Cannabis – also known as marijuana, weed and skunk – is a psychoactive drug derived from the cannabis plant and is generally smoked, eaten or vaped by users in order to experience a feeling of relaxation, euphoria and/or slight intoxication.
Despite fierce debate, frequent ingestion of cannabis can lead to dependency or addiction with almost 55,000 people in England receiving support for cannabis dependence in 2017-18. 
What is cannabis?
Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK, with 18.7% of 16-24-year-olds admitting to using it. 
There are three varieties of the cannabis plant: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis. They each contain varying levels of tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) which interacts and binds with cannabinoid receptors in the brain, resulting in a feeling of euphoria or relaxation.
While it is illegal to possess or use cannabis in the UK, medical professionals have been able to issue prescriptions for cannabis-based medicines since November 2018. These are strictly regulated and issued on a case-by-case basis by specialist medical professionals, and only when the patient has a clinical need that cannot be resolved with non-cannabinoid products. 
There have been countless debates over the supposed therapeutic benefits of cannabis, but health experts generally conclude that cannabis poses a variety of negative health risks and should not be used recreationally.
Can you become addicted to cannabis?
There is a common misconception around cannabis use, with many people believing that it isn’t possible to become addicted. However, studies show that cannabis addiction and dependence has become more prevalent throughout society as our collective cannabis use has increased over the years.
A 2011 study showed that 8.9% of cannabis users transition from casual use to addiction, and this number has likely increased due to the high potency and availability of cannabis in our current society. 
Cannabis addiction can also lead to nicotine addiction, as the pungent smell leads many people to smoke a combination of cannabis and tobacco. This can make it more difficult to recover from a cannabis addiction as the body is withdrawing from both cannabis and nicotine simultaneously.
Why do people become addicted to cannabis?
Anyone can become addicted to cannabis, but there are certain psychological and physiological factors that are thought to increase the chances of developing an addiction.
If an individual has been exposed to a traumatic experience, particularly during childhood, they are more likely to develop a substance addiction as a teenager or adult. 
The frequency of cannabis use also plays a role. As cannabis increases the levels of dopamine in the body, it’s possible to become dependant on the feelings of pleasure and euphoria that occur when a high amount of dopamine is being produced. In order to continue to experience these sensations, cannabis must be consumed on a regular basis.
There’s also the issue of tolerance – as the person becomes used to the increase in dopamine levels, they will eventually require more THC to experience the same effects. This can lead to withdrawal symptoms when the cannabis intake is stopped or severely reduced.
How does cannabis affect the body?
There are various methods of ingesting cannabis, and this means that it can affect the body in a number of different ways. It can be inhaled by smoking and vaping, orally consumed through edibles and oils or applied topically to the skin.
When cannabis is smoked or vaped it will enter the bloodstream very quickly, while consuming it via food or drink will result in a more delayed response. Travelling through the bloodstream means it can reach other organs such as the brain, where it causes an increase in the production of dopamine due to the levels of THC. 
Cannabis can affect people differently – it can result in feelings of euphoria and relaxation in some people, while in others it can increase the sensation of paranoia and anxiety.
If a person is already susceptible to anxiety or psychosis, cannabis may be more likely to have a negative effect on their state of mind. However it’s impossible to know exactly how cannabis will affect each individual person – even if there are no preceding mental health issues, anyone can have a bad reaction to cannabis.
What are the signs and symptoms of cannabis addiction?
Cannabis addiction can result in a number of physical, mental, behavioural and social symptoms which can be severely detrimental to our general health and wellbeing.
A person who is addicted to cannabis may feel that they have no control over their cannabis use. This addiction and depth of misuse can escalate quickly, and even the ensuing negative consequences will have little to no impact on their cannabis intake. If they attempt to reduce or stop their cannabis use entirely, they may find that they struggle to do so.
Physical symptoms of cannabis addiction
- Increased appetite, feeling hungrier than usual
- Poor grooming and personal hygiene
- Decreased fertility in both men and women
- Red, bloodshot eyes
- Feeling fatigued, sleepy and lethargic
- Dry mouth
- Increased asthma symptoms
- Decreased sense of balance and general coordination
- A strong smell of cannabis on their person, in their home and/or in their car
Mental symptoms of cannabis addiction
- Trouble concentrating
- Extreme mood swings
- Paranoia and anxiety
- A sense of time moving too quickly or too slowly
- Inability to make decisions
- Feeling irritable and/or agitated
Behavioural symptoms of cannabis addiction
- Using cannabis in unsafe situations, eg. while in charge of a child or driving a car
- Being unable to reduce or stop cannabis intake even after experiencing negative consequences
- Low performance and productivity at work or school
- Increased spending on cannabis, including taking out loans or withdrawing from savings accounts
- Lack of interest in hobbies or activities
- Lying or being vague about activities and general location throughout the day or night
- Taking frequent showers and obsessing about cleanliness to remove the smell of cannabis
Social symptoms of cannabis addiction
- Being distant and withdrawn from family and friends
- Forming relationships with new, previously unknown people
- Suddenly appearing quiet and reclusive in social situations
- Making excuses to leave events early in order to use cannabis
What are the long-term risks of cannabis addiction?
Along with the above physical, mental, behavioural and social symptoms, cannabis addiction can result in serious long-term negative effects.
These negative effects vary depending on the age of the user, the potency of the cannabis and the frequency of use. Generally, when cannabis use begins at a younger age and/or involves a higher potency, the resulting consequences are worse.
Long-term risks of cannabis addiction
- Mental health problems such as schizophrenia and increased psychotic symptoms
- Higher chance of heart and respiratory problems
- Financial difficulties – debts to loan companies or family and friends, having little to no savings
- Legal troubles – being arrested or imprisoned
- Damage to relationships with friends, family and employers
- Lower IQ and lack of education – cannabis addiction is thought to contribute to a greater chance of dropping out of formal education
- Increased feelings of anxiety and depression, decreased feelings of satisfaction and achievement
Any one of these effects can have a severely debilitating impact on a person’s quality of life and future outcomes. If you feel that you or someone you know is struggling with cannabis addiction, now is the time to reach out for help.
Recovering from a cannabis addiction
The decision to recover from a cannabis addiction is not an easy one to make. If a person has been dependent on cannabis for a long period of time, they will likely experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms.
These symptoms may cause some discomfort, but the good news is that they will pass. Cannabis withdrawal symptoms generally begin within a week of quitting and the physical effects will end once the drug has left your system, while the psychological effects can persist for up to one month.
Cannabis withdrawal is not dangerous or life-threatening, and it is possible for a person to recover from a cannabis addiction without medical treatment. However, it can sometimes be difficult to persevere and get through the cravings without assistance.
Cannabis addiction withdrawal symptoms
Withdrawal from cannabis addiction can involve a number of potential symptoms. These include:
- Little to no interest in food
- A frequent and persistent desire to use cannabis
- Recurring headaches
- Feeling irritable and/or aggressive
- Trouble sleeping – difficulty falling or staying asleep, vivid dreams, night sweats
- Feeling nauseous
- Stomach and abdominal pain
- Anxiety and depression
Leading a healthy lifestyle is a helpful way to combat the withdrawal symptoms of cannabis addiction. Eating nutritious meals, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep will provide a solid foundation to build upon, often leading to healthier habits post-recovery and a greater sense of physical and emotional wellbeing.
No one needs to deal with cannabis addiction alone. There are professional rehabilitation services available for anyone who is struggling with addiction.
Get in touch with our team today – the chances of long-term recovery are much greater under the guidance of experienced medical professionals.