Humans are pleasure- and reward-driven creatures. We have a built-in reward system, we like to feel good and look for experiences and materials that evoke fun. However, when we rely on substances to provide us with that good feeling, our internal reward system can become disorganized and ineffective, leading to addiction.
Chronic cannabis consumption can turn into problematic use that can negatively affect physical and mental health, relationships, and daily life. And while the vast majority of cannabis consumers will not become addicted to the plant, it is helpful to understand how cannabis use affects the brain, which can lead to addiction, and behaviors that can contribute to cannabis use disorder.
Additionally, while some research suggests that cannabis can contribute to addiction, the plant may also be a form of addiction treatment.
What is addiction?
People can become addicted to many different things, but addiction to chemicals or substances is the most common. Chemical addictions include drugs, alcohol, cannabis, or even caffeine (yes, it’s a real thing). There are various ways of talking about chemical addiction, including dependence, abuse, and misuse, but they are all grouped under a broader umbrella of substance use disorders.
Chemical addiction occurs when an individual’s use of a substance disrupts their daily life, detrimentally affects their relationships, and impairs their ability to function. Self-reliance is so overwhelming that they cannot stop using the substance, despite their desire to quit.
Scientists generally agree that addiction is a recurring cycle defined by three phases:
- Phase I: Gluttony and intoxication over the substance, which stimulates the influx of dopamine that makes the user feel good.
- The second stage: withdrawal and negative influences. The absence of the substance causes a panicked negative reaction
- The third stage: characterized by preoccupation with eating more of the substance, which eventually leads to the first stage
That cannabis addiction It also corresponds to these three phases. The official diagnosis of cannabis addiction is indicated cannabis use disorder.
What is cannabis use disorder?
Cannabis use disorder (CUD) can be defined as the inability to stop taking cannabis even when it causes physical or psychological harm. This definition captures not only addiction, but also individuals who may be dependent on and adversely affected by cannabis.
Approximately 10% of the 193 million cannabis users worldwide Affected by cannabis use disorder. Symptoms of cannabis use disorder include:
- Continuing cannabis use despite physical problems, such as frequent respiratory infections
- Continued use despite psychological problems, such as anxiety or paranoia
- continuing cannabis use despite social or relationship problems; These problems can arise from various factors, such as Impaired ability to process emotionsor a tendency to withdraw from social activities
- Giving up or cutting back on other activities in favor of cannabis use
- Problems at work, school and home as a result of marijuana use
- Cravings for cannabis
- Difficulty controlling or reducing cannabis use
- Using cannabis in high-risk situations, such as driving or using tools or machines that could cause harm
- consuming more cannabis than intended; Or the inability to stick to the consumption limits you set for yourself
- Increase tolerance to cannabis
- Withdrawal symptoms, such as depression or irritability, when you stop using cannabis
Can cannabis addiction change the brain?
Cannabis addiction, like all addictions, is changing How the brain processes rewardsresponds to stress, manages the function of the executive system, and regulates itself. Cannabis addiction affects executive function By impairing our ability to pay attention, focus, make plans or decisions, and remember important things.
Addiction also affects how this happens self-regulation. Self-regulation refers to our ability to control our choices, impulses, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. When we become addicted to cannabis, the desire to consume the plant can affect our choices and actions in sometimes harmful ways.
Cannabis addiction can also disrupt responses to stressful situations. For example, it is normal to feel a rise in stress levels in response to an accident that almost happened on the highway, or to witness an argument. Stress causes the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to prepare the body for fight or flight.
Research has shownHowever, long-term cannabis users and heavy cannabis users often have a poor stress response – they do not produce as much cortisol in stressful situations, and therefore do not feel the acute effects of stress as much.
While this may be a good thing—many of us can benefit from feeling cooler in the face of daily stressors—it can also be a disadvantage, as cortisol facilitates the release of energy that helps us respond to threats or dangers. In other words, cortisol helps us move quickly when we need a quick getaway.
Cannabis and the dopamine system
One of the most researched ways in which cannabis addiction alters brain function is through its effect on the brain’s dopamine system, which is responsible for the release of dopamine, a molecule produced in the brain that greatly influences how we receive rewards.
A patch of weed can provide you with a dose of dopamine that will give you a euphoric high. But, Frequent use of cannabis can increase dopamine release to abnormally high levels, which can enhance addictive effects.
Dr. Jordan Schiller, faculty member at Harvard Medical School, chair of Association of Cannabis ProfessionalsCEO / CMO in inhale. “This is thought to be related to indirect stimulation of the dopamine system — the system implicated in addiction.”
However, it is necessary to note that cannabis use It must be chronic before addiction can occur. You can’t get addicted to weed from smoking one joint. Addiction arises when the brain’s reward system is repeatedly stimulated, changing the way it works.
Cannabis and the endocannabinoid system
Our endocannabinoid system – the primary physical system responsible for processing the effects of cannabis like THC and CBD – contains both naturally occurring endocannabinoids produced by the body, and receptors that pick up messages from the endocannabinoids and cannabinoids in cannabis.
According to Cheller, abuse of cannabis can lead to a downregulation of endocannabinoid receptors, resulting in fewer receptors circulating in the brain — and thus less able to pick up messages from the body’s natural endocannabinoid pathway. “In this way, the individual’s endocannabinoid system becomes dependent on the supply of cannabinoids provided by cannabis,” Tishler said.
THC appears to be the main cause of downregulation of CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the body. With fewer receptors available, the brain becomes more tolerant and becomes more sensitive to THC rewards. Therefore, increasingly large amounts of THC are required to achieve a high content.
But fortunately, this change is not permanent. a study of daily cannabis smokers found that CB1 receptor density returned to normal levels in nearly all parts of the brain after four weeks of abstinence.
Are some more prone to addiction to cannabis?
While altered brain chemistry undoubtedly plays a major role in cannabis addiction, it is also important to recognize that addiction is a multifaceted disorder caused by diverse interlocking factors. Genes, lifestyle, home and work environment, and socioeconomic status can all play a role in addiction.
Beyond consumption patterns, Evidence is emerging Which suggests that some individuals are more likely to develop a cannabis use disorder than others.
For example, cannabis use before the age of 16 has been found to increase the risk of developing CUD. Additionally, individuals with CUD are more likely to have been diagnosed with another substance use disorder, such as alcohol dependence. In a US sample of people diagnosed with CUD, 83.5% of men and 82.9% of women had another substance use disorder.
Individuals with mood disorders, such as depression, are also 4 times more likely to become a heavy cannabis user, which increases their risk of developing a cannabis use disorder. However, there is some disagreement about whether excessive cannabis use may also contribute to depression.
Is cannabis more or less addictive than other substances?
Although there is a saying that comparisons are repugnant, sometimes they are useful in providing context. Comparing cannabis to other commonly abused substances indicates that it is less likely to lead to dependence.
a 2015 review That took more than two decades of research found that individuals who use cannabis are less likely to develop addiction than users of almost any other substance, including nicotine, heroin, cocaine, alcohol or stimulants.
The researchers found that the lifetime risk of developing a dependence on cannabis was about 9%. Nicotine was 32%, heroin 23%, cocaine 17%, alcohol 15%, and other stimulants 11%. This relatively smaller probability of dependency may be due to Cannabis releases less dopamine Another addictive substance.
Can cannabis help with addiction?
While THC can contribute to addiction, another cannabinoid found in the plant, CBD, or cannabidiol, may help treat dependence. The research is still a lot in the early days, but the data suggests that CBD may help as a treatment Intervention for diverse addiction without triggering the addiction itself.
newly randomized clinical trials It was found with human participants that CBD shows promise in treating cannabis use disorder specifically. CBD doses of 400 mg and 800 mg represent a treatment that is safe and more effective than placebo in reducing cannabis use among individuals with cannabis use disorder. Among the participants, 96% were diagnosed with a severe cannabis use disorder.
While more clinical trials would be helpful in clarifying and standardizing these findings, there is a certain poetic irony that the same plant can contribute to the problem, and provide the solution.