Cannabis Dependence

Cannabis dependence is characterized by chronic use of any form of the substance (such as marijuana or hasish) despite the negative effects it may have in a person's life. Dependence creates a compulsive need for the drug that interferes with social situations, family, work and health. A tolerance for the drug may be built-up, leading to more and more time spent seeking the drug and using it. Use of cannabis may lead to legal problems, as well as interfering with relationships of all kinds.


Symptoms of Cannabis Dependence


Cannabis dependence causes acute symptoms which occur during its use, and can lead to long-term symptoms which can affect a person both physically and psychologically. Acute symptoms occur almost immediately upon consumption of the drug. These may include intense happiness, clouded thinking and judgment, anxiety, paranoia, rapid heart rate, drowsiness and increase in appetite. Long-term symptoms may resemble symptoms of a cigarette smoker, including cough, phlegm and abnormal function of lung tissue. Those with cannabis dependence may also experience slowing of brain function, including loss of memory, inability to focus and learning impairment. During periods when a chronic cannabis user does not have access to the drug, withdrawal symptoms may occur. These can include irritability, aggressive behavior, stomach cramps and severe anxiety.


Causes of Cannabis Dependence


Cannabis dependence can begin with short-term experimentation of the drug. The topic of safety regarding cannabis is a controversial subject, potentially leading a user to seek the effects of the drug without proper research on its potential side effects. Many chronic users of the drug engage in its use to avoid the often unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal, and once tolerance is developed, he or she must seek the effects more regularly and more often to obtain the desired effect. Over time, frequent and continued use may change brain structures and chemical balance to actually require use of this drug to reach a state of calm or pleasant feelings.


Diagnosis of Cannabis Dependence


In order to diagnose cannabis dependence, a professional must first determine its level of use. This can usually be done with a simple blood test or urinalysis. Behavioral observation and interviews with the patient and friends or family may reveal evidence of some side effects of cannabis use and dependency. When side effects are present that interfere with the patient's social life or work stability, and the patient denies addiction or has trouble quitting, a diagnosis of cannabis dependence may be made.


Treatment Options for Cannabis Dependence


There are currently no medications available for the specific treatment of cannabis dependence. If withdrawal symptoms are considered to be severe, a professional may recommend a prescription anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication. Depending upon the level of addiction, treatment options may range from participation in self-help groups to inpatient hospitalization. Following is a brief description of some options available for treatment of this condition:

  • Hospitalization and rehab – inpatient hospitalization and rehabilitation facilities may help those who are experiencing social problems, severe withdrawal symptoms or are also diagnosed with additional mental disorders or drug dependencies.
  • Narcotics Anonymous – this and other 12-step programs are designed to offer a supportive setting surrounded by other individuals who are experiencing the same type of symptoms and problems. One may find benefit in reaching out to others and gaining advice and ideas on how to recover from cannabis dependence.
  • Therapy – cognitive-behavioral therapy or one-on-one psychotherapy can provide exercises and advice on how to recognize triggers which lead to cannabis use. Once awareness has been established, the patient can then develop new techniques for coping with stress and avoiding the dangers of this drug.