Are cannabis buds and oils addictive?

With so many varying viewpoints that are muddled with misinformation, we have to distinguish the facts from fiction before drawing our own conclusions.

Are cannabis buds and oils addictive? Let’s first take a look at the science behind the psychiatry of addiction. Addiction is a condition where a person engages in a use of a substance or behaviour where the rewarding effects provide an incentive to repeatedly pursue that behaviour despite potentially harmful consequences. It is essentially a disorder of the brain’s reward system.

In one experiment, scientists used a variant of the Skinner Box experiment and placed rats in a box. If the rat pushed the lever, it got food. The rats often kept pushing the button in anticipation of the reward of food. But the scientists only rewarded the rats with food sometimes, not all the time. What they discovered was that even occasional reward became a compulsion for the rats to press the lever. Every time the rat pressed the lever in anticipation for the food, it exhibited addictive behaviour. It’s the same mechanism in humans.

Anything that releases dopamine in the brain can have the potential to be addictive. Dopamine is the primary neurotransmitter of the reward system in the brain. Natural rewards cause a release of dopamine from the synapse and nearly all addictive drugs, either directly or indirectly, act upon the brain’s reward system by heightening dopaminergic activity.

Is CBD oil Addictive?

Many cannabis activists and investors perpetuate the idea that cannabis does not cause dependency or addiction – that it is a myth doled out by the feds to keep you from consuming your plant. But, if addiction is the pursual of dopamine saturation, can cannabis scientifically be identified as an addictive? Actually, yes, it can.

Cannabis use disorder can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-5, which is basically the holy bible of all psychiatrists, as the continued use of cannabis despite impairment, ranging from mild to severe. According to the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, data shows that nearly thirty percent of Americans who use cannabis may have some degree of marijuana use disorder – a number which has gone up in the last twenty years. The Society for the Study of Addiction states that regular cannabis users can develop a dependence syndrome, the risks of which are around 1 in 10 of all cannabis users and 1 in 6 among those who start in adolescence.

The statement that cannabis abuse does not exist is simply clinically wrong. Stats show that some people DO experience withdrawal symptoms. Frequent cannabis users often report irritability, mood instability, sleep difficulties, slight EEG changes, decreased appetite, restlessness, and physical discomfort that peak in the first week of quitting. With legalization, experts predict that cannabis addiction will more than likely to increase.

Cannabis vilified

Now, having said all this, isn’t it true that any substance can essentially lead to addiction? Sugar, for example, can lead to addiction by activating the brain’s same dopaminergic reward system. An overload of sugar can lead to obesity and diabetes mellitus, leading to potentially fatal cardiovascular diseases. The same attributes of addiction can be applied to sex. Prescription medications like opioids and amphetamines also cause severe addiction in some patients which is currently a hot topic in North America. But this doesn’t stop physicians from prescribing those medications. Alcohol and tobacco have been proven to cause detrimental and severe withdrawal symptoms and they are readily available on the legal consumer market. What’s worse is that the withdrawal symptoms for some of these can be fatal.

Treatment for cannabis use disorder is also not as bad as a treatment for these other addictions. A few treatments include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is a form of psychotherapy that involves strategies to identify and solve problematic behaviours through talk and analysis of one’s life. Another treatment includes contingency management, which involves frequent monitoring of the target behaviour and positively rewarding the patient when they reach the target.

Cannabis has long been disregarded and vilified more so than these substances and denied it’s potential medical benefits. Even the American Medical Association opposes legalization of marijuana and endorses warnings emphasizing its dangers for abuse and misuse. Especially putting cannabis on par with heroin as a schedule I drug is a mistake since multiple studies and experts agree that cannabis is nowhere near as bad as heroin.

Furthermore, many of these studies fail to take into consideration an individual’s environmental and biological factors that can affect addiction. Whether an individual has psychosomatic stressors, or anxiety/depression in the past may affect their dependence. Take, for example, an individual’s home environment, especially during childhood. That can play a role in determining addiction. Parents or older family members who abuse substances can increase children’s risk of developing their own drug problems.

Moderation is key

So, let’s recap. Is cannabis addictive? Yes. Some users do develop an addiction with withdrawal symptoms. But these symptoms are not any worse than those of sugar, caffeine, and prescription medication whose withdrawal symptoms can be potentially life-threatening. As long as users consume cannabis moderately, there shouldn’t be issues with dependence. Everything should be in moderation.