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A common question in regards to cannabis is, what is Cannabis Use Disorder?

Cannabis has helped countless patients find relief from pain, inflammation, anxiety, seizures, nausea, and other health conditions when no other treatment had previously worked. While marijuana has had a positive effect on many suffering individuals, others have experienced severe dependence issues that are characteristic of cannabis use disorder (CUD), introduced in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

While the term “disorder” may have a harsh connotation, CUD exists on a spectrum that ranges from mild to severe. Recurrent cannabis use has been shown to increase tolerance to the psychoactive compounds found in cannabis. Tolerance can be managed, but some individuals may find it harder to quit due to a variety of genetic and environmental factors.

Is Cannabis Addiction Real?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana use can become problematic and lead to a severe form of CUD. Experts estimate that “30 percent of those who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder.” In addition, “people who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults.”

The scientific community has substituted the term “addiction” for the more palatable and clear substance use disorder term. While we still don’t know the long-term effects of cannabis use, it seems like in extreme cases, some users experience symptoms characteristic of addiction, albeit, to a lesser severity than opioids or even alcohol.

Addiction vs. Dependence

Before CUD became the catch-all term for marijuana abuse, the DSM’s previous iteration classified cannabis use disorder as either cannabis abuse or cannabis dependence. Today, CUD encompasses the characteristics of dependence and addiction on a scale from mild to moderate to severe.

In order to be diagnosed with cannabis use disorder, you must have a certain number of symptoms within a 12-month period. You must have at least two to three symptoms for a mild diagnosis, four to five for moderate, and six or above for severe diagnosis. Look out for the following symptoms:

  • Cannabis is taken in larger amounts over a longer period than intended
  • Repeated attempts to cut down on cannabis have been unsuccessful
  • A significant amount of time is spent procuring, using, and recovering from cannabis
  • Cravings to use cannabis
  • Frequent use leading to issues at work, school, or home
  • Continued cannabis use despite its negative effects on personal relationships
  • Reduction or elimination of social activities due to cannabis use
  • Frequent use in physically hazardous situations
  • Continued use despite confirmed negative effects on mental and physical health
  • Tolerance to the substance
  • Withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal Symptoms

While marijuana use won’t cause severe withdrawal symptoms associated with substances like opioids, marijuana use may cause some mild withdrawal effects. Chronic marijuana use can lead to withdrawal symptoms including irritability, anxiety, decreased appetite, sleep difficulties, mood changes, cravings, and other physical discomfort symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from one to two weeks.

Does Higher Potency Increase Cannabis Dependence?

It’s generally accepted that cannabis flower and products have higher potencies than their predecessors. Estimates suggest that 1990s pot had about 3.8 percent THC compared to today’s marijuana flower, which can contain 12 percent to 30 percent THC. Cannabis concentrates can have 50 percent or up to 90 percent THC.

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Many users like using high-potency products and others require it to reap considerable health benefits. The effects of high-potency extracts on long-term health are still unclear, but ultimately, the effects of building a tolerance to marijuana can be managed after cessation in many cases. Experienced users may be able to account for differences in potency, delivery method, and other relevant factors when consuming marijuana to avoid dependence.

Are You at Risk for CUD?

Unfortunately, some individuals may be more likely to succumb to addiction due to their genetic makeup or environmental factors. Studies on identical twins raised in different families shows a higher rate of co-occurring addictions compared to fraternal twins. While genetics may play a role in developing addiction, other causes such as a poor social network or mental health issues can increase the appeal of marijuana.

Cannabis use is a newly researched drug that is sure to yield numerous health benefits, but not without some risks. CUD symptoms may develop after prolonged use or exist before cannabis use, which makes determining the severity of CUD difficult. Cannabis use disorder may be a new and confusing term to dissect, but it’s considerably less dangerous than more serious addictions currently plaguing the country.

Cannabis use disorder symptoms are relatively mild compared to harder drugs, but can still put an unnecessary damper on your life. Cannabis use can work to relieve certain health conditions, but overuse can end up hurting more than helping. Marijuana use disorder may be more common than you think, but reports indicate that abstaining from the drug for a while can help you establish a better relationship with the substance and recover from the effects of prolonged use.

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