Can Cannabis Be Addictive?

Harm Reduction

One of my closest friends whom I love dearly wears makeup on a daily basis, won’t leave home without it because she does not feel confident. That coat of make – up provides armour against the world and instils the sense that she can cope. Surely that’s not harmful right?

A slick of lipstick and a coating of mascara never hurt anyone. However, having to use make-up to feel confident could be seen as the start of a slippery road down to further confidence issues,  or relationship problems as partners become frustrated with the constant smell of Maybelline and foundation smears everywhere. Surely this can’t be seen to be harmful in the long run. But can it?

MascaraIn many respects this analogy can be seen to be at the very least banal, however it got me to thinking about my own Cannabis use. I am first and foremost a medical user. I find cannabis to greatly relieve the symptoms I experience with regard to PTSD whereas pharmaceutical medications do not. It has long been acknowledged that anti psychotics and anti- depressants do little to ameliorate the debilitating effects of this condition. However I would be lying if I said that I did not occasionally use recreationally. Cannabis is well known for enhancing activities that are fun even for people who are straight headed and stone cold sober. I mean look at sex, that’s much nicer on pot. So is food, a nice view, a good movie, a massage and the list goes on. Having used cannabis whilst engaged in most activities (some more than others) I am happy to report it does actually make life feel quite good. What’s the harm in that? Well. This can cause issues, not for all people granted but for a few. It would be entirely counter-productive to claim that cannabis is a panacea for all ills. Sadly it has been known to cause a few of its own in people who are predisposed to developing addictions.

When we think of addiction it is always the most extreme forms which spring to mind. In fairness this can easily be attributed to decades of ‘just say no’ propaganda – ie the ‘do it and we’ll spank you’ approach to keeping the kids off the drugs. However, addiction can be far more insidious. For example many people only realise they have issues with alcohol when they have to stop drinking for a week to take antibiotics. Why would anybody realise they have a problem with a substance when they are constantly using it. Realistically they wouldn’t. Sometimes addiction can be psychological, it is not so much the substance that is addictive but how it makes you feel. Referring back to my friend who enjoys make-up as a coping mechanism, as she is clearly not injecting, smoking or eating mascara with the fervent shaky hands of an addict in withdrawal she’s fine! However is she?

A while ago I got into using cannabis before I left the house. It made me more confident and happy and let’s face it more easy going. For those of you who actually know me I am very intense, disconcertingly so at times. So it worked well for everyone, I got to leave the house and all my friends managed to maintain their sanity around my slower, less intense personality. The thing is though that after a while it did not work so well. I started smoking pot all the time. Now in reality for PTSD there isn’t the need every single day to get wrecked to deal with it. There are good days when flashbacks and memories appear to take a holiday, maybe they need time off too and less cannabis is needed to manage anxiety. The problem was that I was using pot to get through the bad days and then using it to enhance the good days. My coping mechanism had become a way of life. Complete with pre rolled spliff by the bed so I wouldn’t have to travel too far to spark up when my alarm went off. Sometimes it was needed, nightmares can be crippling. However sometimes I just woke up and smoked that spliff, I wanted to enhance my experiences of being well.

That is not to say that upon realising this it was hard to stop. One of the many joys of cannabis is the complete lack of withdrawals. Yes you can get a bit speedy or irritable for a day or two but heroin it most certainly is not. I still smoke cannabis and eat it. I still enjoy it but I do so in a more aware manner. I now have a checklist before smoking for mental health such as: could my breathing exercises work, could the use of grounding techniques minimise the flashback that is looming. I also still smoke for fun as there is nothing better than relaxing with a joint and reading. The thing is that sometimes it can be beneficial to be straight headed as well. The exploration of techniques to deal with pain – both mental and physical should never be discounted in favour of cannabis. Both can work together in tandem quite well and sometimes better than cannabis alone. Granted pharmaceutical medications are not pleasant and if cannabis helps you to reduce the use of them or cease it altogether than that is brilliant, hands down well done. Cannabis is not a poison and has little to no chance of messing up the body as much as the majority of painkillers and mental health medications currently prescribed by doctors. However, it is always worth examining our use of any medication even cannabis. It cannot hurt to question whether every joint is medical or, if every so often that joint is smoked because it makes playing a video game more pleasurable. Awareness of use can only be a good thing, it definitely has enhanced my ability to provide a balanced argument in favour of regulation. Instead of painting cannabis as a cure all sent by the heavens I’ve found that objective balanced argument goes a long way towards altering the perceptions of those who are staunch advocates of prohibition.

In no way am I saying stop using cannabis it’s bad, or that there is anything wrong with using all day if you wish to. The vast majority of people who use cannabis daily have no issues and no dependence. However to state that cannabis dependence is a fallacy would be providing a flawed perspective. Just like some people need mascara to leave the house, some people need cannabis. Surely by acknowledging this we can begin to open up the debate and rationally challenge prohibitionist rhetoric with balanced objective argument – something the Mary Brett’s of this world are not capable of.

By Beccy Gardham.

1 thought on “Can Cannabis Be Addictive?

  1. Very good article.

    What is your opinion on dependence of cannabis to give appetite? I smoke daily (non-medical), and although I can vouch for most of what you say with regards to no withdrawals, I have a problem with my appetite when I cease consumption readily, and require to smoke before I can eat properly. None of my friends have this problem, and there isn’t much around the internet regarding this. Would you class this as psychological or physical withdrawals? Can they be overcome without ceasing consumption?

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