Cannabis provides many benefits, yet stigmas imply that people can fall prey to marijuana addiction. Much to the dissatisfaction of cannabis advocates, users can indeed develop what is known as marijuana use disorder. Below, we discuss its causes, symptoms, and how to get marijuana addiction help and marijuana addiction treatment.
Is Marijuana Addictive?
We’re talking about cannabis here. The term “marijuana” carries a negative connotation and implies high levels of THC. While the plant is not physically addictive, mental addiction can occur for almost any substance, including cannabis– a phenomenon generally known as “habit-forming” or “dependence” and, in the case of cannabis: cannabis-dependence.
Our bodies are complex systems that constantly produce various chemicals. We also possess an endocannabinoid system that is constantly regulating our mood, appetite, memory, sense of pain, cognitive function, and more. Our body produces endocannabinoids similar to the cannabinoids found in cannabis.
Taking cannabinoids from external sources isn’t necessarily bad in fact it can assist our body in achieving homeostasis), but these sources affect the body’s endogenous production of endocannabinoids. It is possible that dependence can stem from the body recognizing a constant external supply of cannabinoids and, subsequently downregulating its endogenous production– making it “depend” on the exogenous input like ingesting cannabis.
Fortunately, the body can properly regulate itself again after an extended break from cannabis use. Importantly, any cognitive impairments noticed when under the grips of marijauan addiction, such as short term memory loss, can return in as few as three days of abstinence.
Ultimately, addiction stems from a repeated habit. If these habits lead to negative consequences, then this is a sign of addiction. A common result of an addiction is the difficulty to break the habit, even if the person is aware of the negative consequences. The true differentiator is whether or not there are physical withdrawal symptoms. Given that cannabis does not necessarily cause serious physical side-effects following cessation, marijuana addiction is more so of a psychological addiction, which is why the phenomenon was termed “Marijuana Use Disorder”.
Psychological addiction stems from a hijacking of the brain’s reward mechanism. Satisfying a craving triggers the release of neurochemicals related to reward, much in the same way as when receiving a prize upon completing a task. If the cravings become too strong, the brain may be distracted from more important tasks. This creates a feedback loop encouraging the brain to repeatedly satisfy the craving, often requiring more of the substance to achieve the same reward.
What is Marijuana Use Disorder?
Medical professionals typically refer to cannabis use disorder or cannabis withdrawal rather than cannabis addiction. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists eleven symptoms for cannabis use disorder. Two or more of these marijuana addiction symptoms can lead to a diagnosis:
Marijuana addiction symptoms
- Cannabis is consumed more frequently than intended.
- There is a desire to decrease use, yet attempts have failed.
- Seeking out or recovering from cannabis wastes significant time.
- The feeling of strong cravings.
- Cannabis use is interfering with responsibilities of life.
- Recurring social issues due to cannabis use.
- Cannabis use causes a decrease in important activities.
- Use of cannabis in physically hazardous environments
- Continued use despite awareness of physical or psychological problems.
- Tolerance is developed to require the same effect.
- Decreasing use leads to withdrawals.
The hallmark of these marijuana addiction symptoms is interference with life responsibilities. They demonstrate that an individual is prioritizing substance use over activities important for their livelihood.
Given the criteria above, roughly 30% of cannabis consumers may have some form of cannabis use disorder. While it is difficult to determine precise numbers, only a small percentage of these users develop marijuana addiction.
Other disorders found in DSM-5 related to cannabis include:
- Cannabis intoxication
- Cannabis intoxication delirium
- Cannabis-induced psychotic disorder
- Cannabis-induced anxiety disorder
- Cannabis-induced sleep disorder
What Causes Marijuana Use Disorder?
Every person has an endocannabinoid system, which creates endocannabinoids to help regulate a wide variety of health-related issues. Use of cannabinoids from cannabis will inevitably affect the balance of the endocannabinoid system. This affects the body’s production of endocannabinoids. As discussed above, your body will try and keep the total level of endogenous cannabinoids at levels appropriate for homeostasis. If the body is regularly receiving cannabinoids from outside the body, then it will adjust its internal production of cannabinoids, making a user feel a need to continue ingesting cannabis.
Addiction can be viewed as an extreme case of marijuana use disorder. For this reason, cannabis addiction and marijuana use disorder have similar causes. Systemic changes in the endocannabinoid system, like with the adjustments for exogenous input defined above, and how this interacts with the brain may be the most likely cause.
Believe it or not, your DNA can help determine the likelihood of addiction. 40-60% of addictive behavior stems from genetics. Researchers identified the following genes to have an association with cannabis dependence: CNR1, FAAH and AVCB1. When individuals have specific variants at these genes, they showed an increased odds of developing a marijuana addiction.
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The Strain Genie Cannabis Health Report contains a module that estimates the likelihood of cannabis dependence. By taking this Cannabis DNA test, you are able to see if you are at a genetic predisposition for cannabis dependence.
Marijuana Addiction Help & Marijuana Addiction Treatment
Acknowledging that dependence exists is often the first step to recovery. While cannabis can help many promote a healthy lifestyle, too much of anything is bad, especially if not being used for specific medical treatments. Taking periodic tolerance breaks is beneficial. However, for many, these simple steps are easier said than done.
Understanding the differences in cannabinoids can empower cannabis consumers to manage their cannabis use. For example, THC is more likely to cause cannabis-induced psychotic disorder, while CBD possesses antipsychotic properties.
If habitual use of THC leads to issues, switching to cannabis products high in CBD may help. CBD actually competes with THC for the same receptors in your endocannabinoid system. This means that ingesting CBD can actually satisfy the body’s need for exogenous cannabinoids, which would present themselves as “cravings”. This is a particularly attractive “substitution method” for marijuana addiction help, especially given the fact that CBD is non-psychotropic (i.e. it won’t get you high).
Using CBD Vapes or smoking CBD Flower can also help with the need to satisfy an oral fixation that typically accompanies dependence on chemicals that are inhaled. While this may not satisfy the requirements of a marijuana addiction treatment, since you are still consuming cannabis, it can certainly assist with some of the deleterious and life-impacting side-effects that accompany dependence on THC.
Cannabis addiction is like many other forms of addiction. As such, conventional treatment plans such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, or biofeedback theory can help treat cannabis addiction.
If you need marijuana addiction help or are looking for marijuana addiction treatment, you can easily find support groups and/or therapists to assist with the struggle of sobriety using a local resource like Recovery.org