Physically, cannabis isn’t an addictive substance, but emotionally and mentally, it may be possible to develop a habit of sorts towards cannabis for frequent users.
This week, we look into the question of: “Is cannabis addictive?” and attempt to examine the various perspectives that lead to a not-so-straightforward answer. I’ll also discuss some of my own experiences that lead me to adopt the overall opinion that cannabis isn’t physically addictive, but that it does have potential to be habit-forming, with the belief that you can have too much of a good thing.
Perspectives on Cannabis Addiction
Cannabis remains a Schedule 1 substance in the United States, and Oov explored the issue in detail late last year with “Dear Nurse Susan”. For a substance to be classified as Schedule 1:
- The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse;
- The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical treatment use in the U.S.;
- There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or substance under medical supervision
When you look at these criteria, it really makes no sense why cannabis has been so classified, especially with the medical marijuana community being as strong as ever while medical and recreational working to spread cannabis education about safe use.
The issue of abuse keeps coming up in communities that are anti-marijuana, often because of this confusing status of cannabis as Schedule 1. Cannabis is placed at the same status as Heroin, which has been known to destroy lives through addiction.
This scheduling of cannabis is another failure on the War on Drugs, something that the federal government has been getting wrong for decades now. The status of cannabis is a product of the social constructs surrounding cannabis, including its Reefer Madness past, unfortunate criminalization, the murky perpetuation of prohibition in the Nixon years, and racist past that disproportionally affected minorities surrounding cannabis. The status of cannabis at the federal level isn’t about protecting people from abusing it at all.
Despite the federal government being like a stick in the mud when it comes to de-scheduling marijuana, and the prospect of it ever being federally legal seeming less attainable, legal states are still full speed ahead for cannabis access.
The Psychology of it All
It’s been known for a very long time in its prohibitionist past that cannabis doesn’t pose a public health threat, nor does it have physical properties that lead to it being an addictive substance. However, psychologically, there may be a different tune to be sung.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is considered to be the psychiatric handbook for mental health in the USA has come up with something called “cannabis use disorder” which requires patients to meet 2 of the 11 described characteristics of the disorder. These characteristics include cravings and strong urges to use cannabis, being unsuccessful in attempts to cut down, recurrent cannabis use despite it being detrimental to social and interpersonal relationships, demonstrating tolerance resulting in increased use, and withdrawal symptoms when attempting to discontinue cannabis use among other symptoms.
Can cannabis be psychologically addictive?
When I consider the symptoms of what the psychological community would consider cannabis use disorder, I can understand that there is a concern over where the line is drawn between healthy and potentially harmful cannabis use.
You can have too much of a good thing, including cannabis. While we know that no one has ever died from a cannabis overdose, and no one probably ever will, there could become a point in your life where cannabis use goes from being a supplement in your life to a habit in your life.
I’ve had these moments as a recreational cannabis user, where my desire to use cannabis has been at all-time highs, and where I may use cannabis more habitually rather than recreationally. I’ve also had times where I haven’t had access to cannabis and experience a bit of an emotional withdrawal where I just want to get my hands on some cannabis.
These are times where I need to consider the role that cannabis plays in my life, outside of cannabis being my profession, and where my use is beneficial to my life. This includes keeping track of how much cannabis I am purchasing, how often I find myself reaching for my pipe, and asking myself “why” I am feeling the desire for cannabis use.
Walking the Line of Use and Abuse
Medically, most users are very careful about dosing and will use their cannabis medicine similar to how they would other prescribed medications. They will be astute to dosing, methods and the strains they are consuming for the desired medicinal effects. It would be unfair to say a dependency is created with medical cannabis, but fair to say that when someone uses cannabis for relief of pain, anxiety, inflammation, or any other medicinal use, they’ll feel its absence if taken away.
Is cannabis addictive? I still say no, but as a cannabis educator, I always encourage people to be intentional and reflective about their cannabis use. Why are you using it? Is the amount you’re consuming providing benefits to your overall health and well-being? Is your cannabis use causing any other issues in other areas of your life? Has anyone expressed concern about your cannabis use? Are you using your medicinal cannabis the way your doctor recommends? These are all helpful questions in assessing whether you are having too much of a good thing.
I like using analogies to demonstrate my thoughts on whether cannabis use can be potentially harmful. The way I see it, Vitamin C is good for you, but you wouldn’t sit down and chew down a whole bottle of Vitamin C pills to get the ultimate benefit. Exercise is also good for you, but you only spend an hour or two at the gym, rather than eight hours a day trying to maximize your workout. Eating healthy is good for you, but you need to bring balance to your diet to retrieve nutritional benefit. These same principles should apply to cannabis use: everything in moderation. Sometimes less is more, sometimes more is just what you need.
It’s up to you to decide, and that’s your prerogative.