Weed, marijuana, pot, or ganja – the drug derived from the cannabis Sativa or cannabis indica plant goes by many names. Its mind-altering chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) makes it popular not only for recreation but also as a prescription of medical marijuana by a growing number of doctors for specific medical conditions and symptoms. Weed is often dubbed a “gateway drug” to the “harder stuff” but it is its addictiveness that is the most debated and misjudged.
Can you, stop when you want to?
“People assume weed isn’t addictive because they know “other people” who have experimented with joints and bongs without any serious consequences or immediate tragedy. But if you know that the chemicals released during the combustion process make smoking tobacco harmful, why do you think smoking weed would be any different?,” explains Dr. BR Madhukar, Medical Director, Cadabams Group.
Like other drugs, marijuana dependence can lead to physiological marijuana dependence, a distinct withdrawal syndrome, and trouble in your social, professional and personal life. Studies show that 1 in 10 adults who use weed can get addicted. Your chances go up to 1 in 6 if you use it before age 18. It might be as high as 1 in 2 among those who use it every day. Recent data suggest that 30% of those who use weed may have some degree of marijuana use disorder. Experts are still investigating why some people become addicted while others don’t.
Unfortunately, the lack of immediate consequences of weed addiction and the softened attitudes of and towards people who use marijuana often results in a long and slow decline, possibly without recognition. You might start smoking weed as a social activity or to help avoid negative experiences like insomnia, anxiety, or depression. Then it becomes a “way to relax after a long day” till you need to use it long term and your life start revolving entirely around weed. Isolation from friends and family, loss of interest and lack of participation in those activities that used to bring joy, and the crushing weight of missed opportunities add up. [Life with Hope, 3rd Ed.].
When your life starts revolving around cannabis
Long-term marijuana use often leads to a significant physical dependence on the drug and your body starts relying on the presence of the drug to function normally or you might feel withdrawal symptoms like irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, and/or restlessness without it. This happens because exposure to large amounts of weed makes your brain adapt by reducing production and sensitivity to its endocannabinoid receptors. You feel the need to start using weed again to stop feeling this way, which only ends up intensifying your dependence on the drug.
This dependence often develops alongside tolerance where you have to use an increased quantity of the drug or use it more frequently to achieve the pleasurable feeling marijuana provided in the past. Since not everyone who develops marijuana dependence will necessarily start using it compulsively, dependence or withdrawal is not enough to make a diagnosis of CUD but they still are harbingers of a future substance use disorder.
Ganja Addiction: What should you be looking out for?
While people are living with certain medical conditions that use weed to alleviate pain and others who can have a healthy and responsible relationship with weed, there is no debate that weed is both physiologically and psychologically addictive. While the only way to not get addicted to weed is by never using it in the first place, you can lower your risk by using it only on specific days and by avoiding it in adolescence.
If you find yourself using weed almost every day and are unable to give up on weed even when it starts hindering your social, professional, and personal life, you might have to worry about CUD. A combination of cannabis abuse and dependence in the DSM-5, Cannabis Use Disorder is a problematic pattern of cannabis use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.
Some warning signs are:
- Cannabis is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
- There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control cannabis use.
- A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain cannabis, use cannabis, or recover from its effects.
- Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use cannabis.
- Recurrent cannabis use results in failure to fulfill role obligations at work, school, or home.
- Continued cannabis use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of cannabis.
- Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of cannabis use.
- Recurrent cannabis use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
- Cannabis use continues despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by cannabis.
- Tolerance, as defined by either: (1) a need for markedly increased cannabis to achieve intoxication or desired effect or (2) a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.
- Withdrawal, as manifested by either (1) the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for cannabis or (2) cannabis is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
What if you have Cannabis Use Disorder?
We know it’s scary, especially because it is illegal and not a topic you can bring up with everyone but you can reach out to us and we will hear you out and help you get sober with complete confidentiality and anonymity and no legal repercussions. We firmly believe that anyone who experiences marijuana dependence should receive support from those who understand that addiction is a medical condition, not a personal or moral failure. We encourage you to view it in that light because there is scope for recovery.
There are behavioral interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational incentives (providing rewards for abstinence) and a 12-step program specifically for marijuana users (Marijuana Anonymous) that have proven effective in treatment and rehab for CUD by facilitating a change in thoughts and behaviors that make it hard to quit.