Would opiates be legal next after marijuana?
How stoners get addicted
Regular cannabis use can be addictive, but it doesn't have to be. There are cannabis users who smoke weed every day without meeting the criteria of addiction, while others do. What is the difference between stoners who become addicted and those who keep it under control?
Image: ovokuro / photocase.com
"I always thought I was in control". At first Patrick, 22 years old, told himself: “It's just grass. It's not chemical, it's not like heroin or cocaine. ”With the appearance of withdrawal symptoms, however, his self-assessment has changed. “I can no longer sleep if I don't consume. I get aggressive when I'm not consuming. I get sweaty hands. These were all just such signs, when I said to myself, 'okay, you are addicted. "
Not all cannabis users fare like Patrick. In fact, only a minority of those who use cannabis develop addiction. Research has shown that even daily cannabis use does not necessarily have to be related to serious problems. For a long time, for example, it was assumed that long-term smoking weed leads to amotivation syndrome. It has been observed that cannabis users who smoke permanently appear indifferent and generally depressed and face everyday demands with a certain indifference, in other words: they let themselves down.
Undoubtedly there are people who smoke weed and live without motivation for the day. But that is not the rule. The assumption of such a syndrome is now considered refuted. For example, in a study with 243 people who smoke weed every day and 244 non-users, it was shown that the two groups did not differ significantly in either motivation or life satisfaction.
Restriction of quality of life
However, this result should not hide the fact that daily smoking weed can also cause massive problems, such as addiction. Dependency is characterized by several criteria, the main thing is loss of control. Those affected can no longer easily reduce or stop their consumption. There are follow-up problems, for example, in school, at work or in relationships. Those who are dependent still continue to smoke and run the risk of their personal situation deteriorating further.
What some stoners are reluctant to admit: dependent cannabis use usually means a severe reduction in quality of life. Unlike other drugs, the effects of cannabis addiction are less noticeable and more hidden. For example, some habit smokers are unsure whether their difficulties in contact with others or the depressed moods actually have something to do with smoking weed. Because maybe there were some difficulties even at times when smoking weed didn't play a major role.
But just as frequent smoking weed does not necessarily lead to listlessness and a lack of life satisfaction, there is also no one-way street into addiction. Some stoners drink their joint every day without meeting the criteria for cannabis addiction. What's the difference?
Recruiting in coffee shops
A research team from the Netherlands investigated this question as part of a longitudinal study. The Netherlands are known for their comparatively liberal drug policy. Anyone who is of legal age and has Dutch citizenship can buy hashish or marijuana in a coffee shop - completely legally.
Study director Peggy van der Pol and her team asked visitors to coffee shops whether they would like to take part in a study. Participation criterion was regular consumption of at least 3 times a week for the past 12 months. This was the case for 600 people who had agreed to participate. However, there was no need to be dependent on cannabis. This reduced the sample to 269 people.
In the context of diagnostic interviews, the participants were asked about a number of possible factors that may be related to addiction. Such factors are also known as predictors. The behavior - in this case dependency - can be predicted with the help of predictors with a certain probability. Examples of predictors that could be considered were early experiences of abuse, parental addiction problems or particularly stressful life events. After three years, the participants were interviewed again to find out which of them had developed a dependency in the meantime and which of the predictors examined had proven to be suitable.
A third becomes dependent
37 percent of those surveyed became addicted to cannabis within the next three years. In the other two thirds, consumption did not get out of hand. Interestingly, the level of consumption had no influence on whether or not addiction developed. Both dependent and non-dependent people smoked about three joints a day on average, and more than half of them had a preference for highly potent cannabis.
Even for most of the known predictors of cannabis addiction, no significance could be determined. Neither psychological problems nor addictions in the family had a significant influence on the fact that consumption and the negative consequences were rampant.
According to the research team, these results contradict the studies known to date. Because until now, experiences of abuse and mental disorders in particular were considered risk factors for addiction. The authors suspect that the development from occasional to regular smoking weed is influenced by the factors mentioned. In the development from regular consumption to addiction, however, such influences would only play a subordinate role.
Smoking weed as problem solving
According to the results, a strong predictor of the development of an addiction is that Consumption motive. Those who use weed to suppress unpleasant feelings are significantly more at risk of developing addiction than stoners who do not use it to cope with problems.
Motives for use have long been suspected of being instrumental in making cannabis use problematic. For example, a study from 2011 found that stoners who use it to combat depressive feelings or anxiety were most affected by negative consequences. These include, for example, concentration problems or financial difficulties.
In addition to the consumption motives, another predictor for the development of cannabis addiction could be worked out in the Dutch study: current critical life events. The more the person was exposed to negative events in the recent past, the more likely it was that they developed an addiction. This could be, for example, the separation from a loved one or a serious illness.
Among all the critical life events examined were financial problems but most importantly. It should be noted that the financial problems of cannabis addiction preceded it. Due to the high consumption of cannabis, the financial situation is likely to have been additionally burdened. Presumably, smoking weed is also used in this context to block out the negative feelings associated with the financial situation.
That was also a strong predictor of developing cannabis addiction Live alone. Anyone who does not live with a partner is not subject to any social control over what he or she does in their own four walls. Regular cannabis use increases the risk that the person living alone will lose control of their use.
Regular cannabis use does not necessarily lead to addiction, but the risk is high. A third of the consumers in the Dutch study lost control of their consumption over the next three years. However, neither the frequency nor the intensity of consumption played a role here. The consumption was about the same for all participants in the study.
However, anyone who has used weed to suppress the unpleasant is likely to have become dependent. Critical life events have also contributed to using weed to cope with uncomfortable feelings.
It is therefore important for consumers to question their own consumption motives. Why do I smoke weed? Is it about enjoyment or is it more about escape? Anyone who is unsure about their own consumption can do the cannabis check. The Quit the Shit program offers advice and help. Consultant Reglinde explains in an interview for whom the program is suitable and how it helps.
- Fox, C. L., Towe, S. L., Stephens, R. S., Walker, D. D. & Roffman, R. A. (2011). Motives for cannabis use in high-risk adolescent users. Psychol Addict Behav, 25 (3), 492-500.
- Looby, A. & Earlywine, M. (2007). Negative consequences associated with dependence in daily cannabis users. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 2: 3.
- Van der Pol, P., Liebregts, N., de Graaf, R., Korf, D. J., van den Brink, W. & van Laar, M. (2013). Predicting the transition from frequent cannabis use to cannabis dependence: A three-year prospective study. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 133, 352-359.
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