Cannabis is generally regarded as a safe product for recreational or medical use. Yet while cannabis is reasonably safe to use, it does come with certain risks, and it can even be addictive in some cases. Cannabis addiction has a negative impact on physical and mental wellbeing, and it can be harmful for work and study performance as well as relationships. That’s why this blog explores the definition of addiction, and how cannabis use can sometimes become an addictive habit.
Characteristics Of Addiction
Since marijuana is considered a ‘soft’, ‘class B’, or even legal drug in an increasing number of countries, it is often viewed as relatively harmless for consumers. Its effects are milder than those of many ‘harder’ drugs, and it has less harmful consequences for the body and mind. Still, cannabis can prove to be addictive in its own unique way. Such addictions relate to the biochemical compounds in cannabis known as cannabinoids.
In substance addiction, the longing for a certain substance disrupts regular everyday life. It has negative consequences for relationship and work or school performance. Dependence on the substance becomes so great that quitting becomes impossible, even if you want to quit at some level.
Addiction can be divided into three stages that keep repeating in cycles:
- Stage 1: Using the substance produces a reward, in this case a high, which causes dopamine levels to rise and produce deeply positive feelings. You want to use the substance again;
- Stage 2: You start to feel worse if you don’t use the substance. Withdrawal symptoms set in, such as feelings of anxiety and depression;
- Stage 3: Use of the substance is constantly on your mind, tempting you to do so and return to stage 1.
These three stages can observed in problematic cannabis use, too. Cases of addiction are characterised by physical and mental dependency on the substance.
Mental cannabis dependency generally only occurs after heavy use of weed; usually at least once a week and daily in most cases. Cravings for the substance become ever more intense, and you feel unwell if you are unable to use it.
Cannabis addiction can also manifest as a physical phenomenon. If you don’t use the substance, withdrawal symptoms occur. The body feels as though it cannot manage without cannabis. Addictive cannabis symptoms are usually mild compared to most other addictions.
How Addictive Is Cannabis?
There are many substances that can cause addiction, as ubiquitous products such as alcohol, sugar, or caffeine demonstrate. Since cannabis can influence both the brain and the body, it should not come as a surprise that this substance can be addictive, too. Still, many cannabis consumers deny flat out that their pastime can become addictive; especially in their own particular case, of course.
Nonetheless, we see heavy users who struggle to keep functioning in their daily lives. They have trouble eating regular meals, taking proper care of themselves, or holding on to their jobs. Research also shows that heavy users can experience withdrawal symptoms.
Another facet of cannabis use related to its addictive dimension is the possibility of tolerance buildup. People who light up on a daily basis may find that weed starts to lose its initial impact and effects over time. The body gets used to cannabis, so they need more to produce the same effects, or to notice any effect at all. This is another important indicator for the addictive potential of cannabis.
Anyone trying to quit an addictive substance or habit may experience withdrawal symptoms. Although these symptoms are mild in case of cannabis, they can still make its addictive potential uncomfortably clear:
- Difficulty falling asleep;
- Restlessness and anxiety;
- Reduced appetite;
- Bad moods.
These symptoms usually start the day after quitting cannabis use. They tend to peak on day two, and gradually subside after that. Cannabis withdrawal symptoms can last for up to two weeks, but they pose no real threat and they are less severe than those of other addictive substances such as nicotine or heroin.
Addictive Cannabis: Effects On The Brain
Just like other addictive substances, cannabis influences the brain’s reward system. Addiction changes the way in which the brain processes stress, self-control, and rewards. Actual cannabis addiction disrupts the part of the brain that governs attention, concentration, planning, and decision making (the so-called executive functions).
Addiction also affects self-regulation: our ability to control our inner urges, emotions, cognitions, and behaviours. In cannabis addiction, the craving for weed can interfere with our decision-making, our emotions, and our thoughts. That is not always a good thing: clearly, deciding to use cannabis instead of going to work or school, or paying your mom a long-overdue visit, can get you in trouble fast.
When cannabis becomes addictive, it can also degrade your response to stressful situations. In potentially dangerous situations, stress levels normally rise, triggering the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Long-term use of cannabis can suppress cortisol secretion, which reduces basic alertness.
In stressful situations, cortisol is a very useful hormone that unlocks energy reserves and raises alertness. It’s not hard to see how inadequate stress responses can lead to dangerous situations in real life.
Who Is Most At Risk Of Cannabis Addiction?
Now that you know cannabis can be addictive, you may wonder if certain people are more at risk than others. It helps to know that addiction risk involves multiple factors including genetic predisposition, the environment in which we live, socioeconomic status, and lifestyle.
In spite of these demographics, however, young people seem to be particularly at risk when it comes to the addictive potential of cannabis. Experimenting with marijuana before the age of sixteen seems to be particularly risky. In addition, people who already struggle with other addictions (such as alcohol) are more at risk. Moreover, people with existing mood disorders such as depression are also more vulnerable to addiction problems.
What If Cannabis Becomes An Addictive Habit?
So what can you do if you think you may be addicted to cannabis? We would advise you first of all to take your problem seriously and to seek professional help. Several therapeutic interventions have proven successful, including cognitive behavioural therapy, which can help reduce the compulsory impulse to use cannabis. Other forms of psychotherapy including systemic therapy can also prove helpful.
Of course, trying to quit or cut down on cannabis use is also an option, as long as you have the mental fortitude and discipline to do so. Temporary tolerance breaks can also be a solution: not using cannabis for about a month will drastically reduce your body’s tolerance to the substance, making you less dependent while decreasing the amount of weed you need to reach the intended effect.
Another important tip is to talk about your cannabis use with people you trust, such as close friends or family members. Keeping cannabis habits secret or taboo makes it harder to do something about it. You could also decide to talk to your doctor for professional advice, as they may be able to refer you to the best experts in addiction care.
Whatever you do, though, always make sure you stay responsible while enjoying cannabis. Moderation is always a wise approach, and you will notice that cannabis becomes more enjoyable if you use it sporadically rather than chronically. And since Amsterdam Genetics is all about premium quality cannabis, we would advise anyone to go for the kind of quality experiences you get when you know how much is too much!