Also known as marijuana – is a psychoactive plant, considered by many to be the most popular illicit drug in the world. Although some people argue that cannabis is a natural plant with therapeutic benefits, it can still be highly addictive, with cannabis dependence continuing to be a growing problem. Some doctors prescribe cannabis-derived products to help certain health conditions, however, using it indiscriminately, it can constitute abuse. It is therefore important to recognise what constitutes drug addiction and abuse.
Cannabis comes in various forms and is often smoked or eaten as edibles such as candies and baked goods. In some countries, the drug is legally used for medicinal purposes. People who use it medically do so to increase appetite, treat pain or to relieve stress. Meanwhile, recreational users consume it in order to achieve the desired ‘high’ and for its calming effects.
In the UK, it is illegal to possess cannabis or use it recreationally, but it remains the most widely used illicit drug in the country. It is highly addictive and can lead to dependence and subsequently addiction if abused. Addiction to cannabis is difficult to overcome and it can take years before a user is completely free of the substance, but nonetheless, it is crucial to seek treatment.
Here, we’ve provided detailed information to help you or a loved one overcome a cannabis addiction.
What Is Cannabis?
Cannabis is a drug that contains THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) as its active chemical. It derives from Indian hemp plants like Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa. There are a number of other names by which cannabis is known, including hooch, skunk, cones, buckets, joint, ganja, herb, weed, hash, pot and grass.
Even if you’ve never set eyes on the plant before, you may have seen representations of it in the world of media or fashion. Its bright green leaves have a distinctive shape, with five or seven leaflets. People who use it do so for THC’s psychoactive effects. The psychoactive forms of cannabis come in three main varieties: hash oil, hashish and marijuana.
Is Cannabis Addictive?
A 2011 American study found 8.9% to be the probability of a user becoming dependent on cannabis. This was lower than substances like cocaine, alcohol and nicotine. Not everyone who uses the drug will become addicted, but it does happen to some.
If you are repeatedly exposed to THC by using cannabis regularly, you could develop a tolerance for it. Addictive substances typically initiate the onset of withdrawal systems when usage is stopped abruptly. Despite initial thoughts to the contrary, researchers have now found that withdrawal can occur if the chronic heavy use of THC-rich cannabis is suddenly halted.
How does cannabis affect the body?
The effects on the body when cannabis is consumed differ, depending on the method of ingestion. When you eat or drink it, for example, the effects won’t take hold as quickly as when you inhale the smoke. The drug quickly enters your bloodstream and reaches your organs faster when it’s smoked.
The effects of cannabis range from relaxation and pain relief to discomfort and harm – both psychologically and physically. However the drug is used, it can lead to issues such as increased heart rate and changes in perception. With long-term usage, the effects can include a chronic cough, amongst other health problems.
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The Difference between Physical and Psychological Addiction
Physical addiction occurs when the body’s cells are unable to function properly without cannabis in your system. Subsequently, this is why withdrawal takes hold when you try to stop taking the drug after having used it heavily over a period of time.
On the other hand, if you’re psychologically or emotionally addicted, this means you have a perceived need or compulsion to use the drug. Psychological addiction is not accompanied by physical withdrawal symptoms but can develop into a severe problem.
Physical addiction to cannabis
Cannabis causes an increase in the body’s production of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that controls the feelings of reward and pleasure. With more dopamine in your system, you’ll want to continue using the drug in order to prolong its effects. However, this can over time lead to tolerance, whereby you will no longer able to experience the same effects.
You’ll know you’ve become tolerant to cannabis when you need to take it in higher amounts each time in order to experience the desired effects. Physical dependence (or physical addiction) can consequently develop from tolerance, at which point you could experience withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop using the drug.
Psychological addiction to cannabis
Psychological (or mental) addiction is similar to its physical counterpart, in that it’s equally driven by higher levels of dopamine. However, this occurs when you prioritise cannabis use above your day to day obligations and allow it to become central to your daily activities, thoughts and emotions.
If you have a psychological addiction, you’ll more than likely experience cravings, even years after you’ve stopped using the drug. There are a number of signs to look out for that can indicate a psychological addiction. These include intense cravings; confusion; memory loss; fantasising about using, even after quitting; insomnia when you aren’t using cannabis; as well as mood swings, restlessness and anxiety when you try to quit.
Tolerance to Cannabis: How It Grows?
When you first started using cannabis, you might have started with just a small ‘hit’, only to realise some days later that you need to increase the amount you’re taking in order to feel the desired effects. This is what’s known as tolerance.
It only takes a short time for you to become desensitised to the effects of cannabis, meaning that tolerance builds quickly. Without delving too deep into the scientific analysis, tolerance to cannabis grows because your brain continually wants more of the drug’s pleasant effects.
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Cannabis Abuse vs. Addiction
While the terms ‘cannabis abuse’ and ‘cannabis addiction’ can be used interchangeably, they are actually different. Both are dangerous situations to be in, but as an abuser, you haven’t lost control over your life.
Cannabis abuse can cause damage to both your mind and body, as well as land you in trouble with the law. However, you’ll still be able to learn from your mistakes and make adjustments in order to save yourself from any further negative consequences.
On the other hand, an addiction is a disorder which gets in the way of living a full and wholesome life. Your family will also be seriously affected, as you’re much more likely to make bad decisions that will only make your situation worse.
Cannabis Addiction: Statistics
The UK has made progress over the past decade and has significantly reduced drug use throughout the country. However, cannabis is still the most widely used illegal drug, with cocaine coming in second place.
In 2015/16, the Home Office Crime Survey for England and Wales released statistics suggesting that 2.1 million people (or 6.5% of adults between the ages of 16 and 59) had used cannabis in the past year. Younger adults between the ages of 16 to 24 were also using cannabis more than any other drug, with about 975,000 of them (15.8%) having used the drug in the previous year.
The Consequences of Cannabis Addiction
When cannabis is used over a long period of time, it can prove damaging to both learning and memory; those who start using the drug at an early age can possibly experience cognitive impairment when they reach adulthood – even if they stop using the drug later on.
Mothers who smoke cannabis whilst pregnant could give birth to children with learning problems, while long-term use can also lead to respiratory problems.
The drug may cause symptoms to worsen in schizophrenia cases, and it has also been associated with anxiety and depression. If you suddenly stop using the drug, you could experience withdrawal symptoms such as:
A cannabis addiction can also cause financial problems (due to the cost of the drug itself), legal expenditure if you’re caught, delayed bills, and so on.
Living with Cannabis Addiction
It can be difficult and even painful living with a cannabis addiction. If you tend to smoke ‘a joint’ before going to bed, you could find that you’re never able to sleep if you don’t do so. You could even suffer from the fear or major anxiety about running out of cannabis.
Your mind may be consumed with thoughts of how to get your next ounce of the drug; furthermore, you could find that you’re often angry and groggy. Although it’s unpleasant for you, it’s also particularly stressful for your loved ones. Therefore, it’s important to seek treatment for you or a loved one before matters get further out of hand.
Cannabis for Medicinal Purposes
As of the time of writing, cannabis has not been legalised for medicinal use in the UK, but the British government is looking into reviewing the laws that restrict using the drug for medicinal purposes. In places where it is already being used medicinally, this is for the treatment of various diseases.
Some conditions, for which there’s strong evidence of the benefits of cannabis, include spasticity in spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis; chronic and neuropathic pain; cachexia and anorexia in HIV/AIDS; and nausea and vomiting that occur with cancer chemotherapy.
Cannabis Addiction and Mental Health Disorders
Evidence suggests that individuals with serious mental health disorders (including psychosis and depression) have used cannabis for a prolonged period of time or are more disposed to use the drug initially.
We’ve learnt that using the drug regularly seems to double an individual’s risk of developing long-term schizophrenia or experience a psychotic episode. Research suggests a connection between the early use of cannabis and later mental health issues in people who are genetically vulnerable. This means adolescents who start abusing the drug have a greater risk of developing psychotic illnesses such as bipolar disease or schizophrenia in later life.
Cannabis and depression
Some studies suggest that cannabis users are more likely to be diagnosed with depression than non-users. The question then becomes: “Does cannabis cause depression or is it used as a form of medication by those with depression?”
There have been some studies that suggest people who use cannabis are more likely to develop depression eventually. However, other studies suggest that the factors which trigger both cannabis use and depression are the same. Therefore, the drug may not directly cause depression. In order to understand the relationship between cannabis use and depression, further research would be needed, but the fact remains that depression and cannabis use often accompany each other.
How Is Cannabis Addiction Treated?
There are a number of addiction remedies which can be used to treat cannabis addiction. These include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Motivational Enhancement Therapy and Contingency Management. While there are currently no approved medications for treating cannabis use disorder, there is ongoing research in this area.
However, sleep medications can be applied during treatment to deal with the sleep problems that tend to occur during recovery. In cases of comorbidity (that is, cases where a co-occurring psychological condition is present alongside cannabis addiction), cannabis use may be reduced by treating the mental health condition with behavioural therapies and medication, which constitutes standard treatment. Rehab is always an ideal option for someone with a severe addiction, but support groups can prove sufficient for less serious cases.
Withdrawal and detoxification
A Withdrawal phase inevitably follows cannabis dependence and addiction. However, you don’t have to go through a particularly painful withdrawal. If you’re planning to quit cannabis, but need to know what to expect, you’ll find the information on our ‘Detox and Withdrawal’ page very useful.
Cannabis rehab options to get clean
No matter where you are in the UK or beyond, you can access quality addiction treatment. Are you looking for a place close to your home to ‘get clean’? Maybe you want to be as far away from your current environment as possible. Whatever the case, this page holds useful information on rehab and the treatment of cannabis addiction in the UK.
Cannabis Addiction Support Groups
Support groups are free to attend and typically open to all who are looking to recover or have recently recovered from cannabis addiction. While some offer online meetings, others offer physical meetings (or both). The advantage of joining a support group is that you’ll get to build friendships and support networks with people who know exactly what it’s like to be in your shoes.
Examples of cannabis addiction support groups include Marijuana Anonymous, Drug Addicts Anonymous and SMART Recovery. The first two are based on the 12 step philosophy pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous, while SMART Recovery is a secular group. There are also other groups for families and friends of cannabis users, such as DrugFAM.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What causes cannabis addiction?
Using cannabis over a prolonged period of time and in increasing doses leads to addiction. You can also become addicted to cannabis if you’re generally prone to addiction, due to certain environmental or genetic factors.
Some risk factors which could predispose you or a loved one to addiction include ready access to cannabis; close affiliation with peers who use cannabis; dropping out of school; poor parenting; emotional distress; and frequent use at a young age, amongst others. Studies have found adolescents and people with mental health conditions to be at greater risk of developing a cannabis addiction.
How can I stop cannabis addiction?
Recovering from cannabis addiction takes time, but it can be done. Everyone is different and so your brain is bound to change in a different manner from that of someone else. In certain cases, recovery won’t take as long as it might in most other cases.
If you or a loved one have tried to stop cannabis addiction several times with no success, your best bet is to speak to an expert and enrol in a rehabilitation facility, where you can receive adequate professional treatment.
How can I beat cannabis addiction?
The best way to beat cannabis addiction is to stop, even before it begins. This means discontinuing cannabis abuse while you still have control over your life. However, it may be too late before you even realise the need to beat addiction..
In order to beat addiction for good, you can seek professional help via a social worker, counsellor or psychotherapist. In addition, holistic practices can also help as you focus on trying to improve yourself physically, spiritually and mentally. These include mindfulness, meditation, eating healthily and exercising.
How can I manage cannabis addiction?
Cannabis addiction can be difficult not only for the addict to deal with but also for their family. However, addiction has to be managed whilst seeking treatment – especially as cannabis addiction can take years to treat.
You can start by delaying the urge to smoke and doing your best to de-stress using other methods. In addition to averting stress, avoid other possible triggers for cannabis use. Educating yourself about addiction can also be a great help, as well as finding a healthy distraction to engage yourself with.
Where can I help for cannabis addiction?
UKAT offers world-class addiction treatment in various facilities across the UK. All our rehab centres are fully equipped to handle cannabis addiction, so whether you’re in Banbury or Essex, you’re bound to find a UKAT rehab centre close to you. Our treatment team comprises experts who have worked in the addiction treatment sphere for years, so rest assured you’re in good hands.