Cannabis Addiction: Symptoms, Risks, and Treatment Resources

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Last Medical Reviewer On: March 26, 2024
Updated On: Nov 1, 2023
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Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Medical Review by:

Dr. Po Chang Hsu MD, MS

How Long Does Weed Stay in Your Hair
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    What you will learn
    • Cannabis, sometimes referred to as marijuana, pot, or weed, is an herbal drug derived from the dried flowers of the Cannabis sativa plant.
    • The classification of cannabis varies by jurisdiction; it is not a Schedule I drug in all regions. In the United States, for instance, some states have legalized cannabis for medical and/or recreational use, and these states regulate its sale
    • Cannabis is consumed by smoking the ‘bud’ or flower of the plant, consuming an extract of this flower, or eating an edible product.
    • Cannabis may be a stimulant, a depressant, or a hallucinogen, dependent on the specific strain of Cannabis sativa used.
    • Cannabis can lead to long-term mental and physical health problems 
    • Withdrawal symptoms from cannabis are typically mild for most people and may not require the support of a medical team. Symptoms can include irritability, mood changes, sleep difficulties, appetite disturbance, and restlessness
    • Cannabis addiction is classified as Cannabis Use Disorder in the DSM-5

    What is Cannabis?

    Cannabis is an herbal drug derived from the dried flowers of the Cannabis sativa plant. A multitude of cannabis strains are available, the result of careful cultivation designed to offer differentiated experiences through the manipulation of psychoactive compounds called cannabinoids. While cannabis use can lead to a use disorder in some individuals, the risk of developing a substance use disorder varies among users.

    The two cannabinoids most credited for influencing the effect of a cannabis high are cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Cannabis users report that CBD-dominant strains provide relief from anxiety and insomnia, and the FDA has approved the use of CBD in a medication called Epidiolex, which is prescribed for the treatment of certain forms of epilepsy. THC is often credited for the intoxicating aspects of cannabis but is also linked to some of the plant’s more therapeutic benefits, such as pain relief.


    Cannabis Quick Reference Chart

    Cannabis Addiction Commercial & Street Names DEA Schedule Administration

    Effects vary by strain: May exhibit stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogenic properties

    Aunt Mary, BC Bud, Blunts, Boom, Chronic, Dope, Gangster, Ganja, Grass, Hash, Herb, Hydro, Indo, Joint, Kif, Marijuana, Mary Jane, Mota, Pot, Reefer, Sinsemilla, Skunk, Smoke, Weed, and Yerba DEA Classification: Schedule I (federally), but varies by state Inhalation (smoking, vaporizing), Oral (edibles), Topical (creams, lotions), and others

    Cannabis versus Marijuana

    Cannabis and marijuana are often used interchangeably, along with other words like pot, weed, and grass. But the use of the word ‘marijuana’ has deep racist origins rooted in 1930s policies designed to scapegoat Mexican immigrants for the growing popularity of this drug in American society.

    This harmful stereotype that cast Mexican-Americans and other Latino minorities in the role of drug dealers and drug pushers was promoted by Henry Anslinger.  As the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Anslinger used existing prejudice to raise his profile through the Marihuana Tax Act.

    However, cannabis had been an influential part of American society for centuries before the events leading up to Anslinger’s Marihuana Tax Act. A fibrous material called hemp, also derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, had been used as an essential building and textile material for European settlers in America since before the Civil War, disproving the connection between Mexican immigrants and the plant.

    How is Cannabis Consumed?

    Cannabis is commonly consumed in three ways — by smoking the flowers of the plant, through potent extracts derived from the flowers of the plants, and as an edible concoction made from the flowers.

    The flowers, or buds, of the cannabis plant are typically smoked using a glass pipe, a water bong, or rolled into a cigarette form with or without tobacco. Extracts range from hash made by treating cannabis flowers with water to powerful extracts made by chemically treating the products of this plant.

    Edibles are typically the result of mixing cannabis into a fat-based substance like butter and then using that to bake. Edibles offer a psychoactive experience and shouldn’t be confused with cannabis products used for food purposes, like hemp oil and hemp seeds.

    Other less common modes of cannabis consumption include extract spray,  tincture,  topical ointment, oil dispensed in gel pills, or suppositories.


    What Does Cannabis Do to the Body and Brain?

    While research on both the medicinal and harmful effects of cannabis on the brain and body is in its infancy, some clear connections have been made between the way this plant impacts memory, cognition, reaction time, pain management, and the digestion, circulation, and immune systems in our bodies.

    Cannabis and the Brain

    Cannabis causes the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine into the brain. Dopamine is directly related to motivation and pleasure and is responsible for the initial flood of euphoria cannabis users report. Cannabis also impacts another brain area, the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory formation.

    In addition to feelings of euphoria, the increase in dopamine can cause cannabis users to feel an increased sense of well-being and creativity, leading to repeated use and reliance on the drug.

    Together, cannabis’s impact on the brain can result in impaired judgment and slowed reaction times. Impaired judgment is the result of interrupted information processing, slowing down thoughts, and limiting executive planning. This leads to slow reactions, making daily tasks like cooking and driving dangerous.

    Cannabis and the Body

    Cannabis affects multiple body systems, impacting our eyes, lungs, stomach, circulation, and immune system. This is both the reason for science’s interest in cannabis as a medicine but also the detrimental effects on our bodies associated with long-term recreational cannabis use.

    Providing relief for glaucoma is one of the most well-known benefits of cannabis, thanks to its short-term pressure-relieving effects. This is also why cannabis can help with pain related to inflammation in the body. Cannabis also stimulates the appetite and reduces nausea and vomiting, making it a useful herb for those undergoing treatment for cancer or AIDS.

    On the other hand, cannabis causes blood vessels to expand, resulting in dizziness and vertigo, high blood pressure, and an increase in heart rate. Because cannabis is often smoked, chronic users often suffer from recurrent respiratory infections resulting from inflammation of the bronchial tubes. Repeated consumption of cannabis may result in suppression of your immune system, making you more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections.


    The Short-Term Effects of Cannabis

    Cannabis is unique because it may act either as a stimulant, a depressant, and/or a hallucinogen. Often it is a combination of all three. The short-term effects of cannabis are primarily dependent on the strain consumed, the strength of the product, the individual’s tolerance, and their physical and mental health.

    Stimulant Effects of Cannabis

    Stimulant strains of cannabis provide a boost in mood, energy, and focus, as well as an increase in heart rate and respiration. Other stimulant effects of cannabis may take the form of:

    • Excessive laughing
    • Creativity
    • Sociability
    • Motivation
    • An intense sense of color and/or smell
    • Hunger, sometimes called ‘the munchies’
    • Restlessness
    • Tremors
    • Increased body temperature
    • Paranoia
    • Irregular heartbeat
    • Anxiety
    • Seizures
    • Heart attack in otherwise healthy individuals[1]
    • Stroke


    Depressant Effects of Cannabis

    Cannabis may act as a depressant, slowing down the nervous system and brain functions. Some other effects of cannabis as a depressant include:

    • Restfulness
    • A reduction in anxiety
    • Sleepiness
    • Low blood pressure
    • Poor motor coordination
    • Nausea
    • Dry mouth
    • Slowed breathing
    • Lightheadedness
    • Blurred vision
    • Short-term memory loss
    • Dizziness

    Hallucinogen Effects of Cannabis

    Cannabis can alter a person’s perception of time, space, and reality, and so it is often considered a hallucinogen. Other hallucinogenic effects of cannabis may include:

    • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
    • A loss of time and place
    • False perception of objects, events, or senses
    • Paranoia based on an incorrect perception
    • Suspicion and fear
    • Detachment from self or environment
    • Psychosis and/or hallucinogen persisting perception disorder

    Long-Term Effects of Cannabis Use

    Repeated use of cannabis over months or years puts individuals at an increased risk of dependency, addiction, and pervasive physical and mental health problems[2].

    Long-term cannabis dependence and addiction have been linked to:

    Additionally, a longitudinal study demonstrated that long-term cannabis users were less prepared to deal with the health, financial, and social demands of aging[6], a study that points to the societal cost of cannabis dependence and addiction. The effects of cannabis can be detected in your hair strands for several months.

    Understanding Cannabis Addiction

    Like any drug, it is possible to form a cannabis addiction. Up to 10% of cannabis users meet the criteria for lifelong dependence[7]. Cannabis Use Disorder, sometimes called marijuana addiction, is an illness characterized by compulsive use of cannabis despite harmful and negative outcomes.

    According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, 5th edition (DSM-5), an individual meets the criteria for Cannabis Use Disorder if they meet 2 of the following criteria in a 12-month period:

    • Cannabis is used in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than was intended.
    • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control cannabis use.
    • A great deal of time is spent obtaining, using, or recovering from cannabis use.
    • The person experiences cravings for cannabis.
    • Recurrent cannabis use results in a failure to fulfill obligations at work, school, or home.
    • There is continued cannabis use despite experiencing persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems that are caused or exacerbated by use.
    • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced as a result of cannabis use.
    • Recurrent cannabis use occurs in situations where it is physically hazardous.
    • Cannabis use continues despite persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problems caused by or exacerbated by use.
    • The person develops a cannabis tolerance, meaning they need a higher dose to achieve the same desired effects.
    • The person experiences withdrawal symptoms when they stop or drastically cut back on their cannabis use.

    If you suspect that you or someone in your life needs help with Cannabis Use Disorder, seek support from your family doctor and a specialized addiction team to get a proper diagnosis and explore treatment options.


    Recovery from Cannabis Addiction

    Recovery from Cannabis Use Disorder is possible. It comes down to three key components — withdrawal management, outpatient treatment programs, therapy, and long-term lifestyle maintenance. To get started, speak to your doctor and find an addiction treatment program that makes the most sense for your unique needs.

    Signs, Symptoms, and Management of Cannabis Withdrawal

    Physical and mental cannabis withdrawal symptoms are well-documented and occur in approximately 50% of regular, dependent cannabis users. Symptoms begin within the first 24 – 48 hours, typically begin to fade after 6 days, but can last up to 3 weeks. Some common signs and symptoms of cannabis withdrawal include[8]:

    • Anxiety
    • Irritability
    • Anger and aggression
    • Disturbed sleep and dreaming
    • Depression
    • Loss of appetite
    • Chills
    • Headaches
    • Physical tension
    • Sweating
    • Nausea, vomiting, and stomach Pain

    There are no medications specified for cannabis withdrawal, but your doctor may offer you medications to tackle individual withdrawal symptoms. It is recommended that individuals begin one-on-one and group therapies during this time.

    Therapy for Cannabis Addiction

    The second stage of treatment for Cannabis Use Disorder typically involves therapeutic interventions designed to help individuals identify and address any underlying challenges that may have led to their cannabis use and dependence.

    Some common therapeutic modalities used at this stage include one-on-one talk therapy, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, and contingency management.

    Many people find it helpful to join supportive groups of like-minded people looking to recover from addiction to cannabis and other drugs. These groups are often available for free or at a low cost in communities across the United States and allow individuals to share their experiences, learn from one another, and build the foundation of supportive relationships with others in recovery.

    Long-Term Lifestyle Maintenance for Cannabis Use Disorder

    The recovery journey after Cannabis Use Disorder is as unique as the individual experiencing the addiction, but some lifestyle changes may help.

    Addiction researchers recommend introducing these six key elements for lasting recovery from a substance user disorder like Cannabis Use Disorder:

    1. Nutritious and appealing diets
    2. Individualized physical activity plans
    3. Improving and maintaining good sleep
    4. Managing stress through healthy coping strategies
    5. Building and fostering strong social relationships with family and friends
    6. Stopping tobacco smoking.[9]

    While some may view alternatives such as kratom as a substitute, it’s important to comprehend the dangers and possible drawbacks associated with its consumption.

    Recovery is an ongoing journey, but adding some or all of these building blocks can help transform this challenge into a meaningful and hopeful lifestyle.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Is it safe to drive while high on marijuana?
    What happens when you drink alcohol and smoke marijuana?
    Can marijuana help you sleep?

    Are you or a loved one struggling with Marijuana addiction?

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