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IS CANNABIS ADDICTIVE?

I remember when I was younger, I thought that all the substances that were classified as illegal led straight to addiction and that the legal ones were not. I thought alcohol and tobacco addiction is different from other addiction because it’s legal. 

I grew up in Sweden, a country with a zero-tolerance attitude towards all illegal drugs. Including Cannabis. So, in my head, I believed that people who test a joint one time would end up worse than people rushing to the liquor store every weekend or every after-work or worse than people pushing and shouting with hysteria at the bar for their drinks. In my head, people who smoke a joint would end up having some kind of craze that makes Black Friday shopping a meditation retreat.

Then, I moved to Paris and I was confronted with different types of cannabis users. I realized that most of them are chilled and most importantly they don’t have that expected hectic craze at all when they were without it. That was new to me, I have been taught otherwise back in Sweden. Hmm.

So my best friend and I decided to try and smoke our very first joint. It was given by our kind neighbor at that time and of course, we had a good time giggling and talking a lot. We sometimes repeat this kind of session but in between or when there is nothing left, I never felt any compulsion to look for it. I didn’t feel any irritation or whatsoever even after months without using it. Fast forward to 2018/2019, when my husband and I traveled a lot to countries where it’s illegal, sometimes for 3 weeks or more, I still didn’t feel that kind of compulsive craving I thought I would have when I was younger. That got me into thinking: Does the law reflect on the addictiveness of a substance to determine what is legal or not? Is even cannabis a highly addictive substance like I used to believe? Or simply put, how addictive is cannabis? 

When we talk about addiction to any substance, it can get confusing very fast because of the use of different terms like habits, dependence, withdrawal symptoms, tolerance, etc 

Plus, sometimes it gets mixed up with cultural value judgment, for example, having the habit of drinking a psychoactive drug like coffee every day is normal while micro-dosing on magic mushrooms is somehow a sign of a low life addicted junkie. Therefore we should try to define the terms properly in order not to stigmatize, over exaggerate or undermine anything. 

Also, there is a scientific consensus that addiction is a disease. It’s not the weakness of the mind or something like that. It’s a clinical phenomenon that affects the reward circuit in the brain. So we need to understand how our brain works.

We have this thing called the reward system that is responsible for our incentives, desires, and associating sensations or events with positive emotions like pleasure or satisfaction. One of the main components of this system is Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is released when we have a positive experience. It plays a lot in our motivation to use and repeat that experience. That buzzing feeling you get when you take a glass of cold water in a hot summer, that’s dopamine release. It’s a way for our brain to tell you that you’re doing something good to yourself.

This is not substance-related only, we can get it with food, having sex, sleep, or even watching a video on YouTube. Fun fact though, you release a dose of dopamine when you’re in love as well so when you’re having sex with the person you’re in love with, you get a double dose, and that’s an awesome feeling.

However, some drugs target that reward system and can release two to 10 times the amount of dopamine than usual. And some drugs do it more quickly and more reliably. And after continuous use, your brain adapts and increases your tolerance to them. This is where you should be careful not to increase too much because a higher dose will be needed for you to get the same high and you can trigger the system to fail or accelerate the dysfunction. Plus, once you stop using, you can contract some reactions, which we call withdrawal symptoms, that make you wanna go back using it again.

The nature of the withdrawal symptoms is one of the clues that can we can refer to in order to see if the drug is addictive or not. Some symptoms from a specific drug are horrible, some from other drugs are mild and some are simply non-existent. This is not to say, only the substance is responsible, addiction is more complicated than that because there are other overlapping factors like environment, genetics, childhood experience, dosage, frequency, etc but I think it’s a fair start of an assessment. You can only truly know once you screen your reward system to check if it’s “broken” or not.

One thing for sure, withdrawal symptoms occur when there’s a form of substance dependence. Which means you rely on the use of a substance to function. This reliance can be psychological, physical, or both. This is not necessarily bad or anything, you can rely heavily on your morning coffee and have no addiction at all.

Only when we see an over-reliance on a substance, severe withdrawal symptoms, and a compulsive need to consume at all costs on a high dose, we can begin to talk about addiction. And when I say compulsive, it means this irresistible urge to consume even though you deprive yourself of basic psychological, physical, financial, or social needs. 

Most of these things happen gradually but it’s important to know so you can keep yourself in check or if you’re about to go towards that direction.

I know this might be oversimplified and I can’t go too deep about the mind of an addict here because that’s not the focus of this video but I would consider a habit as a controllable routine behavior and addiction as a compulsive one derived from the dysfunction of the reward system.

And I think it’s safe to say that a drug has the potential to be highly addictive if it provokes a behavior that is making the user’s life miserable and which she or he can’t stop.  

SO HOW ABOUT CANNABIS?

Studies have shown that between 10% of regular Cannabis users develop some kind of dependence. To put it into perspective, 16% of people who consume alcohol regularly become alcoholic and 32% of people who try cigarettes become smokers. As for the withdrawal symptoms, depending on the dosage you’re used to, it’s relatively mild just like when you quit heavy use of sugar or coffee.

There is this study made by professor David Nutt that measures the dependence potential and the physical harm of a lot of drugs including alcohol. As you can see, Cannabis is on the left lower side, and alcohol and tobacco are on the higher up of that scale. There is an attempt as well in the form of a chart, published in the Lancet, which is one of the top scientific journals out there, to determine the overall harm of a substance, whether it’s legal or not. They measure harm to the user, harm to others, crime rate, mortality, etc and it’s interesting to see that cannabis has a score of 20 out of 80 and Alcohol is about 72 out of 80 here even above Heroin and crack cocaine and, funny thing, LSD or Mushroom is in no way in the same league. Plus there is no recorded death directly related to Cannabis so far except if you’re allergic to it or if you mix with other substances like in the recent liquid vaping crisis. This shows that our classification of drugs for legality that is supposed to dictate our judgment is not at all related to addiction potential or harm. I will definitely do another video on that.

So, for most people, Cannabis is not addictive. Some people choose to use cannabis frequently but fit it around their life and can take a break from it easily, but others (10%) can’t go without it and find that it has become a real problem in their life. This data is an indication and not a demonized categorization, so whether or not Cannabis is an addictive substance in itself, we need to remember not to generalize too much as each and every one of us reacts differently to substances. We have to be able to have a healthy discussion about it, whether you belong to the 90%, 10% or even non-users.

Addiction is not a junkie problem, it’s all of us’ problems because people might have a problem too without knowing as the drug or behavior people use is legal so Kind eyes, babes, and open ears. The same goes for the rest of the population that doesn’t have any problems and can use alcohol, mushrooms, a deck of cards, and cannabis without putting family, friends, health, and jobs in jeopardy. 

Anyways, it is completely absurd that we put people in prison for substance use or even leaving addicts on the streets instead of taking care of them. It is equally irresponsible for all of us users to deny the small dependence potential as well that might not help an addictive condition. It exists. But I would argue that you need to screen that reward system properly first before you claim addiction. Otherwise, it’s a dependency that can be curbed with the way you use it, the mindset, and the circumstances you have when you choose to do it. That’s why I want to share a few tips on how to have a better relationship with Cannabis.

HOW DO I GET A HEALTHIER RELATIONSHIP WITH CANNABIS?

It was only in February 2019 I quit mixing my Cannabis with tobacco and started vaping the dry flowers instead. I feel a great difference in my lungs, and the high is way smoother as my body doesn’t have to deal with a “nicotine kick”. Plus, you won’t have another substance to deal with that has a higher potential of addiction and harm as we see previously.

Eliminating Nicotine and the burn from your Cannabis rituals by converting to herb vaping is a great boost for your new healthier practice. If you’re a regular user, this is a healthier habit to follow. Obviously, with tinctures, oils, or tea will make you avoid any heat whatsoever. Edibles have their own pros and cons though. I was thinking of making a specific video about several ways to take cannabis, let me know in the comments below if you would be interested.

If you like the heavy smoke from bongs, concentrates, or joints, just make sure to be aware of the added consequences of smoke on your lungs, there is no evidence that it makes permanent damage to it but let’s say the tissue of your lungs might feel the heat over time. So check the dosage, frequency, and the circumstances you’re taking the smoke. Make smaller and measured hits, that will help lower your tolerance level. 

Another solution to that is lowering your THC intake and getting more of that CBD. This works for both vape and smoke by the way. You can choose strains that have different ratio THC/CBD and you can gradually go towards a ratio and flavor that suits your lifestyle. Using weed that is higher in CBD and lowers in THC (the psychoactive compound) can also be good as you will give yourself a smoother way to relax. And who knows, maybe your sweet spot is very different from how you are using it now.

In most scientific literature, what they consider as a heavy regular user is someone who takes around 2g a day for a 10-18% of THC. Of course, this is different for everyone and it’s a vulgar approximation but it gives a practical marker for now. Using less than that can position you on the safer side. You can also try micro-dosing, so instead of smoking a whole joint within a certain time, you decide to only take one or two hits with bigger time distance in between, and also check in with yourself before to see if you really “need” it. Being a little high is sometimes enough.

Indeed, check the circumstances, your agenda, obligations, and your mindset if at this moment you’ll be okay with being a bit mellow. Driving or performing complex or dangerous physical maneuvers or even fast-paced interactions like in the working place, THC should be avoided. That might be a waste of weed, sometimes it can wait. 

Drink lots of water, try to eat healthy even for munchies and exercise. I do yoga, play, and power walk with my dog every day and that helps a lot, making the herb vape sweeter. If you can switch your habit from just wanting to get high only to wanting and appreciating the taste of different strains as well, that would be refining your overall experience. Just like food and drinks, a small amount of fine and exquisite delightful high and taste can be more enjoyable than a big, thumping feel.

Of course, this is easier if you can know the source of your flowers or if you can grow different ones on your own. We’re not there quite yet in most countries. So just do the best you can to demand quality from your source. You certainly know best but consider taste as criteria too. You can also take a few days off per week or even go a full month without smoking and see how you feel! This is great if you are smoking a lot since a few years in order to “cleanse”, but also if you feel that your days are too focused on your next taste of high.

For the already CBD and medical users, all these might be foreign to you, I would then suggest following what your clinician prescribes.

This might be tough but nowadays cannabis is more and more accepted so I would definitely recommend being open with your doctor, friends, family, and partner about your usage! Keeping things like this in the closet is never a good idea and you should never feel ashamed about yourself. Also, doing this helps the way for an honest conversation about yourself and it might be easier to detect if you are stuck in an unhealthy dependence or not. You also open up for friends and loved ones, to be honest to you, maybe someone is in need of someone listening to their worries about their possible abuse. I understand if at the moment you live in a place where it’s still considered a crime, then I’m sorry if you have to go through it, things are getting better, hold on. You can share this video maybe so that at least they know we might have an attempt to a code of conduct.

On a personal level, apart from the relief I get to moderate my menstruation pain, Cannabis is one of the means to the noble pursuit of having insightful thoughts for me. I love to learn and enhance the philosophical and artistic impulses that I want to share with the world and try to be more understanding and loving every day. These tips are useful for me to make sure that cannabis never gets in the way to that motion.

NEED HELP BABE?

My little sister had struggled for years with addiction before she got help, and thanks to her own dedication for a change she is soon celebrating 1 year sober! She is one of my biggest inspirations to research and write for this blog as I want you to consume in a safe and healthy way, but also get care and treatment if that is what you need because that can truly change your life as well – don’t forget that…We only have one brain, body, and life so we need to take care of ourselves and the people around us. For heavily dependent users, there are addiction centers that you can get in touch with and you don’t have to feel ashamed of being heavily dependent and of seeking help. 

Most of people do not know what you’re experiencing until it happens to them or a close relative or friends so they are generally well-meaning but often ignorant of the whole picture. Of course, if you do bad actions that lead to a direct misery or harm to them, an apology can be a start of a conversation unless they condescend, close their ears and repeat their own prejudices against you. In that case, try to ignore and focus on your betterment because that’s out of your control anyway.

But in order for you to distinguish the judgment from the care, there’s no other way except to listen first. It’s unjust I know but by opening up, we can shift the conversation to a more fruitful one instead of none at all. I will always try to give you my support for you to find a healthier relationship with Cannabis even if it means none at all. It might be useful as well to make a medical check-up, like hormone or blood levels before finding a treatment.

For any type of users out there, this is one thing I find crucial, try to have something to look forward to when you’re high or relieved. An activity, a statement, a hike, a book, a conversation, emotion, or anything that can put you in motion internally. Even your story of justified escapism is a concept that can be shared and can resonate with lots of people. Try to be connected with people, you’re not alone, we are all struggling too, one way or another. Even the happiest of us can feel marginalized for random but legit reasons for them. 

Ask yourself questions like, what matters to you and why it matters. And it’s okay if you have not found any purpose or anything because that by itself is also a position worth pondering and it’s a clue to get to know yourself. You can start super small. Try out new things with little to no expectations of the outcome. At the end of the day, the things we use are a means to an end. However, like any other powerful tool, Cannabis has its own imperfections too so we will have to fill those holes ourselves. Most mind-altering drugs can give you new perspectives but the meaning is yours to grasp.

Don’t get me wrong, these tips are not bulletproof as I am not a therapist but we have reasons to believe that good non-judgemental professional people exist out there. Check ones that assess your medical records before proposing anything, you might just have a single molecule deficiency or overproduce it, who knows? Google those who are closest to your hometown, but you can also find online forums and groups where you can share, receive and give support to others like you who knows and understands what you are going through. Independent websites like betterhelp.com or Talkspace also can be a solution.

Conclusion

To sum up, with cannabis we know that 10% of heavy users can develop problematic use but for most of us, addiction is not even an issue. Risks of dependence are there but the withdrawal reactions are mild, and quite low compared to other more harmful substances. One thing for sure, occasional or non-regular users has a very slim chance of being addicted. My own personal suspicion is that because maybe it’s because the cannabinoids stay longer in the body and brain, therefore, the reward system has time to readapt itself while you moderate or use cannabis…maybe, maybe not, research will tell us in the near future!

Nevertheless, to have a better benefit/risk ratio, it’s important for us we keep ourselves in check, have a more thoughtful and better scope of our use. This plant with all its wonders and yourself deserve to have a healthy and fruitful relationship. 

Anyways, I would like to finish with a quote from the Lancet who made challenges our approach to drug use policies: “It is time to recognize the humanity of people who use drugs and to offer them similar solidarity and protection from the worst excesses of populist politics. The medical community must stand up for the rights of people with drug use disorders to receive evidence-based care that respects their rights, minimizes harm, and provides a stable, non-judgmental basis from which they can affect positive change in their lives. We must turn our backs on the old ways of thinking and encourage new humane approaches – championing this new approach to encourage change worldwide. We must invest funds to develop treatments and adopt approaches based on public health and human rights.”

I would go further than the medical community, I would propose the same attitude for all communities.

What do you think babes? What’s your take on this? What is your relationship with Cannabis? What are other habits you consider harmful and beneficial? Should we redefine addiction altogether? Do you agree with the classification of your community’s policies and definitions? Let me know in the comments below! All in all, I hope you get something from this article.

Stay safe and take care of your body and mind – it’s ALL you have! <3

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