own particular stages of addiction that are peculiar to that substance. With alcohol, there are several stages that begin with increased tolerance and increasing capacity for consumption, and end with chronic symptoms, such as the shakes, delirium, suicidal thoughts, and eventually death. Heroin can lead the addict through similar stages, with different physical effects, but the same ending result. The difficulty with marijuana, however, is due to its own particular kind of addictive properties.
There is very little evidence to support an argument for a physical addiction to this drug. That’s not to say it is not addictive at all, because the numbers show that it absolutely is, but in a different way than many other drugs, because of the lack of physically addictive properties. With marijuana, the addiction is more on the lines of a mental and emotional plane than a physical one. This makes it much harder to gauge in terms of stages, because everybody is different, mentally and emotionally, and not everyone responds to its effects in quite the same way.
Generally speaking, it hits the pleasure centers in the brain, so it does alter the physical chemistry in a rather significant way. The response on the part of the user is usually one of euphoria, the high, and this can last for a few hours. Those who have been using the drug for a long period of time do demonstrate an increase in amount and frequency of use, but beyond that, it’s difficult to determine any precise stages where the line is being crossed from casual user to addict.
In this regard, then, the most reasonable way to approach it is to look at it as one would any other addiction. The stages here would be, again, on an emotional and mental plane. The beginning stages would be experimentation, where the user is trying it out to see what the effects are like. This can move into more frequent casual use, where the user begins to think about it obsessively, when they are smoking it or not. That is one of the red flags that indicate an addiction is starting, and it’s hard to measure because those who are addicted will usually deny it, even to themselves. The next phase, then, would be constant, chronic use, at which point a physical dependency, rather than an addiction, begins, and the well-being depends upon use of the drug.
These are, of course, very difficult to measure, and can only be honestly assessed by the smoker on their own. However, if the lives of those around them are being affected, then there is simply an addictive behavior happening, and if it’s putting anyone in danger, it’s certainly time to take action and get help.