For decades, parents and politicians alike have warned us of the effects of using cannabis – some even going as far as to say that one puff of a joint will have you hooked for life. Now, countries all over the world are starting to legalise and become more socially accepting of its medical usage, while celebrities and musicians have glamorised its use. But does reassessing stigmas over the years mean that the drug is completely harmless? The answer is a firm no. Cannabis addiction is a genuine and potentially life-destroying addiction.
What is cannabis addiction?
Cannabis use disorder (CUD) is classified in the DSM-5 as a substance-related disorder alongside alcohol and other substance use disorders. It is characterised by a problematic pattern of cannabis use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.
The DSM 5 criteria for cannabis addiction include:
- Consuming more significant amounts of cannabis over time to achieve the desired effects
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when cannabis use is reduced or stopped
- Neglecting other areas of life due to cannabis use
- Continuing to use it despite negative consequences
- Feeling cravings for cannabis
Cannabis addiction is primarily a mental dependence and it’s worth noting that mental addictions can be just as hard to break as physical addictions. This is because mental addictions involve deeply held beliefs, values, and behaviours that are difficult to unlearn or override. Mental addictions often involve a person’s identity and self-worth, so changing long-held patterns of thinking and behaviour can be a difficult and sometimes frightening process. A good example would be that If taking cannabis was your only way of relaxing, it could be difficult to find another effective substitute.
The downside to cannabis
It appears as though UK culture has adopted a more relaxed attitude towards cannabis over the years. This is likely attributed to factors such as an increasingly progressive international viewpoint on the drug, glamorisation from media and the 2018 legislation allowing cannabis for medical use in the UK. Despite this shift, much confusion and misinformation remain on the long-term effects of using cannabis regularly. While many people are quick to point out the positive health benefits of cannabis, there is less discussion regarding how to overcome addiction or even if addiction to cannabis is possible.
Physically, cannabis use can have a number of adverse effects on the body. Smoking marijuana can cause;
- Lung irritation
- An increased risk of bronchitis and other respiratory infections
- Decreased cognitive functioning.
- Poorer attention span
- A decrease in concentration
It is important to note that cannabis can act as a mood enhancer and can be used to help manage symptoms of certain mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression. However, some research suggests that regular use may increase the risk of developing or exacerbating certain mental health conditions, including psychosis and schizophrenia. In addition, regular cannabis use can lead to short-term memory impairment and difficulty with concentration and problem-solving skills.
For teens, in particular, cannabis use can lead to problems with school performance, relationships with family and friends, and overall social functioning.
Further evidence suggests early cannabis use leads to an increased risk of drug abuse later in life, which is why you may have heard cannabis being referred to as the ‘gateway drug’, but this is heavily disputed by other research.
How can a cannabis addiction develop?
Cannabis addiction can develop in many ways and trying to pinpoint an exact cause is a difficult thing to do. Below, we explore some of the main ways an individual can develop a cannabis addiction:
Frequent use of cannabis
The most common way is through the repeated use of cannabis over time, leading to both physical and psychological dependence on the drug.
When someone uses cannabis often, they may start to build up a tolerance to the effects it produces. This means they need to take increasingly larger amounts of cannabis in order to experience the same effects from their previous use. With continued use, people may develop a physical dependence, which can lead to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if the person tries to quit.
At the same time, regular cannabis use can contribute to psychological dependence, which means a person becomes psychologically dependent on taking cannabis in order to feel good or have an enjoyable experience. This can lead to cravings for cannabis and an increased need for higher doses in order to feel satisfied.
People may also become addicted to cannabis because of its social effects. Cannabis can make people more open, relaxed and talkative, which can make them feel better about themselves and boost their self-esteem. These social effects can be especially addictive if people don’t have the same connection with others in their lives or if they don’t have access to other social activities that make them feel good.
Environmental factors can increase the chances of cannabis addiction by a number of ways.
For example, individuals may be more likely to use cannabis through;
- Peer pressure
- Easy access to cannabis
- Exposed to frequent drug use in their environment
Underlying mental health issues
People with mental health issues may use cannabis as a way to cope with their problems and find relief from their negative emotions. However, over time this can become an unhealthy coping mechanism and lead to addiction.
How can I spot the signs of cannabis addiction in myself?
Suppose you have been using cannabis recreationally and have started to feel like the drug is interfering with your everyday life. In that case, it may be a sign that you are becoming dependent on cannabis. Below is a list of signs and symptoms that could suggest that further help from a medical professional is needed.
- Increased tolerance: You find that you need more and more cannabis to get the same effects as before.
- Withdrawal symptoms: When you don’t have access to cannabis, you may experience anxiety, irritability, depression, or trouble sleeping.
- Obsession: You find yourself thinking about cannabis all the time and find it hard to focus on other activities.
- Loss of control: You find it harder and harder to control how much cannabis you use and how long you use it.
- Risky behaviour: You start taking risks when it comes to obtaining or using cannabis, such as driving while under the influence or buying cannabis on the streets.
How can I spot the signs of addiction in a loved one?
Cannabis use can often go unnoticed or be challenging to differentiate from recreational use, making it vital that you communicate with your loved one to distinguish whether or not they need to seek professional help. We have stated some of the most common signs of addiction to cannabis to help you understand the correct time to reach out to your loved one.
- Significant changes in behaviour or attitude: Unexplained changes in mood, attitude or behaviour can be a sign that something is wrong. Watch for signs of depression, aggression, withdrawal from activities, sleep problems, and interest changes.
- Increased secretive or isolated behaviour: If someone is dealing with an addiction, they may become secretive or isolated to hide their habits or deal with the guilt of addiction.
- Pay attention to if the person is withdrawing from activities that used to bring them joy or is always leaving without giving an explanation.
- Changes in physical appearance: Weight loss, pale complexion, red eyes, and changes in hygiene can be signs of addiction.
- Financial instability: Be aware of sudden changes in finances — because addiction can be expensive.
- Declining performance: Not meeting professional or academic expectations, missing deadlines, and skipping out on commitments can be indicative of an addiction.
What treatment is available for cannabis addiction?
When it comes to the treatment of cannabis addiction, it must be remembered that every person’s situation is unique, so it is important to discuss all available options with a mental health professional to determine the best course of action. This could be in the form of our specialised inpatient cannabis rehab.
A medical professional will usually suggest one or more of the following;
- Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, can help a person recognise and change patterns of thought and behaviour related to their cannabis use.
- Group therapy and support groups can also be helpful for connecting with other people who are struggling with similar addiction issues.
- Medications, such as antidepressants or mood stabilisers, may be used to manage any mental health symptoms that may be contributing to the addiction. In some cases, medications may be used to reduce cravings for marijuana.
- Detoxing from cannabis can help individuals reduce or eliminate dependence on the drug. It can also help to improve mental clarity, reduce anxiety, and improve overall wellbeing.
What can Banbury Lodge offer for cannabis addiction?
Banbury Lodge can provide personalised, evidence-based treatment and care tailored to your individual needs. We have access to the latest therapeutic approaches to help you safely recover from hallucinogen addiction, such as cannabis addiction and any other drug addictions you may have. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists ensures a comprehensive approach to treatment. You can talk openly and freely in our safe environment without fear of judgement. Banbury Lodge is dedicated to helping you recover from addiction, build healthier relationships and ultimately restore your life.