Despite popular fiction, cannabis use can be addicting.
How addicting? The science says, “We just don’t know…yet.”
While recreational cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2018, the jury is still out on whether or not cannabis is definitely addictive. However, the consensus seems to be that if you consume too much, you risk developing an addiction to cannabis.
By how much? For how long? These are the questions medical cannabis researchers are continuing to investigate.
What does any of this mean for you if you’re looking for help with a cannabis addiction? Let’s look at some cannabis addiction facts.
According to a study on self-reported use of cannabis by Health Reports (a sub-division of Statistics Canada), in Canada, from 2018 to 2019, rates of cannabis use increased from 15% to 17%–that’s based on an increase from about 4.5 million to 5.1 million users.
With this influx of new cannabis users, it’s important to discuss the potential risks of an addiction to cannabis.
What is Cannabis Addiction?
Beginning with the official definition, cannabis or marijuana addiction, medically referred to as “cannabis use disorder” (CUD), is defined per the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition) as “A problematic pattern of cannabis use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.”
That said, there are multiple criteria used to determine whether or not someone is suffering from an addiction to cannabis. As a result, this makes it hard to establish when cannabis addiction is taking place.
“Addiction” in the colloquial sense (i.e. how you would think about harder drug addictions) cannot be applied directly to cannabis.
That’s because the definition of a cannabis use disorder captures the possibility that people can be negatively impacted by their marijuana use, without necessarily being addicted.
This means you can experience the symptoms of a cannabis addiction, even if you’re not technically addicted to cannabis. This in turn creates difficulties for people who might need help with cannabis addiction but don’t know it yet.
What Does Cannabis Addiction Look Like?
While you might not be able to tell right away if you or someone you know has an addiction to cannabis, there are several signs that might suggest an addiction.
Behavioural changes include:
- Distorted perceptions
- Impaired coordination
- Difficulty in thinking and problem solving
- Ongoing problems with learning and memory
Other signs of marijuana abuse, misuse and addiction include:
- Red, blurry, bloodshot eye
- Constant, mucus-filled cough
- Rapid heartbeat
- Dry mouth
- Anxiety, paranoia, or fear
- Poor memory
- Poor coordination
- Slow reaction time
- Loss of control
Take note, that many of these symptoms are the exact short-term effects marijuana users expect and want. How all of this crosses into cannabis addiction is when these symptoms start to negatively impact your life.
Interpersonal and intimate relationships with family, friends, and co-workers…
Personal physical and mental health…
When cannabis consumption starts to negatively affect these areas of your life, you might be suffering from cannabis use disorder (CUD).
As with any addiction, if you’re going to beat the habit, there’s going to be a withdrawal. The severity of your withdrawal symptoms depends on how long you’ve been using cannabis and your personal biology.
Generally, the withdrawal symptoms include, but are not exclusive to:
- Irritability, anger or aggression
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Sleep difficulty
- Decreased appetite or weight loss
- Depressed mood
- Physical symptoms such as abdominal pain, shakiness/tremors, sweating, fever, chills or headache
Additional Cannabis Addiction Facts
There are several serious consequences to developing an addiction to cannabis. For example:
- People who start smoking marijuana heavily in their teens and had an ongoing marijuana use disorder lost an average of 8 IQ points between ages 13 and 38. The lost mental abilities didn’t fully return
- People who start smoking marijuana as adults didn’t show notable IQ declines
- Adolescent consumption of THC in the form of cannabis increases the chances that the individual will try using other drugs
- Chronic use of cannabis can have detrimental effects on memory and one’s ability to learn new information
Treatment for Cannabis Addiction
If you think you might be addicted to cannabis or are looking for help with your cannabis addiction, there are resources available to you.
Although specific medications to address cannabis addiction are not currently available, therapies and programs do exist to provide treatment for cannabis addictions.
Treatments like Twelve Step facilitation, cognitive-behavioural therapy, motivational enhancement therapy and other scientifically valid approaches can be effective in helping to treat an addiction to cannabis.
To learn more about treatment options in Canada, you can visit the Government of Canada’s webpage on getting help with substance use.