Is Cannabis Addictive? A Quick Guide

Switzerland is preparing itself for a new law and norm concerning the use of cannabis. It intends to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, thereby allowing doctors to prescribe various cannabis products with a high THC content.

All over the globe, cannabis research is an ongoing activity. Certain countries have decriminalized it and a few have legalized it. In fact, cannabis is now considered a medical drug used to treat rare forms of epilepsy, Dravet syndrome, and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Yet the growing concern over medical cannabis still remains.

Is medical cannabis addictive? In this article, we explain the use of medical cannabis and the potential effects it may have on users. We will also compare the use of cannabis for pain treatment with other traditional prescription painkillers such as opioids. Let's dive in!

What is Medical Cannabis?

Medicinal cannabis treats illnesses or ailments through its components. In essence, it's the same substance as recreational marijuana, but only for medicinal reasons.

The cannabis plant has over 100 compounds. However, the major compounds utilized for medicine are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC, in particular, is responsible for the "high" that individuals experience when they smoke marijuana or consume marijuana-containing foods.

There are many ways of taking medical cannabis. For instance, some of the most common ways include taking it in the form of dronabinol, an oily solution containing synthesized THC.

The Difference Between Addiction and Dependence

Here's a mistake most people make: using addiction and dependence interchangeably. While both terms may sound similar, they differ, especially when it comes to the medical use of cannabis. For starters, addiction to a substance is an acquired, chronic, relapsing condition marked by a strong drive to continue using the drug, even when one is aware of the persistent negative consequences.

Dependence, on the other hand, can develop without the presence of drug-seeking behaviors or long-term negative effects. It can be both physical and psychological. Ultimately, when referring to medical cannabis usage, dependence is a more acceptable phrase.

According to research, physical dependency induces withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing drug use. This is due to the body's adaptation to the medicine and its response to compensate for its activities. Psychological dependence, on the other hand, is characterized by highly motivating cognitive processes that prompt one to continually use medicine to prevent the predicted adverse effects of discontinuation, such as the recurrence of symptoms.

The Risk Of Dependence on Medical Cannabis

If you're thinking of using medicinal cannabis as a therapy, one of your main worries is likely the danger of addiction. Well, the dependence on medical cannabis among users is dependent on the frequency of use.

In 2018, the International Narcotics Control Board Report of the United Nations found that dependency is likely for everyday medical cannabis usage. Therefore, people who use THC compounds daily (for chronic pain) may be more prone to dependency than those who use it weekly.

Researchers observed that individuals most at risk of acquiring the addictive signs of cannabis use disorder (CUD) were looking for relief from anxiety and despair. This only emphasizes the need for more stringent safeguards over the prescription, usage, and professional follow-up of persons who lawfully get cannabis for medicinal purposes.

A Harvard study revealed medical cannabis cards had increased the appeal of cannabis use for various health issues in the United States. These cards require the written approval of a licensed physician, who is typically not the patient's primary care provider under the current system.

He or she may provide authorization to patients with only a cursory examination, no recommendations for alternative treatments, and no follow-up. Even more worrying is that the medicinal cannabis sector operates outside of the regulatory framework that governs most medical professions.

There is currently little study on whether there is a link between medical THC and dependency. As a result, proper research addressing this issue is urgently required. This emphasizes the need to use medicinal cannabis as therapy only under the guidance and supervision of a qualified medical practitioner.

Comparison: Medical Cannabis vs Opioids

The danger of dependence on medicinal cannabis must be balanced against the risks of alternative treatments, some of which may have severe side effects or higher potential for addiction, such as opioids.

Take, for instance, the opioid epidemic. In the United States alone, approximately 50,000 individuals died from an unintended opioid-related overdose in 2019. Opioid addicts are also more likely to die prematurely from various ailments, shortening their life expectancy by about 15 years. It has been suggested that the possibility of medical cannabis to alleviate the opioid problem by substituting pharmaceutical opioids may exceed any negative consequences. Evidence also suggests that in jurisdictions where medicinal cannabis is permitted, there is a reduction in opioid prescriptions, opioid addiction, opioid-related hospitalizations, and overdose fatality rates.

On the other hand, there has been no reported death due to the overdose or dependency on medical cannabis or cannabinoids. Because the brain lacks cannabinoid receptors, the quantities of cannabinoids required to cause a potentially deadly overdose would be many orders of magnitude greater than a typical medicinal dosage.

Bottom Line

With the new medical cannabis law only months away, Switzerland has a lot to learn from other countries using cannabis to treat medical conditions. The fact is higher THC dosages may raise the risk of dependency. As a result, it is critical to lower the THC dose to less than 10% and replace it with CBD-only formulations, full-spectrum products, or products having balanced THC and CBD.

Higher CBD levels have been demonstrated to improve THC medication's dependence-related effects. Begin with a modest dose and gradually increase until symptoms are relieved. Keep in mind that lower daily cannabis usage is connected to better clinical outcomes as well as safer use practices, such as preference for CBD and non-inhalation delivery methods.

Finally, doctors and patients must examine the balance of risk and benefit, especially when long-term usage is anticipated, and discuss the possible danger of dependency and withdrawal.

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