Cannabis has a long history of human use; most ancient cultures grew the plant as herbal medicine while others have used it as a rational choice to enhance their quality of life. It is classified as a cannabinoid drug that contains the psychoactive cannabinoid THC (delta9 tetrahydrocannabinol) and the non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD).
It is believed that regular consumption of cannabis over an extended period (several months or years) causes changes to the brain and body’s response to the drug, which can lead to complications with cannabis use and ultimately addiction, especially when use begins at a young age (i.e., 16 years and under). To ascertain this, let us determine first how cannabis works.
The main active chemical in cannabis – delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC – travels quickly through the lungs when smoked and into the bloodstream. It goes from there into the various organs – including the brain – where most cannabinoid receptors dwell.
These receptors – particularly CB1 and CB2, mediate the high through various complex mechanisms and influences coordinated movement, thinking, memory, pleasure, and time perception. CB1 receptors primarily occupy many regions of the brain, while CB2 receptors reside in many immune cells, including neurons.
Besides creating a relaxed, dreamy state and the munchies, cannabis also delivers physiological effects like dry mouth, increased heart rate, impaired coordination, delayed reaction time and slowed memory and concentration. The effects kick in within minutes and peak in about half an hour. Some users have even experienced paranoia and hallucinations.
Although cannabis’ effects usually wear off within 3 hours, THC accumulates in the fatty tissue of the lungs, liver, testes, and other organs. When someone compulsively uses cannabis to the point that they have developed a loss of control over their use and have become dependent despite ongoing negative consequences, they’re said to be addicted. However, they may not realize that this has happened and that their behaviour is causing problems for themselves and others.
Cannabis addiction can occur at any age, but the chances are higher when you are a teen or young adult and your brain is still developing. According to Roger Roffman, Professor Emeritus of Social Work at the University of Washington, “Addiction results from a combination of biological and psychological factors that contribute to conditioned behavioural patterns that are very difficult to stop or resist.”
Cannabis is psychologically addictive and can negatively affect how you study, work and socialize with friends. Although the effects are seen as less severe and manageable, requiring only a tiny amount of willpower to overcome, the psychological cravings can be stronger than the physical withdrawal.
Some subscribe to the notion that cannabis can be addictive in the same way that gambling, sex, or food might be considered addictive because they all produce pleasurable responses in the brain. Attempting to stop cannabis after prolonged use can cause cannabis withdrawal symptoms.
These symptoms typically begin within 1 or 2 days after stopping use and can last for a few weeks and may include:
- Irritability, anger, or aggression
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Sleep difficulty (e.g., insomnia, disturbing dreams)
- Decreased appetite or weight loss
- Depressed mood
Physical symptoms causing significant discomfort:
- Abdominal pain
- Sweating, fever, or chills