Cannabis addiction is a very common – and often neglected – problem for millions of people. If you have been struggling with cannabis, or if you have tried and failed to quit smoking marijuana, you don’t have to struggle alone. This article offers valuable information about what cannabis is, how addiction to it works, and what you can do to start on the road to recovery today.
What is Cannabis?
Cannabis is the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis indica or Cannabis sativa plant. Street names for it include:
- Mary Jane
- Hashish or hash
Whatever the name it goes by, cannabis is the most used drug in Canada after alcohol and tobacco. Its active ingredient is called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which creates a euphoric or relaxing effect on its users. Cannabis strength varies with the THC concentration, which can be increased in certain cannabis products, such as oil or various medicinal preparations.
Cannabis is most often smoked in a manner similar to tobacco, though it can also be added to edible products, such as brownies. Marijuana products can also be vaporized and inhaled. Cannabis resin is also sometimes added to other products, such as tobacco, to be smoked as hashish. Cannabis leaves and buds can be rolled in cigarette paper, or they can be smoked in a pipe or in a type of water pipe known as a bong.
Cannabis Addiction and Abuse
In a 2021 study, 25% of Canadians reported having used cannabis in the past 12 months, down from 27% the previous year.
The euphoric effects of marijuana are similar to alcohol in many ways. Like alcohol, THC is an addictive substance that can cause dependence and considerable physical harm for heavy users.
Effects of Marijuana Abuse or Addiction
The long-term effects of heavy marijuana use negatively affect the body and mind of the user. Dangers of use include chemical dependency, which makes the drug physically addictive, and various medical conditions affecting the respiratory tract and lungs. Over time, there is an elevated cancer risk from smoking marijuana, and even the misuse of medical marijuana comes with serious side effects. These may include psychological disturbances and a worsening of various types of mental illness, such as depression.
Physical Effects of Cannabis on the Body
People use a range of methods to get the THC effect from cannabis, and each has its own effects on the body. What nearly all of them have in common are their neurological effects. THC is a depressant that kills brain cells and damages the central nervous system. This leads to frequent headaches, as well as to a host of psychological and neurological disorders. Marijuana users frequently develop clinical depression, which may be caused or made worse by cannabis use. Preexisting mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, can be triggered or worsened by the effects of marijuana on the brain. Heavy use is also associated with impaired learning, with frequent heavy users showing a marked slowdown of their ability to learn and perform tasks.
Marijuana and Physical Health
Because marijuana is most commonly smoked, it comes with all of the same health hazards as tobacco, plus a few specific issues related to the way it’s smoked by most people. Smoking any kind of tar-producing substance coats the breathing passages with carcinogenic chemicals that can eventually cause death from cancer or emphysema. Cannabis impairs the immune system and damages the lining of the throat, which results in the telltale smokers’ cough. The drug is especially dangerous during pregnancy. Pregnant women who use marijuana are more likely to miscarry, less likely to carry their babies to full term and more likely to deliver an underweight baby. Fetal exposure to THC in the mother’s bloodstream can also cause learning disabilities that last a lifetime.
Mental and Emotional Harm Caused by Too Much Cannabis
The mental and emotional toll of routine marijuana use go beyond the physical effects of the drug. Addiction carries its own laundry list of negative outcomes, and all of them are found among cannabis addicts. People living with an addiction disorder commonly lose focus and motivation, alienate friends and loved ones and suffer financially from the cost of feeding their addiction. The need for money to purchase increasing amounts of cannabis can motivate some people to turn to crime, which comes with a significant risk of getting caught, jailed, fined and suffering from major life disruptions as a result of incarceration.
Symptoms of Cannabis Addiction
Addiction is a disease that’s defined by its consequences, which are usually social. Addiction may be diagnosed if the user of any substance continues or escalates their use in the face of mounting physical and social costs that would normally discourage the behavior. Negative health effects, destructive behavior patterns and damage to or the loss of personal relationships are all common warning signs of any addiction, including cannabis.
Self-assessment is rarely the most reliable method to determining whether or not a person has developed an addiction. Because addiction alters self-image and the motivations people have for the things that they do, outside help from an addiction medicine specialist is nearly always needed to make a definitive diagnosis of addiction disorder. If you are concerned about your own marijuana use, these are some signs to look for in your own situation that may indicate you’ve developed an addiction:
- Consuming more marijuana at one time, or more frequently, than you intend to
- The real or perceived inability to cut down or to stop using the drug, despite having a strong desire to reduce or completely eliminate use
- Losing a job, large amounts of money, romantic partners, family members and friends, especially if your cannabis use was a factor in the relationship before it ended
If you are a relative or friend of someone who you fear might have a marijuana addiction, it can be difficult to know what you’re dealing with or to reach the person you care for. It helps to know the external signs of marijuana addiction, so you can reach out and get help as early in the addiction’s progress as possible. These include:
- Red, bloodshot eyes
- Slurred speech and loss of balance
- A strong aroma of marijuana on the person’s clothes and hair
- Defensiveness about marijuana use, which may include emotional lashing out or dishonesty about their use
- Anxiety, paranoia and other emotional disturbances or loss of control over emotions
Heavy users usually manifest their addiction in their early 20s, though many older adults develop problematic addiction issues later in life. Men are more likely to report using cannabis, and they’re twice as likely to report daily or almost daily use. Given the prevalence of cannabis use in Canada, addiction is not significantly more likely for any given racial or ethnic group. Because of the widespread use across groups, a diagnosis of addiction has to be built on the individual’s outward signs and symptoms, rather than assumed from superficial appearances.
Treatment for Cannabis Use Disorder
Addiction can have devastating consequences on a person’s life. Apart from the health consequences of heavy cannabis use, the professional, social, and financial effects of addiction take years out of a person’s life and cause irreparable damage to families. The benefits of quitting cannabis use are enormous, though it can be difficult for people struggling with addiction to reach out for the help they need.
Addiction recovery starts with a recognition that something is wrong, and that the cannabis user needs help to improve their situation. Rehab centres offer professional addiction treatment for people who need counseling and withdrawal management from a physician. Many people with addiction issues first decide to get help after an intervention. This is a potentially stressful event including family, friends, and partners in romantic relationships, who confront the cannabis user with the consequences the user’s addiction has had on their lives. This is often done in the presence of a trained intervention counselor who can guide the process in a productive way.
The goal of an intervention is to get the cannabis user to agree to inpatient addiction treatment at a detox centre. There, after their medical and social needs are assessed, the person seeking addiction treatment gets a care team and an addiction treatment plan. After the initial detox period, which is supervised by a physician, a long period of recovery begins. This consists of group sessions with other people who struggle with addiction disorders, plus some one-on-one therapy to learn sobriety strategies. Detox centres are not permanent homes, so the person managing their addiction is eventually discharged into some kind of sober living home, which may be their own home if they have a good aftercare plan in place.
Finding an effective addiction treatment centre takes time and research. If you’re looking for help for a person you care about, or if you need an evidence-based remedy for your own addiction, look to EHN Canada’s nationwide locations. Our treatment centres employ professional addiction recovery specialists who can see you through detox and into a lifetime of sober living.
Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms
When you stop smoking marijuana, especially after years of daily use, you can expect to feel some withdrawal symptoms. These usually start about a week after your last exposure and may last several weeks or months, depending on how heavy a smoker you were and how long your addiction has been going on. Cravings have a tendency to come on you suddenly and last for anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes, but they do go away on their own. More long-term symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Shaking and tremors
- Feelings of anger, irritability and/or aggressiveness
- Decreased appetite and possibly weight loss or other stomach issues, such as nausea
- Sleep disturbances and occasional nightmares
- Temporary depression
- Temporary nervousness or anxiety
- Feelings of restlessness and general malaise
- Nonspecific pain, fever, chills, headache or otherwise unexplained sweating
These withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable, but they don’t last forever. Your symptoms get better over time, and as you grow in your sobriety they eventually disappear. Working with an experienced addiction care team can make a big difference in how well you tolerate the unavoidable discomfort of prolonged marijuana withdrawals.
Seek Professional Help
If you are struggling with addiction or with an addiction related disorder, help is available. To be effective, inpatient and outpatient sobriety programs have to be properly planned and carried out by a dedicated care team you feel you can trust. Sign up for our online program for addiction, or get in touch with one of our rehab centres by phone at 416-644-6345. The dedicated professionals at EHN Canada are available to help you overcome cannabis addiction and start the new life of freedom you deserve.