WHAT IS A CANNABIS USE DISORDER?
Let’s state it up front: Cannabis (more often known as marijuana) is an addictive drug, and like any drug it’s possible to develop an addiction to it. Believe it – ever hear the phrase “wake and bake”? It describes addictive behavior to a T.
While it lacks the lethality of opioids, the social costs of alcohol, or the general insanity surrounding methamphetamines, cannabis addiction (or cannabis use disorder) is a real problem. Cannabis/marijuana use can disrupt your life just like any other addictive drug.
Is There A Difference Between Cannabis And Marijuana?
No. The word “cannabis” is the name for a group of green, flowering plants. Three of them have psychoactive properties. With roots in central and southern Asia, cannabis plants have been used for ritualistic purposes, as medicine, and recreationally for thousands of years.
The word “marijuana,” however, is more commonly used … but its roots are somewhat hazy and come with a fair amount of controversy. Both words describe the same substance, and we’ll use them interchangeably throughout this page.
Who Uses Marijuana/Cannabis?
Cannabis is the most widely consumed drug in the United States that’s still federally illegal, although it’s legal in many states. Nearly 50 million Americans report using it during a given year, a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report found.
This popularity comes with some concerning trends – prior to 2019, cannabis use among young adults and teens had been declining. A National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) report described a “significant increase” in marijuana consumption during that same year, with almost 4% of high school seniors reporting they vaped cannabis every day. Around 36% of high school seniors said they used marijuana at least once during the school year, too.
Cannabis has been thought to be harmful to developing brains, although more research needs to be done. Our brains don’t stop developing until around age 25.
How Does Cannabis/Marijuana Achieve Its Effects?
Our cells contain many different receptors – they’re sort of like radio antennas tuned to different neurotransmitters and chemicals. The active ingredient in cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), binds with these receptors when marijuana is ingested. This disrupts the way our nervous system operates and creates the sensation of being “high.”
THC can also trigger a dopamine release. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter used in the body’s reward system – it’s the reason why THC makes users feel relaxed, happy, and euphoric. THC can also increase the appetite, which is why it can benefit people undergoing chemotherapy – THC helps them fight nausea so they can keep their meals down.
But like all addictive drugs, there’s a downside. THC, in high amounts over time, can rewire the brain into thinking it needs THC to function normally, causing minor withdrawal effects when THC use is stopped. High doses of THC, while not fatal, can cause intense anxiety, hallucinations, and nausea.
There are other risks to THC, too.
What Are The Dangers Of Marijuana/Cannabis Use?
This question isn’t that easy to answer. One thing is clear, though: smoking marijuana/cannabis has many of the same dangers as smoking tobacco. As for THC, though … it’s a less easy call.
Some studies have shown cannabidol (CBD), another active ingredient in cannabis, may have antipsychotic properties. And yet other studies seem to show high doses of THC can result in psychosis. There may be additional harmful psychological side effects to cannabis use, but more research needs to be done. It’s also unclear if marijuana’s increasing legality has resulted in a higher rate of drugged driving.
That said, addiction isn’t really about substances per se – it’s about harmful behaviors. Compulsive marijuana use can upend and damage a person’s life, especially if its being used as a coping mechanism. Cannabis use disorder is a recognized substance use disorder as well.
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