Cannabis Addiction Treatment
Cannabis addiction has very similar characteristics to any other addiction, but has some unique qualities significant enough to pay attention to in identifying marijuana addiction and in treatment.
Marijuana is also known as Cannabis or Dagga, Zol, Skyf, Joint, Weed, Grass, Pot, Boom, Ganja, Dope, Hash, Hemp, Green Gold and Mary-Jane.
There is no doubt that cannabis cause’s psychological dependence which is absolutely as dangerous as physical addiction and can have devastating consequences not only for the dagga addict, but also their family and for society at large.
We often hear people uneducated about the severe impact of cannabis abuse and addiction tell us all sorts of weird and wonderfully things like:
- “Cannabis is a plant and from the earth, it’s a natural product and can’t harm me.”
- “I’d rather have my child smoking dagga than using stronger drugs”
We’d like to take a few minutes of your time to dispel some common myths about cannabis abuse and addiction.
1) “It’s better to drive after smoking dagga than to drive under the influence of alcohol.”
The reality is that cannabis impairs concentration and judgment as well as slows down your reflexes. Even smoking one joint can cause distortions of time and space making a crucial driving skill – spatial judgment more difficult. As THC has a very slow elimination from the body and cumulative effects, this may last for days.
2) “Smoking cannabis increases creativity.”
This is certainly only in the eye of the stoned artist beholding their work! Various clinical studies have shown that independent examiners scored dagga smokers as less creative, with lower levels of concentration and poor perception when compared to sober artists.
3) “Cannabis is natural and therefore safe.”
Castor beans are also natural, and happen contain the deadliest plant poison on earth! Because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe to smoke.
4) “Cannabis isn’t as harmful as alcohol.”
Both alcohol and marijuana contain mind and mood altering chemicals with the potential for addiction and all its attending destruction. While alcohol is short acting, dagga has a very long half life and stays in your system for months.
5) “Smoking cannabis isn’t as harmful as smoking tobacco.”
Dagga is high in tar and other harmful chemicals and the THC that gets stored in our fatty tissue when we smoke is thought to be carcinogenic.
6) “Cannabis is a cure for glaucoma and is used to treat asthma, cancer and T.B.”
Any medicinal properties found in dagga are being replaced by treatments that have extracted the medicinal properties from THC and render them in non harmful format.
7) “Smoking dagga increases sexual pleasure.”
Cannabis reduces sex drive and negatively effects the reproductive system.
8) “Dagga isn’t addictive.”
Ingesting cannabis through smoking, eating or any other way causes serious mental and physical addiction. It is also one of the more difficult addictions to recover from as cravings occur long after dagga smoking has stopped.
Dagga’s active ingredient is Tetrahydrocannabinol – or THC – and has been synthesized and used within several pharmaceutical products. In the United States, 16 States have legalised this substance for medicinal purposes as a controlled substance requiring prescription. In Denver USA, cannabis has been legalised for private use in an effort to mitigate crimes associated with obtaining illegal substances.
As the universally most popular drug cannabis is used socially in patterns not dissimilar to alcohol by between 125 and 203 million people worldwide in 2009. This corresponds to an annual prevalence rate of 2.8%-4.5%. These statistics are from the World Health Organisation and they estimate South Africa’s drug abuse problem to be twice that of the world norm.
Marijuana is used by Rastafarians in certain religious ceremonies. Like alcohol, however, certain pre-disposed individuals develop a full-blown addiction to dagga. The danger with the more social acceptable drugs, like alcohol and cannabis, is that the addiction is often masked for longer due to social acceptance.
The Difference between Cannabis Abuse and Cannabis Addiction
Over the last decade, admissions for treatment of cannabis addiction have doubled. Ever increasing availability coupled with advances in cultivation of dagga that increase the potency of substances has seen the progression of marijuana addiction speed up significantly.
Cannabis addiction is hallmarked by the uncontrollable urge to obtain and use the drug in a manner that is anything but social. Consequences of dagga addiction include:
- Serious memory and learning problems
- Increased absenteeism from work or school
- Increasing isolation from family and friends
- The commission of crimes in the pursuit of the drug
Perhaps the most concerning risk is to mental health. Certain individuals addicted to cannabis develop psychiatric symptoms such as psychotic states and schizophrenia. Heavy cannabis abuse can actually cause psychiatric problems, and puts people with existing psychiatric problems at great risk for exacerbating them.
THC is metabolised extremely slowly and sticks itself to human brain tissue. This means that regular users of the substance gradually build up dangerously high levels of THC in the brain itself. This quality alone classifies the drug as a hard drug and flies in the face of claims that it is no more dangerous than alcohol.
The classic justification of serious marijuana users – “Don’t panic, it’s organic” – holds no water at all. Arsenic, Opiates, Alcohol, and Tobacco are all available as organics!
While cannabis abuse follows the same pattern of most other abused substances, there is a key difference; its progression is often slower and in some ways subtler. Initial use of marijuana is most often the result curiosity, peer pressure or both. For susceptible individuals, regular use may initially be confined to weekends or holidays, but over time the frequency increases until it becomes a constant in their daily lives.
Signs of cannabis abuse can include:
- Loss of motivation
- Memory loss
- Detachment from other people (depersonalisation)
- Unprovoked aggression
Red flags suggesting marijuana abuse include:
- Unexplained deterioration in performance at work or school
- Increased lack of social engagement and recreational activities
- Unexplained changes in mood
Cannabis Addiction or Dependence
Marijuana addiction occurs on both the physical and mental/emotional level. THC stimulates the presence of dopamine in the brain, which is understood to regulate brain’s reward system. With regular use, the brain becomes reliant on THC simply to feel normal.
Because of THC’s slow elimination from the body, it can take up to four days for the addict to notice negative symptoms of withdrawal. This makes it easier for the addict to convince themselves that they are not addicted, and can make it more difficult for the level of the problem to be recognised.
It also makes cannabis abuse and addiction more risky, in that serious psychiatric disturbances can set in before professional help is sought.
Marijuana addiction meets all the current diagnostic criteria for psychoactive drug dependence, including tolerance, withdrawal syndrome, loss of control over consumption and a reduction in normal activities.
Studies have documented the biological craving for marijuana in the brain, demonstrating that certain structures in the brain become highly animated during marijuana craving.
Typical dagga addicts experience craving as a mental obsession with the drug, physical discomfort and agitation.
Loss of Control
Loss of control in cannabis addiction primarily refers to repeatedly using the drug, often in increasing amounts, despite negative consequences. Repeated attempts to control the frequency and amount used are usually met with failure.
Until fairly recently, it was believed that cannabis use did not lead to tolerance and that there was no withdrawal syndrome. Various studies have proved otherwise and the evidence is clear that with regular use of marijuana, higher levels of the drug are needed over time to produce subjectively similar results experienced at the onset of usage.
The Dangers of Cannabis Withdrawal
As with tolerance, it has been widely believed that dagga abuse did not lead to with withdrawal syndromes when the drug is withheld. Studies have shown conclusively that a withdrawal syndrome does exist for marijuana addicts, and includes:
- Muscle tremor
These symptoms set in approximately ten hours after the last dose and peak about 48 hours into withdrawal.
The Importance of Cannabis Detoxification
Whilst marijuana’s withdrawal symptoms are not life threatening, they pose an often insurmountable challenge for the addict. Most cannabis addicts are unable to complete detoxification by themselves, as the temptation to overcome the withdrawal symptoms with more cannabis is too great.
Specialised supportive care, including emotional support, medical support and encouragement are essential to successfully complete withdrawal.
Treatment and Rehabilitation Cannabis Addiction
Complete detoxification from marijuana is just the first step. When the user fits the diagnosis of cannabis dependence, they require full rehabilitative addiction treatment to stand a chance of developing a drug-free lifestyle.
This includes specialised addiction counselling, group therapy, education and ongoing post treatment support and counselling. A marijuana addict needs to make peace with their diagnosis and take active measures to build a life in recovery.
As with other substance abuse and addictions, marijuana addicts need to pay special attention to the probability that substituting other drugs for their drug of choice will either lead to addiction to another substance and / or reverting to marijuana abuse.
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