The dangers of cannabis use disorder are frequently underestimated, especially in places where possession and use of the drug has been legalized. After all, if it’s legal, it can’t be that bad, right? The increasing use of marijuana as medication adds further to the perception of weed being both harmless and non-addictive.
The reality, of course, is that misuse of almost every legal substance can cause problems. Even water, that substance without which no creature would be able to survive, can kill when it is ingested in excess. Every day, people become addicted to substances that seem far more innocuous than cannabis: tobacco, sugar, caffeine.
Cannabis use disorder is a lot more common than most people think. After alcohol, it is the second most abused substance in Canada and the United States. Due to an increasing trend among drug dealers and manufacturers to chemically enhance the drug, marijuana can be up to 200 times stronger than is was forty years ago. This can result in faster-forming marijuana dependency and marijuana poisoning – a phenomenon that was relatively rare in decades gone by. Additionally, withdrawal symptoms can be more intense and unpredictable.
Whether or not marijuana is a “gateway drug” is widely debated, but most professionals agree that many marijuana users also use other substances, such as alcohol or heroin. The chemical interactions between substances can lead to psychotic symptoms, higher levels of impairment, and more intense side effects such as nausea, loss of appetite, irritability and insomnia.
If you are concerned about the amount of marijuana you or a loved one has been using, and you think there is a possibility that there might be a marijuana dependency problem, it may be time to answer some tough questions.
Somewhere in the region of ten percent of marijuana users will eventually become addicted at some point in their lives. Cannabis use disorder can gradually creep up over time, and before you know it, what was an occasional activity has become an obsession: you are always thinking about your next joint, you are worrying about how and where to acquire more weed, and you are keeping your marijuana use a secret from loved ones.
Like most problems, the best way to tackle a potential substance abuse problem is head-on. It is important to be honest with yourself about your drug use. So if you have been asking yourself whether you are dealing with cannabis use disorder, the time has probably come for you to take a simple addiction test.
Note that this quiz is intended for self-evaluation purposes only. It is not a diagnostic tool, and it in no way replaces the advice of a doctor, a mental health professional or an addiction expert. If you are concerned that you might be dealing with an drug abuse or addiction problem, you are urged to seek professional help regardless of the results of this test. Any substance use disorder can have devastating long-term consequences: it is better to seek help as soon as possible.
The following are yes/no questions that will help you recognize whether or not you are dealing with cannabis use disorder.
For most marijuana users, particularly young adults, marijuana is a social drug. For example, someone might pass around a joint at a party, or you might be smoking weed with a group of friends while you all sit on a beach enjoying the sunset.
Your use of marijuana might be problematic if you start making up reasons to smoke a joint, or if you decide that you do not need any reason at all.
Many people need their “fixes” in order to function first thing in the morning. In most cases, this is readily acknowledged as a sign of addiction. How many people, for instance, have told you that they are “addicted to caffeine”, and that they absolutely have to have a cup of coffee before they can be expected to do anything? By the same token, those who smoke a cigarette when they first wake up attest to their nicotine addiction.
Marijuana is no different. Smoking a joint first thing in the morning – a practice known as “wake and bake” – can be a symptom of cannabis use disorder.
Addictions have a way of taking over the drug user’s life, to the point that every activity is used as a way to facilitate the substance abuse. For example, if you are a chronic user, your job might become nothing more than a way to finance your addiction. Instead of paying your bills, you use the money to buy marijuana. You might arrive at work late due or leave early in order to accommodate your drug use, and you might structure your entire social life around your addiction.
The problem with habitual use of any substance is always how to ensure adequate supply. In most cases, this isn’t a problem. If the car is running low on fuel, we go to the gas station. If we run out of milk, we go to the grocery store.
But if you run out of a product that in some places is regarded as taboo, and in other places is downright illegal, how do you get more? Even in places with legalized marijuana, the supply is strictly controlled, and may not be adequate for the addict’s needs. If you spent a lot of mental energy wondering if the guy in the weed shop will start to ask questions if you go there again, if you are cycling between a number of legal marijuana suppliers, or if your heartbeat quickens if you are unable to contact your regular dealer, you may have a problem with excessive cannabis use.
As mentioned previously, marijuana is a social drug for most people, in much the same way that alcohol is.
If you regularly smoke joints by yourself, you might need to seek help. This is especially the case if you go to the effort of sequestering yourself away from people in order to prevent them from knowing that you are using weed.
Escapism is never a good reason to use any substance, but most people do it to some extent. Many of us, for instance, will drink to excess after a particularly bad day, or chain-smoke cigarettes in response to stress.
Frequent users often indulge in regular cannabis use in order to relax after a stressful day, or to escape from feelings of depression or anxiety. With increasing marijuana use comes increasing dependency: the user has to use higher doses just to feel that they can cope with the stresses of life.
While there is some debate as to whether or not addiction is a lifelong condition, most recovering addicts agree that their best course is to avoid the substance they were addicted to. If you have ever tried to quit using marijuana, then at some point in your past, you have recognized that you had a drug abuse problem. If that problem has either continued in spite of attempts to quit, or if it has resurfaced after a period of sobriety, you may need to seek help for your substance use.
Extended frequent use of marijuana can take its toll on cognitive functioning. For the most part, occasional cannabis users do not suffer long-term effects. But if you have been using weed on a regular basis, for a long period of time, you may start to suffer memory lapses, difficulty concentrating, impaired judgment and a lack of motivation.
In many cases, the last person who knows there is an addiction problem is the addict. No one sets out to use a product with the intention of becoming addicted. It can happen gradually, especially in the case of a substance like marijuana. The addict may not notice that their behaviour is changing, that their performance at work is declining, or that their relationships are becoming strained. Generally, if someone has mentioned something to you about your weed use, it means that there are noticeable signs of an issue.
People who are not addicted to a substance don’t care when they run out of that substance. They might feel disappointed if they discover that they are out of wine or ice cream. But if it is late at night, or they are unable to go out and buy more of whatever they want, they make do until a better time.
People with addictions, on the other hand, can go to extreme lengths to achieve the feeling they get from their substance of choice. This includes efforts to get that feeling from other substances, such as alcohol.
If you answered “yes” to six or more of the above questions, there is a high likelihood that you have a marijuana addiction that is adversely affecting your life.
The most telltale signs of weed addiction are the following:
Just like any addiction, marijuana can start to control your life become the focal point of many aspects of your life. Many of your decisions may start to depend on whether you will be able to use marijuana, and this can be very harmful to your personal relationships, your career, your physical and mental health, your finances, and your ability to contribute meaningfully to your community and your family. Marijuana impairment can be accompanied by aggression, mood swings and anxiety.
In some parts of the United States that regard marijuana as an illegal drug, cannabis use can have direct impacts on your ability to earn a living, as potential employers may have the right to conduct drug screens and urine tests as a condition of employment.
Smoking weed can also affect the way your brain works, making it harder to concentrate or learn new things. It can also cause an impairment of judgment in much the same way that alcohol can, leading to injury, illness and in some cases, death.
The good news is that with the help of friends, family members and professionals, you can overcome your addiction to marijuana. Many treatment options are available, including inpatient rehab and outpatient treatment. The therapeutic methods used vary from one treatment facility to the next, and range from nutrition counseling and life coaching to cognitive behavioural therapy, family counseling, and motivational enhancement therapy. The first step lies in recognizing that there is a problem.
Photo credit: Heath Alseike. This picture has a Creative Commons attribution license.— Addiction Problem, Drug Abuse & Drug Addiction, For Loved One, For Self, Marijuana Addiction, Substance Abuse, Weed Addiction