Is Cannabis Addictive? What You Need to Know.

Is cannabis addictive? Sort of.

While many people can simply pick it up and put it down, others fall into an addictive pattern of use that has been professionally termed “cannabis use disorder”.

According to the National Institute For Drug Abuse, about 9% of people who use cannabis will eventually become dependent on it. In 2015, they found that roughly 4 million Americans self-reported addiction problems that were consistent with cannabis use disorder.

Cannabis Use Disorder

Cannabis addiction is officially called “cannabis used disorder” (CUD) by the official manual of psychiatric diagnostics, a manual recognized as the authority for diagnosing and treating mental disorders in the US.

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There are 11 primary indicators of cannabis use disorder, including:

  • Persistent cravings or strong desires for cannabis
  • A persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down on cannabis use
  • Recurrent cannabis use resulting in the inability to function or perform in duties at work, school, or home
  • Continued use despite negative consequences
  • An increase in tolerance resulting in the need for more cannabis use
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not consuming cannabis including anxiety, insomnia, and irritability

Addiction happens when cannabis use continues despite these indicators. Why exactly is cannabis addictive? Researchers believe that there may be physiological and psychological factors at play that can encourage abusive patterns of cannabis use.

Why Does Addiction Happen?

It’s speculated that an addictive pattern of use develops primarily due to changes that occur in the brain after heavy cannabis use. Researchers believe that at least two neurological processes may be to blame.

THC, the primary psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis, stimulates the brain’s reward system into releasing more dopamine, a neurochemical associated with reward, motivation, and self-control. People who misuse cannabis are believed to develop a decreased response to dopamine. Negative emotions such as irritability, anxiety, depression, and aggressiveness have all been linked to decreased sensitivity to dopamine. In response, addicted users are likely to ingest more and more THC, enjoying a dopamine rush in the process, and feeling good again as a result.

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Researchers also found that people who abused cannabis had fewer endogenous cannabinoid receptors in their brains. The body’s inner endocannabinoid system is responsible for modulating critical functions like sleep, appetite, stress, and pain. Reducing the number of endocannabinoid receptors in the brain or body, even if just for a while, could potentially make withdrawal symptoms worse.

Psychological Addiction

Cannabis can also become psychologically addictive.

People may use the effects of cannabis to come with all kinds of psychological, and even physical problems. Over time, cannabis use can become routine or become a crutch to lean on when anxious, stressed, sleepless, in pain, or even when just bored. Constantly relying on cannabis in this way can lead to psychological cannabis addiction.

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Is Cannabis Addictive?

Fewer than 10% of cannabis users ever develop addictive tendencies. Nevertheless, it still happens.

Researchers believe that certain types of people may be more likely to abuse cannabis. People already suffering from dopamine insensitivity, certain mental illnesses like anxiety or depression, people who begin using cannabis in adolescence, and people who are more likely to abuse other substances are all considered to be at higher risk for developing cannabis use disorder.

If you believe that you may be at risk for cannabis addiction, or may currently be suffering from cannabis addiction, schedule an appointment with our in-house RN.

Think cannabis may be a good way to manage your symptoms or relieve stress? Our in-house nurse can help with that too!