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Is Cannabis Addictive?

Oct 13, 2020 10:49:00 AM

The question of whether or not cannabis is addictive is one that has been at the forefront of society since the days of Reefer Madness and other anti-cannabis propaganda. The level of villainy placed on marijuana is almost comical in its accuracy. There is nothing comical however in the numerous people who have faced charges for nonviolent marijuana-related crimes. It should go without saying that cannabis is nothing like the horrible drug it was painted to be so many years ago. This beautiful plant continues to help many people treat conditions where other medications have fallen short. As much as it has been proven that cannabis is anything but what a schedule one narcotic represents, there are still those who believe that cannabis is highly addictive. This is a debate that is difficult to tackle because of how people view addiction and habitual behavior, so it isn’t as cut and dry as we would hope. 

What is addiction?

The basic dictionary definition classifies addiction as a compulsive, chronic, physiological, or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects typically causing well-defined symptoms such as anxiety irritability, tremors, or nausea upon withdrawal or abstinence. Addiction is also accompanied by;

  • An inability to stop despite health or social problems.
  • Excess consumption and/or increased doses.
  • Denial that there is a problem.
  • The dependence on the substance causing financial difficulties. 
  • Physical withdrawal symptoms like those mentioned above.

These definitions fall in line with any type of addiction and in fact, the term “marijuana addiction” isn’t clinically used because it isn’t addictive in the same ways as other substances. When people talk about dependency or “addiction” to cannabis, they often refer to Cannabis Use Disorder. Cannabis use disorder is defined by a series of symptoms or markers that are used to determine problematic cannabis consumption. These symptoms include;

  • Cannabis ingested in larger amounts for longer than the intended amount of time
  • A desire to quit or cut back paired with multiple unsuccessful attempts. 
  • Cravings for cannabis
  • Spending increased amounts of time working to obtain and consume cannabis
  • Problems as a result of cannabis use in the home or workplace. 
  • Continued use despite physical, social, or relationship problems as a result of cannabis. 
  • Increased tolerance to cannabis
  • Putting yourself or others in dangerous or high-risk situations to use cannabis
  • Withdrawal symptoms when abstaining from cannabis
  • Prioritizing cannabis use above other activities or a failure to participate in activities in favor of cannabis. 

This list of symptoms is notably broad and most cannabis consumers hit a few of these markers which could indicate mild cannabis use disorder, but the general use of these markers is to identify when someone has a serious problem with cannabis use. The idea that someone has a problem because they crave cannabis and have a high tolerance does not acknowledge the idea that people can and often do consume cannabis regularly and responsibly. Cannabis use disorder is real, but it is rare. 

Cannabis and addiction

While some people will form an unhealthy dependency on cannabis, that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily addictive. In fact, cannabis is often used as a substitute for stronger substances and can relieve some of the withdrawal symptoms of much harder and more addictive drugs. NCBI published an article on the evidence for the use of cannabis in opioid use disorder. There is a growing body of research showing that cannabis use decreases opioid dependency. Several studies have shown that opioid consumption and dose escalation decrease when cannabis is introduced. In a review of this data, they found that patients who were on opioids for chronic pain and had access to cannabis decreased their opioid use by 40%-60%. This same article explains some of what we know of how cannabis is such a useful tool against the opioid epidemic. Addictive substances activate reward centers in our brain which is part of what makes people go back for more despite negative impacts in their lives. Research shows that CBD reduces the rewarding properties of many addictive drugs like cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines. Early clinical studies on CBD’s role in preventing relapse of people who had recently quit heroin found that CBD could reduce cravings for up to seven days. These findings could be groundbreaking in the fight against addiction. We have some evidence that cannabis is an exit drug for many people struggling with addiction in the states that have legalized recreational cannabis. The first states to legalize cannabis saw a 24% drop in fatal overdoses in the first year alone. 

Final Thoughts

When asked if cannabis is addictive, we wish we could provide a clear cut “yes or no” answer, but unfortunately, there are too many variables. It is irresponsible to advocate for marijuana legalization without acknowledging the risks. No two people will have the same experience and that is an important element to consider. A person’s unique relationship with cannabis can be life-changing in the best way. Advocates and consumers of cannabis can speak to its many strong therapeutic benefits. As with all topics concerning cannabis, much more research is necessary to fully understand the mechanisms that make this beautiful plant work in the human body. While cannabis use disorder or “marijuana addiction” is possible, a strong dependency is rare. In the world of cannabis and addiction, cannabis is proving itself to be the exact opposite of the gateway drug it was made out to be and could help people abstain from much more addictive substances. If you live in a state or country where cannabis is medically or recreationally legal and suspect that it could help you, please reach out to a qualified medical professional. If you are a resident of Missouri, the process of obtaining your medical marijuana license is simple. Your friendly local Clovr budtender can help you find the right product to suit your specific cannabis needs. As always, please consume responsibly. 

 

Rio Kaplan
Written by Rio Kaplan

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