As more people around the world are prescribed (and self-prescribe) cannabis, there is a pressing question deserving of deeper analysis: Is cannabis addictive?
It’s a complicated question because addiction can be physical or psychological, or both. Although only affecting a minority of users, cannabis has long been known to be more psychologically addictive than physically addictive.
Clinical psychologist Jonathan N. Stea summed up the oft-cited data in a recent article when he stated: “Approximately one out of 10 people who ever try cannabis at least once during their lifetime will likely become addicted1.” He goes on to say, “Put another way, this means that about 90 percent of people who try cannabis do not become addicted. While the chances of becoming addicted to other drugs can be higher, such as to alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and nicotine, the story is similar with cannabis: The majority of people who try these drugs do not become addicted.
”While Stea didn’t clarify if he meant psychologically addicted or physically addicted, it’s important to clarify the distinction between the two: First, as UCLA’s Adi Jaffe points out2, “addiction is as both a psychological addiction AND a physical addiction that are inextricably linked through our psyche's presence in the brain.”
With physical addiction the body grows accustomed to regularly hosting a drug that provides certain functions and will cease to provide those functions once the cue from the drug is removed. For example, an opioid-dependent brain will not produce endorphins, its natural painkiller, without opioids3.
While all addictions are, in some part, psychological, a more mental addiction is closer to the practice of habit-forming, whereupon the user develop a psychological desire for the substance, which could affect their lives in negative ways.
It’s also critical to differentiate between addiction and dependence. As this article highlights4, “physical dependence is not the same as addiction. Physical dependence occurs when the brain adapts to the effects of a drug and develops tolerance. In other words, an individual will require more and more of the drug to achieve the initial positive effect and will rely on continued use of the drug to prevent painful and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms."
The same article outlines the definition of addiction: “On the other hand, a person who has addiction no longer takes a drug just to feel its effects, but rather to escape withdrawal and simply feel closer to normal. Addiction affects the parts of the brain responsible for decision-making and self-control."
”Other questions worthy of further exploration are whether or not cannabis users go through withdrawal, and if they do, what symptoms of withdrawal do they exhibit."
Research has shown that cannabis withdrawal is similar to nicotine withdrawal. As the CBC reports5: The DSM-5 includes diagnostic criteria for cannabis withdrawal and lists possible signs as including irritability, anger, aggression, nervousness, anxiety, sleep difficulty, decreased appetite, restlessness, depressed mood and some other possible physical symptoms (e.g., abdominal pain, shakiness, sweating, fever, chills, and headache).”
It is interesting to note that cannabis withdrawal symptoms encompass both the physical and psychological spheres.
British psychology professor Alan J. Budney adds6: “Heavy cannabis users who stop experience withdrawal symptoms that may be somewhat similar to tobacco withdrawal symptoms, but they do not approach the severity nor have the clinical implications of the withdrawal experience by many opiate users.
”Cannabis withdrawal is much more akin to the experience of coffee withdrawal, definitely a very frustrating and uncomfortable experience, but one that luckily is short-lived.
Due to the habit-forming nature of cannabis usage, a consumer could rely on cannabis beyond its medical effects. Some physicians have noticed7 how problematic cannabis users will make statements in surveys such as, “I have trouble quitting. I think a lot about quitting and I can’t do it. I smoked more than I intended to. I neglect responsibilities.”
Stea found that the more heavy cannabis users may self-prescribe in order “to escape from their emotions.” Stea believes that such usage is detrimental because it robs their brain of the opportunity to practice coping with emotions in healthy ways.
Stea further explains, “As a consequence, the brain becomes classically conditioned or trained to respond to difficult emotions by using cannabis. It is as if your brain salivates for cannabis every time you feel anxious, or sad, or angry, just like a dog might salivate when it hears a bell that signifies food."
A commonly quoted reason why cannabis could be more addictive to users today than in the 70s is due to THC potency. In 1995, the average potency of cannabis had a peak of about 4 percent, then reached 12 percent in 2014. THC levels have soared since and as of 2018, average potency reached 20 percent. That potency can even be higher among marijuana extracts, known as “dabs,” which can include anywhere from 40 to 80 percent THC, a Drug Enforcement Administration report stated, according to media reports8.
What is also concerning is that for those who are dependent on cannabis, no effective medications are available to assist these cannabis users. Also, as Leslie L. Iversen writes in The Science of Marijuana9: “Unfortunately there have been very few controlled trials to assess treatment methods, which remain mainly focused on group counseling.
”Understanding the difference between mental and physical addictions, and how dependence varies from addiction, is important for cannabis users to identify, lest they confuse the conditions and either place unfortunate stigmas on themselves or those around them.
The history of cannabinoids is full of intrigue. For decades now, scientists and researchers of all stripes have marveled at the cannabis plant’s rich chemical tapestry – one loaded with hundreds of properties, from the psychoactive to the analgesic. Where culture and industry have unquestionably failed science is in the simplistic categorization of the plant, and its many concentrates.
The history of tinctures is rich in texture. Humans have been using tinctures since 1000 AD when alcohol was first distilled by the ancient Egyptians. After distilling alcohol became common practice, using the mixture to preserve plants and create plant-based medicine soon followed. For therapeutic reasons, cannabis infusion has over time become one of the most popular tinctures.
The times have most certainly changed. Long gone are the days when a curt answer will suffice to address the questions and potential concerns children have about cannabis. With more adults consuming the plant and its many concentrates for both medical and recreational reasons, the importance of safeguarding kids from the potential harms associated with the practice have never been more pressing.
Like its precursor, cannabis oil has many faces and a host of applications. In fact, the increasing popularity of cannabis oil can almost certainly be attributed to both the potency and efficacy of the product, but the sheer number of different oils available, and unique ways they can be consumed, which has also greatly increased their popularity.
Insomnia, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome are but a few of the ills that fall under the category of sleep condition. Though not quick to receive much attention from the healthcare community, the threat associated with sleep conditions – from obesity to cardiovascular disease – is stark.
Having a working understanding of the myriad accessories available to patients is a good start to being able to properly medicate using cannabis. Equally important to the conversation of what products there are, is knowledge of how to use those accessories. Where some cannabis accessories, like papers, are quite basic, others, like vaporizers, can be a little harder to figure out.
With cannabis concentrates now available in nearly every form, it’s a wonder people still consume whole flowers. The fact is, while products like oils, edibles and tinctures have become increasingly popular over the last number of years, patients continue to unequivocally side with whole flowers as the choice method of medicating with cannabis.
Like accessories, devices can be a nuanced topic in the discussion about how best to incorporate medical cannabis into a therapy. Oftentimes, these products – particularly the traditional tools – don’t come with a user’s manual. Newer products, like oil pens and pre-loaded vape cartridges, have their own set of idiosyncrasies. Understanding the similarities of, and differences between, cannabis devices is a solid starting point to properly medicating with cannabis.
Though no products yet exist that will eliminate the unwanted effects of cannabis paranoia, there are certainly cultural tips, adopted as truths, that are reported to be able to help. In case you ever find yourself up against that rare, but scary, menace, we’ve outlined a number of tools you can use.
The decision to adopt cannabis as a treatment option is, like most significant changes in life, very personal. Whether you’ve decided to incorporate medical cannabis into your routine to treat chronic pain, sleep issues, cancer symptoms or social anxiety, you’ve likely done so primarily for one reason: to feel better.
As it has been established, medical cannabis doesn’t need to simply be smoked or baked to be incorporated as part of a healthy routine. There are also concentrates, topicals and edibles on the market that have started to pique the interest of recreational consumers and medical patients. Many of these products have helped to open the door to the full potential of the cannabis plant and its extracts.
Can cannabis cure cancer? To date, there is no scientific evidence to back the theory that cannabis kills cancer cells. In fact, most responsible cannabis professionals – leery of a culture of misinformation – will caution patients to ignore that claim.
There are few experts, if any, on the research and development side of the cannabis conversation that deny the holistic efficacy of THC. Despite there being a common misperception that the most popular and notorious of all the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant is only responsible for a good time, there is a wealth of scientific data that refutes this assertion. In fact, insiders have known – long before medical cannabis became an acceptable adjunct treatment option – that THC has profound therapeutic benefits.
The word homegrow is apt to draw two simultaneous reactions: intrigue and confusion. With more patients and adult-use consumers choosing to grow their own cannabis, there is no shortage of interest in this area. That intrigue, however, is often overshadowed by doubt: how does one even go about growing their own cannabis?
As cannabis legalization ripples across Canada, some Canadians may be tempted to consume cannabis and get behind the wheel of their car, perhaps thinking a cannabis high won’t disrupt their driving behavior compared to drinking a few beers. But such assumptions can be dangerous, if not lethal.
Incorporating cannabis into your daily routine can, unquestionably, come with a set of light challenges. Chief among those is perhaps understanding the lexicon associated with ancillary cannabis products. When getting started with treatment, the difference between a paper and vape, or pipe and bong, may be unclear.
The list of sophisticated new cannabis products lining product shelves of this new space is extensive, and impressive. More often than not, these products serve as a responsible introduction to medical cannabis. Where pipes and bongs have a tendency to lend stereotype to any conversation of cannabis therapy, new delivery methods like oils, edibles and topicals tend to have exactly the opposite effect.
Something of an enigma, cannabis oil is a term that is tossed around loosely, and often misunderstood. Likely because an understanding of cannabis oil is contingent on both the process and product, confusion seems to follow the conversation. For this reason, it’s important that consumers and patients gain a basic knowledge of both before deciding if medicating with oils is an appropriate treatment option.
What is cannabis treatment? Cannabis treatment is the use of the cannabis plant, or any of its components, as a therapeutic agent. Specifically, treatment involves the consumption of all or some of the plant’s matter, cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids, to achieve a desired therapeutic result.
Inhaling the vapours of marijuana concentrates as a way to medicate has been in fashion for at least a decade, but advanced hash oil extraction methods have led to a flood of cannabis concentrates with which to medicate.
Cannabis treatment is a moot therapy option without a firm grasp on how to dose. This very fact has perhaps been best illustrated by the fact the medical community, until recently, has shied away from throwing full support behind the plant and its potential. However, as new products develop, and fresh ways of dosing have become available to patients, so too have the means of dosing surfaced. As a result, more and more practitioners have started prescribing cannabis- based concentrates.