Addiction isn’t something that’s easily defined and understood.
That’s why, from the get to, we have to put to rest the notion that drug addiction only happens when physical dependency comes into existence.
Things are far more complicated than that, especially when we’re dealing with “soft drugs” like cannabis. It’s of crucial importance to understand that addiction is interconnected with mental health, meaning that we mustn’t overlook the psychological aspects of substance abuse.
To put it in plain words – weed addiction is a very real thing.
Even though the majority of regular users don’t develop a dependency on it, around 30% show signs of a use disorder.
The picture becomes gloomier when we add age to the equation. Namely, if someone starts using weed before the age of 18, they are up to seven times more likely to end up with a marijuana use disorder.
So, those people who say that weed addiction isn’t a real thing because it’s impossible to overdose on it are, quite simply, uninformed.
But, before we delve deeper into the ins and outs of weed addiction, we first need to understand how and why weed affects our brains in the first place.
Back to the classroom.
How our brains respond to weed
To a certain degree, our brains get tricked by weed.
To be specific, the chemical structure of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is extremely similar to the chemical structure of an endogenous cannabinoid called anandamide. This similarity enables our brains to detect THC and react to it.
Now, anandamide, being a neurotransmitter, allows our neurons to communicate. It actually transmits chemical messages between nerve cells in the areas of the brain responsible for memory, concentration, thinking, coordination, movement, pleasure, and even time perception.
So, because of its similarity to anandamide, THC is capable of attaching to our brains’ cannabinoid receptors and affecting our cognitive and physical functions.
For the sake of clarity, here’s a simple example. Being forgetful can be a very good sign of being high. That happens because THC interferes with the normal functioning of the hippocampus and the orbitofrontal cortex. These two structures are responsible for creating new memories.
However, since we’re talking about weed addiction, the most important thing to highlight is that THC also gets in touch with our brains’ reward system. That’s why getting high feels so pleasurable. When nerve cells get stimulated in that region, our brain starts releasing a signaling chemical called dopamine.
As we know, when dopamine levels spike, there’s nothing left for us to feel but pleasure.
Possible signs of addiction
Accepting addiction is probably the hardest step to recovery. Especially when dealing with weed addiction, people nurture the idea that they can quit anytime they want. They don’t stop because they don’t want to. Quite simply, they’re in denial.
The new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) includes weed addiction under the name of “Cannabis Use Disorder.”
In order to be diagnosed with this disorder, at least two out of ten symptoms need to be present in your life within a period of 12 months. These symptoms include:
- Consuming cannabis longer and in greater quantities than you originally intended.
- Frequently considering quitting, but failing to do so.
- Spending most of your time on acquiring and consuming weed.
- Feeling a strong desire to use weed.
- You start abusing the substance so much that you become unable to fulfill your responsibilities.
- Despite experiencing social/relationship problems caused by weed, you still continue to use it.
- Substituting your hobbies and other pleasurable activities for using weed.
- You find yourself using weed in dangerous situations.
- Developing a significant tolerance. You start needing larger quantities in order to get high.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you run out of weed.
Another common misconception is that it’s impossible to experience withdrawal symptoms with weed. Granted, these symptoms are nowhere near as bad and long-lasting as those related to “hard” drugs such as heroin.
Nonetheless, they can occur, usually a few days after the person stops smoking. The most common withdrawal symptoms are anxiety, depression, profuse sweating, absence of appetite, etc.
The good thing, however, is that the abstinence crisis rarely lasts longer than two-three weeks.
Facing the facts
When dealing with serious issues like weed addiction, numbers and scientific facts help paint a clearer picture of the nature of the problem we’re facing as a society.
Here are some of the most important things you should know about weed addiction:
- Being integrated into society makes a world of difference. People with strong social networks and stable relationships are less likely to start abusing marijuana. They also tend to have more developed responsibility skills, as the sense of having options in their lives.
- As we’ve previously mentioned, impaired mental health increases the likelihood of developing a dependence on weed. Some estimates are that more than 50% of people who are addicted to weed suffer from various mental health conditions. The most common are depression, anxiety, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and schizophrenia.
- The fact that the potency of THC had significantly risen over the past couple of decades has become a major talking point within the scientific community. Compared to the 1990s, nowadays the potency of weed is at least three times higher! How will that affect the prevalence of weed addiction is yet to be seen.
- Weed consumption among teens is a deeply concerning issue. Namely, our brains don’t stop developing until the age of 25 or 26. Becoming a regular user in your youth increases the chances of developing irrevocable memory and learning problems.
- According to a medical study conducted back in 2009, medical marijuana consumers reported the following:
- More than 60% of them used marijuana as a replacement for prescription drugs
- 40% used it to replace alcohol and under 30% replaced other illicit drugs with it
- Abusing marijuana for too long compromises the functioning of our brains’ reward system. The amount of dopamine released isn’t lessened but, for some reason, our brains stop responding to the signals.
A serious matter
Weed addiction is no laughing matter. Just take into consideration that cannabis-related emergency room visits are increasing year in and year out.
Just like any other substance abuse disorder, weed addiction also has the potential to ruin one’s life by becoming a source of escapism.
Therefore, if you’ve recognized any of the aforementioned signs of weed addiction in yourself or some of the people in your surroundings, make sure to react as soon as you can.
Each person reacts differently to cannabis, and consuming it has to be done responsibly.