Is there someone in your circle who can’t seem to quit smoking marijuana?
While the majority of users report no symptoms or notable problems when cutting back on their usage, cannabis remains the most widely abused substance in America¹.
Maybe you have a friend that comes to mind as you begin to ponder this thought.
Does that person spend an irresponsible amount of money on smoking marijuana? Does its usage affect the person’s ability to balance his or her obligations and priorities? Perhaps they even get cranky when they are forced to go for a longer period of time without it? Maybe they downplay the dependency by claiming they can easily stop if they want to.
If this sounds like someone you know, it’s possible cannabis use disorder can be the underlying issue.
With legalized cannabis use being amplified on a global scale, there is a rising concern about it’s increasingly high potential for abuse.
In this article we’ll talk about what exactly is cannabis use disorder, how to spot the signs, and what to do if you or someone you know is struggling.
What is Cannabis Use Disorder?
The official term cannabis use disorder came into the picture when it’s status was claimed and embedded into the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition)². This manual is used by psychologists and other mental health professionals to categorize and diagnose mental health disorders.
Before this happened though, in the prior edition of the DSM-5, marijuana use disorder as a whole was broken down further into two different categories: cannabis abuse and cannabis dependence³.
While both of these terms describe two problems that are still issues when it comes to cannabis use, the official term used in diagnosis remains cannabis use disorder.
The DSM-5 includes a long and lengthy list of eleven factors that are strong indicators of cannabis use disorder.
The following list of criteria is taken straight from the DSM-5²
- Use of cannabis for at least a one year period, with the presence of at least two of the following symptoms, accompanied by significant impairment of functioning and distress:
- Difficulty containing use of cannabis- the drug is used in larger amounts and over a longer period than intended.
- Repeated failed efforts to discontinue or reduce the amount of cannabis that is used
- An inordinate amount of time is occupied acquiring, using, or recovering from the effects of cannabis.
- Cravings or desires to use cannabis. This can include intrusive thoughts and images, and dreams about cannabis, or olfactory perceptions of the smell of cannabis, due to preoccupation with cannabis.
- Continued use of cannabis despite adverse consequences from its use, such as criminal charges, ultimatums of abandonment from spouse/partner/friends, and poor productivity.
- Other important activities in life, such as work, school, hygiene, and responsibility to family and friends are superseded by the desire to use cannabis.
- Cannabis is used in contexts that are potentially dangerous, such as operating a motor vehicle.
- Use of cannabis continues despite awareness of physical or psychological problems attributed to use- e.g., anergia, amotivation, chronic cough.
- Tolerance to Cannabis, as defined by progressively larger amounts of cannabis are needed to obtain the psychoactive effect experienced when use first commenced, or, noticeably reduced effect of use of the same amount of cannabis
Withdrawal, defined as the typical withdrawal syndrome associated with cannabis, or cannabis or a similar substance is used to prevent withdrawal symptoms².
Why Is Marijuana Use Disorder Becoming Such A Prevalent Problem?
Since THC is the most likely culprit that these symptoms can be blamed on (in addition to a number of other factors), the number of people suffering from cannabis use disorder is going up right along with those potent THC numbers.
With the legalization of marijuana becoming more mainstream by the day, brands are in steep competition with each other to breed cannabis strains with the most potent amounts of THC we’ve ever seen before.
While it’s obvious to scientists that users who use cannabis heavily and on a consistent basis are likely changing their own brain circuitry, this is something that most cannabis users don’t usually take the time to think about. Because cannabis is widely accepted as a soft drug, the idea of a dependency issue occurring is usually not on anyone’s radar.
These potent strains and abuse problems have led many people to make the switch from smoking cannabis with a high THC content to something with more CBD instead. Hemp cigarettes are a wonderful alternative to typical marijuana joints for this very reason.
How Is Cannabis Use Disorder Treated?
Since this is such a newer issue within the cannabis community, research is still limited. But there are several behavioral therapies that seem promising in treatment of cannabis use disorder⁴.
The prognosis is good for individuals who recognize the toll their cannabis use has had on their lives. People who enter into treatment on their own free will and choose to embrace the process
have a high probability of success in the program.
What To Do If You’re Struggling With Cannabis Use Disorder?
Recognizing the fact that there’s a problem is the first step to fixing it. The fact is, 9% of users who try cannabis ultimately end up with a dependency problem⁴.
For this reason it's vital to seek professional help as soon as possible.
If you feel you’re not yet to the point where you need professional help, a tolerance break might be something worth considering.
A tolerance break refers to a period of time that an individual will refrain from all forms of cannabis use. This is with the intent to reset their bodies to its normal rhythm, therefore requiring less amounts of cannabis to recreate those strong reactions to the cannabis.
But if taking such a break is too difficult to you, again, please seek the professional support you need.
Cannabis use disorder is an issue that threatens the well-being of many individuals and this threat further extends to their loved ones and family members.
While it’s true that this isn’t the type of thing that the majority of people seem prone to, it does remain a growing problem among those who use marijuana both medically and recreationally. Understanding the problems associated with cannabis use disorder and how to get help is going to be imperative to fighting this rapidly growing problem.
Even if it’s not something you deal with on a personal level, now you know the signs of cannabis use disorder, and what to do if you or a loved one is struggling.
- Blurred Boundaries: The Therapeutics and Politics of Medical Marijuana
- Cannabis Use Disorder DSM-5, 305.20, 304.30
- Cannabis Use Disorder For Problematic Marijuana Users
- Marijuana Dependence and It’s Treatment