Over the last decade, the use of marijuana has grown popular across various countries and so brings the never-ending debate of whether marijuana is healthy or not. On one hand there are progressive cannabis supporters looking at the health benefits of it while on the other hand of this ever-growing divide are people who fear cannabis addiction. What we need to understand is that marijuana is a substance that shouldn’t be creating this divide but embracing both sides.
Marijuana is a substance that contains a component called THC (9-delta-tetrahydrocannabinol) which generally is what causes the pleasurable and soothing effect and increase in appetite when one smokes marijuana.
Marijuana as a substance in itself has shown to have medicinal properties especially in relieving pain and increasing appetite. Medicinal marijuana is used for cancer patients in some parts of the world in order to ease the pain and to help them maintain a healthy appetite. Marijuana is also said to enhance certain aspects of cognition such as imagination and creativity which may help some people produce work with better quality. In most ways, marijuana has a lot more herbal properties that other addictive substances like alcohol and caffeine don’t.
However, even though marijuana does not have a significant addictive property (psychological or physical), and even though it can take a really long-time using marijuana to get you addicted, cannabis dependency is not as rare as we think.
Anything that you are unable to do in moderation, to stop when you need to, and anything that interferes with your daily functioning is something that borders on addiction. Dependence on marijuana happens when people build up a tolerance for the it the more and more they use it and need more and more of it to experience the same effect as they did before. The brain may become resistant to the effects of the drug in an effort to protect itself, so that next time the person uses the drug, it doesn’t have as strong an effect. In order to feel the same high, the person has to take larger and larger doses which there is a possibility of happening.
Most marijuana users never let their smoking become a problem. They don’t meet people high or drive high or go to work high. They don’t normally have marijuana on them to get caught or ever be on the radar. Even people who are dependent on the drug can manage to use it daily and suffer from withdrawal if they tried to quit but still remain functional.
The bottom line to addiction is if the drug disrupts your psychosocial functioning, your work life, and your personal interactions and relationships enough where people start to see changes in your personality because of it. That is what is called a substance use disorder.
Unlike opiate misuse, which can set in fairly quickly with heavy use, marijuana misuse can take months or even years to develop. A user might not immediately realize that they’ve even crossed the line into addiction.
A lot of marijuana users are able to think rationally about it but can very often tend to rationalize the continued use despite it having adverse effects on their lives. They may rationalize using it after work to relax and to show that they were productive 80% of the day so the marijuana use is not affecting anything else. They may not admit to themselves or talk about it with others the impact that it’s actually having on their thought processes, their emotions, their personalities, their habits, their lives. So, they get stuck in that cycle and never seem to want to come out.
Marijuana dependency can play out in different ways because marijuana is a drug that is extremely adaptive to personality styles. The personality that you have will determine the way and the circumstances that you use the drug in. If you’re an anxious person, you will smoke to relax which will help temporarily but once the tolerance sets in, you will find yourself doing more to relieve that anxiety and find that the anxiety only comes back worse.
If you are a paranoid person in general, it is possible that marijuana enhances that aspect of your personality and turns it into general psychosis. Studies have shown heavy marijuana users to have underlying mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or schizophrenia. Marijuana withdrawal also has shown to cause depression and anxiety in many users.
Depending on the type of use, marijuana can also impair cognitive processes such as memory, judgment, information processing, and decision-making by slowing down the thought processes and the processing and registration of the same. The more frequent the use becomes, the more these neural pathways are weakened and neural plasticity may occur through long-term conditioning.
While marijuana is a lot less harmful than other substances and is rarely addictive, dependency is not impossible and can cause significant changes in your life depending on the type of user that you are. Most importantly, marijuana use can aggravate any mental illness that you may be prone to even if it helps in relieving physical stress. So, while marijuana use in itself is not significantly harmful, it is highly important to be alert and aware of your use and its effects on your brain, body, and life.