What Is Cannabis?
Also referred to as weed, marijuana or skunk, cannabis is derived from the cannabis plant. There are three varieties of the plant: cannabis Indica, cannabis Sativa, and cannabis Ruderalis. Its primary psychoactive substance is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. Cannabis can be rolled with tobacco and smoked as a joint, inhaled through a pipe or bong, or baked into cakes and cookies and ingested. Chronic or long-term use of cannabis can result in an addiction.
Cannabis causes relaxation and mild euphoria, depressing the central nervous system. Some people can use it recreationally once or twice but a percentage of others will develop an addiction or cannabis use disorder and become chronic users. If you are a parent you may have concerns about your child or teen using marijuana, given its status as a gateway drug. This is understandable because cannabis activates the same reward circuit as other drugs. The Providence Projects will assist you or a loved one with cannabis abuse and addiction.
Cannabis is the most abused substance in the UK, with over 7.6% of the population (aged 16 or over) having used it in 2020.
In the UK cannabis is classified as a Class B drug, in the same category as barbiturates and amphetamines. If you are found in possession of cannabis, the police can issue you with a warning or a fine on the spot. If you are charged with being in possession of an illegal substance the penalty could be a five-year prison term, an unlimited fine, or both. Supplying or producing cannabis carries a 14-year prison term, an unlimited fine, or both. The consequences will depend on the amount you are in possession of, whether you have a history of previous drug offences, and whether there are any other aggravating circumstances.
It is estimated that one in ten people who use cannabis will develop an addiction to it. However, this figure increases to one in six if you start using it before the age of 18. Using cannabis overstimulates the endocannabinoid receptors in your brain, changing the way your brain’s reward circuit works. It makes less endocannabinoids because it anticipates that it will get them from cannabis.
Having a cannabis addiction means you can’t stop using it even if you want to. If you try to stop, you experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, sleep problems, and strong cravings. Having a mental health or mood disorder can increase your chances of developing a cannabis use disorder.
Addiction vs Abuse
You might have started using cannabis recreationally or to help you relax. You may have given in to social pressure or to fit in with your friends. However, using it frequently, and using stronger strains can result in you developing tolerance. This means you need more to achieve the same high. When you don’t have it, you start to feel more stressed and like you can’t cope with your day-to-day responsibilities. This is because cannabis is a central nervous system depressant. If you don’t smoke it, your CNS can be overstimulated. because it causes a dopamine release.
When you become addicted and do not have cannabis, your appetite decreases, and you battle to sleep. Your ability to feel pleasure is compromised. You may experience mood swings without it and self-medicate to feel better, getting stuck in a cycle of addiction. If you have tried to reduce your use or quit, you experience negative withdrawal symptoms. These are signs of an addiction or cannabis use disorder.
Signs & Symptoms of Cannabis Addiction & Abuse
One of the signs you have developed a marijuana addiction is the urge to have it. You may experience cravings for marijuana at work or school or spend more money than you can afford to. It’s common not to feel ‘normal’ or as though you can’t cope with your day-to-day life without it. You may not be able to cut down or quit and find yourself using an increasing amount to achieve the same feeling of euphoria.
Most withdrawal symptoms will start within one to three days after you quit, peaking during the first week. They may persist for up to two weeks.
When you try to quit you experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that cause you to seek out more:
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Inability to concentrate
- Mood swings
- Loss of pleasure
Feeling as though you cannot cope with life if you don’t have marijuana is indicative of psychological dependence. When you do not have cannabis you can experience sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, loss of appetite, and cravings.
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What Are the Dangers Associated with Cannabis Misuse?
Long-term and chronic marijuana use can cause negative effects on your body and mind, and sometimes the effects are not apparent until years later. Just like smoking tobacco can harm your respiratory system, so too can smoking cannabis. Getting help sooner rather than later can safeguard you against the long term effects on your mind and body like
- Reduced dopamine production
- Problems with memory, particularly short term memory
- Damage to your lungs
- Persistent cough
- Increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart attacks.
Cannabis & Pregnancy
While the research on the psychoactive ingredients in cannabis and their effect on a developing baby is limited, there is a significant risk to a developing baby if a mother smokes during pregnancy. Smoking exposes a baby in utero to toxic and cancer-causing chemicals, just like tobacco. Smoking ages the placenta, which your baby relies on for development. It restricts blood flow to the baby, which deprives him or her of oxygen and nutrients. As a psychoactive substance, THC is potentially harmful and is currently being researched to determine how it affects memory, attention, behaviour, and problem-solving ability in children later in life. In addition, the chemicals and psychoactive substances can be passed onto a baby in breast milk after delivery.
Cannabis Effects on the Growing Brain
Researchers are still trying to establish how much cannabis affects the growing brain but it is currently believed that it can cause structural brain abnormalities and affect neural activity in young people. Various studies are probing how it affects verbal memory and declines in IQ.
What we do know is that cannabis alters your brain’s reward circuit because of the changes it makes to brain chemistry. Of concern is an increased risk that a young or adolescent user may self-administer other substances to stimulate their reward system. Further, the research also shows that your chances of developing an addiction or cannabis use disorder increase from 9% to 16% if you start using it before the age of 18.
Diagnosing Cannabis Addiction
If you use cannabis regularly and are concerned about your habits, you can use a simple preliminary test called the CAGE questionnaire as a starting point. This is a personal, multi-purpose assessment and the outcome could be referred to a medical practitioner for advice or to initiate a treatment plan. CAGE is an acronym that stands for Cut, Annoyed, Guilty, and Eye. It asks you if you have ever wanted to cut down, whether other people’s criticism of your cannabis use has annoyed you, if you have ever felt guilty about your use, and whether you have used cannabis as an eye-opener (or first thing in the morning) to get on with your day.
The CUDIT-R is an eight-item screening measure to identify whether you have a cannabis use disorder. It asks more specific questions about your patterns of use, how you feel about it and how much it is interfering with your daily life.
Getting Help for Cannabis Addiction
If you are on this page, you probably have a sense that you need help and would like to make a positive change. Maybe your family has raised concerns. Taking the first step towards recovery requires that you accept you have a problem. We will support you when you are ready to take that step.
If you have developed an addiction to cannabis, Detox alone rarely helps you remain sober for long periods of time, this is because cannabis addiction results in changes to the brain’s reward system. Cannabis rehab helps to address the psychological nature of addiction with therapy. There are two ways to seek treatment for cannabis, either as an inpatient (residential rehab) or outpatient (NHS or private counselling).
For those who have made previous attempts to quit cannabis and failed, residential treatment is often the better choice in terms of levels of care, whereas outpatient rehab leaves you vulnerable to triggers and relapse. Private residential treatment gives you access to immediate care and offers many advantages over outpatient care.