Can you develop an addiction to cannabis? In a word: yes. Though cannabis isn’t physically addictive, it’s possible to develop a mental addiction to most substances, including those derived from the cannabis plant. When you experience a psychological addiction to cannabis, the condition is known as a marijuana use disorder, a dependency that’s easy to develop if you don’t know what causes it.
How a Marijuana Use Disorder Starts
Cannabis produces an effect because of its interactions with your endocannabinoid system (ECS), a neuromodulatory network that’s in each of our bodies. By producing endocannabinoids that react with CB1 and CB2 receptors, the ECS helps regulate your mood, appetite, pain levels, and cognitive functioning. These endocannabinoids work very similarly to phytocannabinoids like CBD and THC, and they play a crucial role in your well-being, although physicians and researchers are just starting to focus on them.
What experts currently know is that the ECS is malleable. It uses both endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids to create balance within your body, and it achieves this homeostasis by adjusting itself according to the total amount of cannabinoids that are present. Consequently, if your body regularly receives a supply of phytocannabinoids, it will reduce its production of endocannabinoids, making you rely upon that external supply. This is how you develop a marijuana use disorder.
This condition is recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which considers a disorder to be present when a person’s substance use starts to interfere with their daily life. Addiction is essentially born out of repeated habit; the moment that habit results in negative repercussions (e.g. missing work) is the same moment you show the first sign of addiction.
Also, contrary to popular belief, physical withdrawal symptoms aren’t a prerequisite for addiction. While stopping cannabis consumption is unlikely to produce notable physical side effects, it can have a considerable psychological impact. A mental dependency is caused by rewiring your brain’s reward mechanism whereby satisfying cravings releases neurochemicals that you commonly associate with pleasure.
When the cravings become too strong, the brain loses its ability to concentrate on essential tasks, creating a feedback loop that encourages you to satiate those cravings before your brain can focus on anything else. What’s worse is that the amount of cannabis required to achieve satisfaction often increases over time.
What Are the Symptoms of a Marijuana Use Disorder?
The patterns of behavior which signal marijuana use disorder are easy to identify. According to the DSM, there are 11 symptoms, two or more of which can lead to a definite diagnosis:
- You consume cannabis more frequently than you intend.
- You wish to decrease your use of cannabis, but repeatedly fail to do so.
- The use of cannabis interferes with your day-to-day responsibilities.
- You frequently waste time, seeking or recovering from the effects of cannabis.
- Using cannabis causes social issues.
- You regularly experience intense cravings.
- Using cannabis causes you to neglect essential activities.
- You use cannabis in hazardous environments.
- Tolerance necessitates using more substantial amounts of cannabis to produce the same effect.
- You are aware of physical or psychological problems, yet continue to use cannabis.
- Reducing use results in withdrawal symptoms.
If you identify with one or more of these symptoms, finding out if you have a genetic predisposition for marijuana use disorder could give you a valuable opportunity to overcome that predisposition before you inadvertently worsen the condition’s effects. But can genetics really tell you how likely you are to experience this mental dependency?
Can Genetics Determine Your Risk of Developing a Marijuana Use Disorder?
A number of factors, including genetics, can make you more susceptible to developing a marijuana use disorder. Recent research on the genetic components of dependency has extended to examining factors that could facilitate a dependence on marijuana, including a 2016 paper that successfully linked certain genetic variations to marijuana dependency.
In a further study, cannabis users were genotyped to check for two specific genetic variations associated with dependency. Significant behavioral differences were seen between users who had these variations and those who did not, suggesting that it is possible to determine the genetic factors that could expedite the development of a marijuana use disorder.
This insight creates the opportunity to screen marijuana users and check for those genetic factors, giving people an opportunity to modify their behavior before the condition takes root.
How to Overcome a Genetic Predisposition for Marijuana Use Disorder
While modifying consumption habits may seem daunting to any regular user of cannabis, there are two simple ways that you can overcome a predisposition for marijuana use disorder:
1. Be More Mindful of Your Behavior
The first step to overcoming a predisposition for marijuana use disorder is knowing that you have one. The second is appropriately adjusting your behavior.
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If you know that you’re potentially more inclined to abuse cannabis, look out for the reasons that you’ll likely use to rationalize why you need more marijuana. The key to mindful consumption is to only use cannabis when you believe it’s going to give you the benefits you initially sought. When that ceases to be the case, it’s time to reduce your usage.
2. Take a Tolerance Break
If you want to avoid a marijuana use disorder, one of the most effective courses of action is to take tolerance breaks to allow your ECS to reset and return to its own endogenous balance. This strategy is particularly useful for users who consume cannabis habitually, many of whom don’t receive the intended benefits anymore and may find that the benefits they do receive are outweighed by the negatives.
To take even more precaution, you can also flush all of phytocannabinoids from your system by practicing an extended tolerance break. Drug tests can detect marijuana up to 25-days after consumption in chronic users, meaning it will take regular users at least that long to completely rid themselves of THC and reignite their body’s natural production of endocannabinoids.
But if going cold turkey is too difficult for you, an effective compromise would be for you to consume only CBD during your tolerance breaks. Many people smoke CBD flower to reduce their THC consumption, and if they do crave THC during their tolerance break, they only consume a small dose in conjunction with their CBD.
Preventing a Marijuana Use Disorder
All cannabis users should be mindful of their consumption, but those with a predisposition for developing a dependency should be especially conscious. Genetic testing provides an excellent opportunity to understand your body and the conditions you’re likely to develop. By finding out if you have a genetic predisposition for marijuana use disorder, you can take the right steps to take care of your body and mental health.