IS CANNABIS / MARIJUANA ADDICTION REAL?
In short, yes. You can get addicted to cannabis/marijuana.
It’s understandable why that can be a surprise to people. Marijuana/cannabis gets a lot of good press; there’s a small industry of think pieces devoted to the substance’s alleged benefits. It’s also a substance gradually being pushed towards legalization. Also, unlike a lot of other addictive substances, cannabis/marijuana is often the subject of humor.
To be sure, cannabis isn’t lethal like opioids. It doesn’t have the social costs of alcohol, and it’s not associated with crime and violence drugs like cocaine and meth are.
But like every other psychoactive drug, it’s possible to develop a dependency on cannabis. “Wake and bake” is a pretty accurate description of cannabis use disorder. Wake up, use, get through the day, use again, repeat.
Drug and alcohol abuse is often less about substances and more about behaviors. Cannabis can create the same compulsive path of every other substance … along with the potential to turn someone’s life upside down.
Is It Called Cannabis Or Marijuana?
“Cannabis” is the genus name of a family of green, flowering psychoactive plants. Three varieties of cannabis, Sativa, Indica, and ruderalis, are psychoactive. Originating from central and southern Asia, this leafy, green plant has been used as medicine, in religious practices, and recreationally for millennia.
As for marijuana, well … in most cases “cannabis” and “marijuana” are used interchangeably. The origins of the word “marijuana” are unclear and come with a fair amount of social baggage. Plus, cannabis is the official name. So, in the interests of credibility and accuracy, we’ll stick with calling it cannabis.
Who Uses Cannabis?
After alcohol and tobacco, cannabis is the most widely consumed drug in the United States. According to the most recent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) survey, over 48 million Americans reported using it during the past year. Not bad for a substance that’s still federally illegal, despite being legal in many states.
Dig deeper, and you can see some alarming trends. Cannabis use among teens and younger adults had been in decline for a while … until 2019. That year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported a “significant increase” in daily cannabis use. For example, almost 36% of the 12 graders they polled said they used cannabis in the past year. Also, nearly 4% of 12 graders said they vaped cannabis every day.
Although more studies need to be done, it’s generally thought the effects of cannabis are particularly harmful to developing brains. Research shows our brains aren’t fully developed until the age of 25.
How Does Cannabis Work?
The active ingredient in cannabis is called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and is more commonly known by its abbreviation THC. Unlike better-known CBD (cannabidiol), another active ingredient in cannabis, THC is psychoactive, meaning it changes a person’s mental state.
Cannabis is generally smoked, although it can also be consumed orally and even via topical ointments. Once THC is in the bloodstream, it attaches itself to receptors in our cells. In turn, this disrupts the normal functioning of the nervous system, producing the effects users are seeking.
In THC’s case, users experience a sense of relaxation and sometimes, euphoria. Some other effects include an increased appetite (a reason cannabis is often used by people undergoing chemotherapy), increased sensory perception, and other effects.
Like other addictive drugs, THC also causes the body’s reward system to release the neurotransmitter dopamine. In regular use over time, this can rewire the brain to believe it needs the substance to function properly.
For some, too much THC can be unpleasant and even frightening. High doses can create feelings of anxiety and even hallucinations. These are temporary, and to date, there have been no fatal overdoses from THC.
That’s not to say cannabis is risk-free, however.
What Are The Risks Of Cannabis Use?
Smoking cannabis involves many of the same health risks smoking tobacco has. As for dangers specific to the drug itself, well … that’s less easy to say.
Studies have shown THC can produce anxiety and even psychotic effects at higher doses … and yet CBD may function as an antipsychotic. Other studies have shown cannabis may have other harmful psychological effects, too. Furthermore, while there are concerns about drugged driving and the role cannabis may play in it, the data is simply not clear enough at this point.
Finally, NIDA reports cannabis may indeed act as a “gateway drug” in some cases.
Ultimately, the jury is still out, and more work needs to be done. What is understood, though, are the risks of compulsive behavior around a substance. When drug use takes over a person’s life, both they and the people around them suffer. Addiction, even to a substance like cannabis, can upend a person’s life, damage their careers and reputation, and drive a wedge into their relationships.
Fortunately, cannabis use disorder is also relatively easy to treat. Without the strong withdrawal effects of opioids, tranquilizers, and stimulants, patients can focus more on learning to live life and interact with the world without the insulation of cannabis.
Have we answered your questions?
If not, just ask!
We are available for support 24/7.