When asked if cannabis addiction is real, Paul Spanjar, owner of the Providence Project in Bournemouth, UK, had this to say:
“When people think of addiction, they often get caught up in the idea that the substance or behaviour is the cause, this isn’t true at all. Addiction is a phenomena independent of alcohol, drugs or behaviours such as gambling. They are nothing more than coping mechanisms, and cannabis is no different. Cannabis is often seen as a light drug compared with other “harder” substances, but that’s not the point, this belief might prevent people from seeking treatment for cannabis.”
Addiction is defined as a compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance or behaviour. As a form of mental illness, addiction is associated with stigma, this stigma is what makes labelling cannabis a lighter substance that is not as addictive as other illegal substances easier, but addiction doesn’t work that way, addiction doesn’t know or care about the substance, it’s the effects on your brains’ reward centres and how to achieve that feeling again, so if cannabis triggers that dopamine rise then you can become addicted to it.
As one of the most abused substances after alcohol and nicotine, cannabis use has risen, whilst the perceived risk of addiction has decreased, unfortunately, the rise in use has also increased the instances of Cannabis Use Disorder amongst adults and adolescents.
According to this years’ United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC)’s World Drug Report released in June, the percentage of adolescents who perceived cannabis as a harmful drug has dropped by as much as 40%, whilst the potency of cannabis has more than quadrupled.
The link between teen cannabis use & addiction
Early (adolescent) exposure to illicit substances (eg cannabis, club drugs) is believed to play a significant role in addiction formation in adults, add to this the role genetics, environment, trauma and existing mental health issues and the risk of long-term dependence or addiction to cannabis rises in our communities. The intergenerational consequences of a softened attitude towards cannabis use in families with a predisposition towards Cannabis Use Disorders are starting to become evident within our communities and there has been a rise in persons seeking treatment for cannabis addiction.
From opiate use to cannabis use
Due to the risk of opiate addiction, many people turn to medical cannabis as an alternative in their pain management regime, whilst this has been life-changing for many chronic pain sufferers, the assumption that it is harmless due to being ‘natural’ is risky as long term use leads to dependency on the way cannabinoids act on the brain that can cause negative reactions when absent.
What makes cannabis addictive is how the blend of both THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) affect a person’s body and its adherence to the cannabinoid system within the brain, THC is the substance that causes the ‘high’ and is believed to be what creates the potential for addiction because of its psychoactive properties,) whilst CBD often promotes feelings of relaxation current scientific evidence suggests that CBD by itself does not appear to be addictive.
Signs & symptoms of cannabis addiction
There are signs that your or a loved one’s use of cannabis has led to addiction:
- A need for increasingly larger amounts more regularly.
- More time will be spent thinking about using or how to acquire cannabis.
- Cannabis use will begin to take a central role in your life.
- More time and money is spent acquiring cannabis – even to the detriment of other responsibilities.
- Feeling irritable or agitated if you run out, as well as exhibiting signs of withdrawal between doses such as:
- Decreased appetite
- Nausea & stomach pains
- As negative consequences mount, you will continue to use it as a form of self-medication to avoid the reality of your dependence.
The impact of chronic cannabis use on the brain
Chronic users of cannabis often experience impaired mental function, such as memory loss, trouble concentrating, decreased problem-solving skills, low emotional control and decision making difficulties. There may also be an associated dissatisfaction in their relationships, careers and even education. Chronic use of cannabis has also been linked to a likelihood of unemployment by choice and an increase in existing mental health issues.
Whilst there are contributing factors, regular use of cannabis can increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, or a similar psychotic illness.
Whatever your stance on cannabis is, addiction in any form should be treated seriously. Cannabis addiction is a form of drug addiction or dependence, and just like any form of substance abuse, it rarely goes away without treatment.