Cannabis use disorder (CUD) is commonly the subject of ridicule or immediate dismissal. But cannabis addictions are real, and recent studies show that the problem is on the rise.
Addiction, as defined in this video by Dr. Steven M. Melemis, is not necessarily an individual’s pattern of use, but by how difficult it is for them to cease using or participating in an activity. Dependence also heavily relies on a person’s biological makeup and their environment. While cannabis brings heaps of joy to some, it can be a source of turmoil for others.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines cannabis use disorder as the “problematic pattern of cannabis use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.” (It’s worth noting that the most recent edition of the DSM came out in 2013, which means many of its statistics and claims predate emerging cannabis trends as well as new methods of ingestion and tools used for consumption.)
The symptoms of cannabis use disorder are much like any other symptoms of addiction, such as an increase in cannabis dependency, heightened tolerance, and patterns of overconsumption. Other physical effects cited include cravings or withdrawal.
The DSM-5 also recognizes the consequences that come with cannabis use disorder, such as a decline in participation in social activities, deterioration of personal relationships, and the decision to use cannabis instead of engaging in a daily routine. It notes that those who develop the disorder possess a higher risk of developing issues with anxiety and paranoia, as well as more severe conditions such as psychosis and schizophrenia.
Symptoms of cannabis use disorder appear with subtlety and usually become noticeable between the first three to twelve months of consistent use.
In 2013, the DSM-5 reported that the majority of those affected by cannabis use disorder are persons between the ages of 18 to 29, which happens to make up the majority of the current recreational cannabis demographic. Those affected by cannabis use disorder made up approximately 4.4 percent of the cannabis consuming market, as cited in the DSM-5.
A 2016 study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) cited that the percentage of persons suffering from cannabis use disorder stood at 19.5 percent. This statistic has increased nearly five times since the DSM conducted its study.
According to Toronto-based addiction physician, Dr. Vera Tarman, cannabis use disorder is relatively new to professionals, and the quickly changing industry is making it hard for doctors to keep up.
“In the early days, cannabis was much weaker. It wasn’t as exotic as it is today,” Tarman tells Herb. “The strains and the knowledge about the different types of cannabis people can get, we didn’t know a thing, and we weren’t interested because it was illegal.”
Tarman, whose expertise in the field of addiction spans over twenty years, says at their core, many dependencies are similar, which is why cannabis use disorder deserves the same consideration as other addictions. Her concern is not about the risks of cannabis as much as the public’s perception of the lack of risk. Cannabis, like other substances or activities, can act as a crutch.
It takes up a person’s mental landscape, craving, and focus, and prevents them from learning other coping tools for life’s challenges, she says.
When asked what advice Tarman would give to people using cannabis, especially in places with legalization, she recommends merely taking cannabis use disorder seriously.
“Just like with alcohol, there are people who can partake socially and they can stop there,” Tarman says. “But there’s a lot of people that can’t drink alcohol or use drugs safely. I think that marijuana would fit into that category. It’s seen as a joke, and it’s not a joke. If we treated it with the same gravity, I would be less worried about it than I am.”