Marijuana Abuse, Dependence and Addiction
Marijuana addiction is a serious problem that can have a devastating impact on your life. While some people may believe that weed is benign, it is a powerful drug that can alter one's mood, perception and behaviour.
Addiction to cannabis is real and can be just as destructive as with other drugs. Over time, cannabis abuse can contribute to permanent mental health problems.
Difference between marijuana abuse, marijuana dependence and marijuana addiction
Marijuana abuse refers to using the drug in an excessive or dangerous way. This can include using marijuana frequently, using larger amounts of the drug over time, mixing it with alcohol or other drugs for greater effect and wanting to cut down or quit but being unable to. It can also include continued use despite negative consequences such as relationship problems, problems at work or school, legal issues and health concerns.
Dependence on marijuana occurs when your body becomes accustomed to having the drug in your system and you require more of the drug to achieve its desired effects. Symptoms of dependence include marijuana withdrawal when you try to stop and experiencing cravings for weed; even after prolonged periods of abstinence. If you are dependent on weed there will be negative physical and psychological effects.
Addiction to marijuana involves a compulsive pattern of drug use despite being aware of the negative consequences. If you have marijuana addiction, you might have intense cravings and find that you are unable to stop using the drug even when you really want to.
Addiction can have a serious impact on your personal relationships, mental health and physical well-being, as well as your ability to function effectively in other areas of your life. Withdrawal from weed can also be challenging and often involves unpleasant symptoms like anxiety and irritability, sleep difficulties, mood swings, loss of appetite and headaches.
Differences between cannabis indica and cannabis sativa
Cannabis indica and cannabis sativa are two very different types of marijuana plants. They have many differences, including their physical appearance, the type of high they produce, and how they are grown.
Indica plants tend to be short and bushy with wide leaves. Sativa plants, on the other hand, can grow much taller and have leaves that are long and thin.
The high produced by indica strains is typically more relaxed and calming, while sativas tend to be more uplifting and energizing. This is due to the different ratios of CBD and THC in each plant – indicas have higher levels of CBD while sativas have higher levels of THC.
When a person is addicted, they may alternate between both strains. Using one strain to help them with productivity during the day and the other to calm and relax them at night.
The risks of marijuana addiction
Weed is often touted as a safe, natural drug with many medical benefits. But the truth is that weed can have some serious negative effects on your mental and physical health.
There is a vast difference between medical marijuana, which undergoes numerous filtrations and tests, and the type of cannabis you buy on the street.
Mental health risks of marijuana addiction
One of the most common side effects of smoking weed is anxiety and panic attacks. This effect seems to be linked to two main factors: the dose and type of strain used. Sativa strains are more likely to cause panic attacks than indica, and strains with higher levels of THC are also known to cause panic attacks in users.
If you have a history of anxiety or panic attacks, it's best to avoid using cannabis altogether. The same goes if you have schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders - cannabis can trigger or worsen the symptoms of these conditions.
Perhaps you started using cannabis to alleviate symptoms of a mental illness, but find yourself trapped in a cycle of use. Marijuana use only temporarily alleviates mental health symptoms, while at the same time increasing them over the long term.
This pattern of use can be incredibly damaging, and difficult to stop, as you have to deal with withdrawal and the original mental health problem that you were attempting to self-medicate against.
Physical health risks of cannabis
Regardless of how it is smoked, marijuana can harm lung tissue, causing scarring and damage to small blood vessels.
The smoke from cannabis has a number of the same toxins, irritants and carcinogens that are found in tobacco smoke.
Weed is usually smoked by inhaling deeper and holding the smoke in longer than cigarette smoke. This alone can cause greater damage. As marijuana is often smoked with tobacco, the injury to your lungs may be even more severe.
DSM-5 cannabis use disorder criteria - marijuana addiction
The DSM-5 defines cannabis use disorder as a condition characterized by the following symptoms:
1. Using cannabis for at least a year
2. Using weed in large amounts over a longer period than you intended
3. Trying to quit or smoke less cannabis and not being able to
4. Spending lots of time trying to get, smoking or recovering from smoking weed
5. Craving weed. Intrusive thoughts and dreams about smoking weed
6. Continuing to smoke marijuana despite negative consequences, like criminal charges or ultimatums from a partner, family member or employer.
7. Smoking weed instead of doing important things, like working, going to school, looking after hygiene and keeping up with responsibilities
8. Using marijuana in a dangerous way, like whilst driving or in charge of a minor
9. Continuing to smoke weed even though you are getting physical and mental health problems from smoking it
10. Increased tolerance, meaning you need to smoke more to get the same high as before
11. Withdrawal symptoms unless you use cannabis
How to quit smoking marijuana
If you have marijuana addiction and have been smoking lots of the drug for a long time, it may be very difficult to quit. Stopping smoking means dealing with withdrawal symptoms, addressing the reasons why you started smoking, and finding activities to do that don’t involve smoking weed. You may also need to look for a new circle of friends. Let’s talk a look at these individually.
Withdrawal symptoms from marijuana
If you’re a chronic marijuana user, when you quit you will probably have withdrawal symptoms. These vary in strength depending on a number of factors, including how long and how much you were using. The reasons why you were using and what you do when you attempt to quit all play a part.
The important thing to remember is that while withdrawal symptoms suck, you will get through them.
To get out of marijuana withdrawal quicker, you can:
- Exercise. This is a big one. Working up a sweat gets endorphins flowing, which may be low for a bit after you quit. Exercise helps your brain rewire after weed and reduces the time you are in withdrawal. It also has the benefit of helping with sleep.
- Share how you feel. Keeping your emotions bottled up contributes to stress, which makes withdrawal worse. Talking with a friend can reduce tension and make all the difference.
- Mediate. Meditation also helps get rid of stress and is another tool you can use to get a little more sleep after a marijuana addiction.
Look at why you started
You might think that you just smoked weed because you liked smoking it. When you quit, though, it may become apparent why you started in the first place.
You may have begun smoking to self-medicate from conditions like depression and anxiety. You may even have done this without realising this is what you were doing.
Perhaps you smoked to help you sleep. Maybe you had trauma and smoking reduced the symptoms.
Whatever the reasons you smoked, stopping is a great time to look at the reasons why you were smoking and address them. This is crucial as if you don’t do this, you are likely to relapse in the future.
Find new hobbies
When you quit, you will probably find that you have heaps of time on your hands that you used to use up by smoking. Having this time free means that you can use it for new pursuits.
Perhaps you had a hobby or ambition when you were younger, but gave it up when you started smoking. Now is the time to reignite this passion!
Getting additional help
If you have tried stopping marijuana by yourself and have not been able to do so, don’t beat yourself up. Quitting is more challenging for some than for others.
To get yourself out of a cycle of smoking, you may require help from others. The main options you have are psychotherapy, rehab and support groups.
Seeing a psychotherapist can help you take a look at why you were smoking and break free from the patterns of thought and behaviour that were keeping you addicted.
If you want to see a psychotherapist, choose one that is accredited and who has experience in treating addiction.
Rehab is the most effective way of breaking an addiction. Attending an inpatient treatment programme means you will be away from all the people you smoked with and from external triggers.
Rehab provides a safe space where you can work with professionals to heal the past and create a marijuana-free future.
Private detox and rehabilitation is expensive and time-consuming, but if you have the time and resources do it and are not able to stop smoking otherwise, it is an option that is worth serious consideration.
Support groups like Marijuana Anonymous (MA) and SMART Recovery help people to quit when they can’t by themselves. These groups meet up to talk about how they can solve their addiction problems, and recommend following a programme that will help you to recover from marijuana addiction.
If there is not a group like this in your area, you will be able to find a group you can meet up with online.
Cannabis culture and marijuana addiction
If you have a marijuana addiction you may face an additional obstacle that not many others who have addictions face. In some sections of society, habitual marijuana use is actually commended.
Famous comedians, rappers and even some athletes have spoken candidly about smoking weed and the benefits that it brings to their lives. There are TV shows and movies that revolve around consuming and sometimes selling the drug. Smoking cannabis even has its own special day and time.
All this helps people who consume cannabis feel part of something. Aside from the addictive effects of the drug itself, this can be a powerful drive to continue smoking. The feeling of belonging is something that deep down everyone strives for.
So how do you replicate the feeling of belonging that you had when you smoked?
The answer is quite simple, and it is to find a new community. This may not be the easiest thing to do for someone newly clean from weed. The anxiety and depression that can come with putting down weed might make socialising challenging for a bit. It is absolutely worth it though.
After quitting for a while, you might actually find that you have a new lust for life. Activities that you had not wanted to do while you were smoking suddenly become appealing. You might try rock climbing, fixing cars or yoga. All of these pursuits have communities who meet up to share their passion for these pastimes.
Recovery groups also offer the opportunity for you to spend time with like-minded others. Others who are also trying to live a sober and clean life.
Overcoming marijuana addiction
Quit smoking marijuana is challenging but possible. When you quit, you will need to replace smoking weed with other pursuits. You should also look at why you began smoking in the first place. This will help you avoid relapse.
Recoverlution are also here to provide support through connection, knowledge and wellbeing. We celebrate recovery as we shine a light of hope on the dark world of addiction.
- Marijuana Anonymous - https://marijuana-anonymous.org/
- SMART Recovery - https://www.smartrecovery.org/marijuana-addiction/