Is weed addictive?

January 20, 2023

Ever since recreational use has been commonplace, there have been many questions surrounding the plant. Is it safe? Does it have benefits? Is it addictive? The safety is dependent on purchasing from a reliable and legal dispensary and how often/in what quantities it is used. The list of benefits is growing all the time from chemotherapy aide to anxiety reduction. While there are many differing opinions about the addiction aspect, there is also a wealth of research to clear up any fallacies that have been floating around.

While the majority of cannabis users will not develop an addiction, it is possible. This is called Cannabis Use Disorder or CUD. Along with any substance, an addiction is defined as when use disrupts daily life, negatively impacts work and personal relationships, and negatively effects your executive system function. (Executive system function is responsible for concentration, making decisions or plans, or remembering important things.) There is also the aspect of wanting to stop, but being physically unable to that comes into play with CUD.

Before we get more into CUD, let’s take a look at what weed actually DOES to the brain that can make us want to keep going back for that next high.

Cannabis effects a few parts of the brain to give us that euphoric high we love. Our dopaminergic system is responsible for releasing dopamine, which allows you to feel pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation. This is what causes the high we feel when we smoke. Prolonged, excessive use can alter the brain’s natural release of dopamine, forcing unnaturally high levels, which can reinforce addictive tendencies. When used correctly and in moderation, it can lead to feeling good and not disrupting the dopaminergic system. Cells in the brain pass signals to each other through neurons ands release chemicals called neurotransmitters. A change in these neurotransmitters, like when we get high, can influence our thoughts, moods, sensations, and access to memories. Our brain does naturally produce cannabinoids and because cannabis resembles this natural chemical, it can disrupt the natural operation of the brain. Because the brain is self-tuning and seeks balance, excessive dopamine levels from heavy, chronic consumption can cause the brain to temporarily stop producing natural dopamine. This can cause the feeling of experiencing less reward and pleasure from activities and events when not high.  There are two areas of the brain that are responsible for nutritional needs and feeding schedule, and these are both disrupted when high. This is what causes the all-to-well-known munchies after getting high. They kick into overdrive and trick our brains into thinking we are hungry, even if have just eaten. Sometimes, the part of our brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for our fear response, can be overwhelmed and cause paranoia or anxiety.

Now that we have gone over WHAT happens when we smoke, let’s talk about addiction. The CDC says that it is absolutely possible to have a cannabis addiction or to develop CUD, but it does not effect everyone. Most long term, chronic smoker will feel a few days of irritability, sleep changes, and some other mild side effects if they stop consuming. This is not what is considered an addiction-this is a dependence. Any stimulant used long enough over time will cause a dependency because of its effects on the brain. Even coffee.(!)  An addiction or CUD is when the user physically cannot stop using cannabis, even if every aspect of their life is negatively effected by it. Some additional signs of CUD are:

  • Using more cannabis than intended
  • Trying, but failing to quit
  • Spending all your time consumed with using cannabis, even while working or with friends and family
  • Negative effects on home, work, and social relationships/environments and continuing to use it in spite of these issues
  • Giving up important activities in favor of using cannabis
  • Not being able to stop even when obvious mental and physical symptoms of a problem are present

While the over consumption is a big trigger for CUD, there are other outside factors that can play a part in developing CUD:

  • Beginning to consume cannabis before the age of 18 when the brain has reached a certain point of maturity
  • Underlying mental health conditions
  • Past trauma
  • Males are more prone to CUD than females
  • Family history of substance use

While most of us who consume cannabis are able to balance our life/work/buzz time accordingly, we need to be aware that some of us can have a problem with cannabis use. Compare it to alcohol-most adults can go out and have a few drinks, have a good time, and call it a night. Some can’t do that. Some need to continue to drink for the duration of the evening and continuing days. Not everyone will have that problem, but it is a possibility. The bottom line is, always consume responsibly and safely. If you think you or someone you know may have a problem with cannabis or any substance, make sure to talk to them about seeking help.

Must be 21+. Please consume responsibly.