Learn | 04.19.2024

Demystifying Cannabis Addiction: What You Need To Know

Is cannabis addictive?

Cannabis is a plant that has been used for medicinal and recreational purposes for centuries. However, a question that often arises is whether cannabis is addictive.

Although most cannabis users do not become addicted, it is essential to understand how problematic cannabis use can affect the brain and daily life.

Cannabis is often touted for its beneficial properties, but like any substance, we regret to inform you that it can also be addictive.

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is a repetitive cycle that usually consists of three stages: binge and intoxication, withdrawal and negative effects, and preoccupation with using more of the substance.

Cannabis addiction, also known as cannabis use disorder, follows this pattern. The formal diagnosis of cannabis addiction is characterized by the inability to stop using cannabis despite physical or psychological harm.

What Is Cannabis Use Disorder?

Cannabis use disorder (CUD) refers to a person’s inability to stop using cannabis despite it causing physical or psychological harm. This includes both cannabis addiction and cannabis dependence, which can have a negative impact on a person’s life.

Symptoms may include continued cannabis use despite physical or psychological problems, problems at work, school, or home due to cannabis use, intense cravings for cannabis, difficulty controlling or reducing cannabis use, increased tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use.

Cannabis addiction can alter the brain’s reward system, stress response, executive function, and self-regulation.

The brain’s dopaminergic system, which is responsible for the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward and pleasure, can be significantly influenced by cannabis use. While a puff of weed can provide a euphoric high by increasing dopamine release, repeated cannabis use can lead to abnormally high levels of dopamine release, reinforcing addictive effects.

In addition, cannabis addiction can affect how a person responds to stress. Heavy long-term cannabis users may have an attenuated stress response, as cannabis can decrease the production of cortisol, a hormone that is released in response to stress. While this may initially appear to be a positive effect, it can also hinder the body’s ability to react to threats or dangers, as cortisol helps us mobilize energy for fight or flight responses.

How Does Cannabis Addiction Affect The Brain?

Cannabis addiction, like other addictions, affects the way the brain processes rewards, responds to stress, manages executive functions, and self-regulates.

It can influence attention span, concentration, decision-making, and memory. In addition, it can affect self-regulation, which means that the person may have difficulty controlling his or her impulses and behaviors in relation to cannabis use.

The Dopaminergic System And Cannabis

One of the most researched effects of cannabis addiction is its impact on the brain’s dopaminergic system, which is responsible for the release of dopamine. This molecule influences how we experience rewards.

Cannabis use can provide a feeling of euphoria due to the release of dopamine. However, repeated and excessive cannabis use can increase dopamine release to abnormally high levels, which can reinforce addictive effects.

Can Cannabis Be A Form Of Addiction Treatment?

While the impact of cannabis on addiction has been researched, there is also evidence that cannabis may have therapeutic properties for the treatment of some addictions.

Some studies have shown that cannabis can help in the management of withdrawal and reduce the use of other addictive substances such as alcohol and opioids. Although the results are promising, more studies are needed to strengthen these findings.

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