Why Cannabis Use Disorder is Real and Important to Understand

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Cannabis use disorder is the most common drug abuse in the US [1]. There is a common misconception that marijuana is not addictive. However, addiction is about more than a substance’s biological effect [2]. This means that something can become addictive, even if biologically, someone is not dependent on it [2].

Addiction is a complex psychological process and cannot be reduced to genetic, biological, or psychological factors. While some scholars discuss that marijuana addiction can be up to 80 percent heritable, addiction is not just a genetic condition [2]. Addiction is a complex psychological and neurological condition.

Addiction is when an individual develops cravings, and compulsively seeks something [2]. Compulsive means that someone is essentially unable to stop themselves from doing something. So someone who compulsively seeks marijuana will continue to use despite social, academic, professional, financial, or legal consequences.

Addiction always has an emotional component that drives this compulsive behavior [2]. Someone may be addicted to marijuana if they rely on it to cope emotionally. Someone may use their cannabis use disorder to help cope with depression, anxiety, grief, trauma, or any other difficult emotional experience.

Signs of Cannabis Use Disorder

The drug is essentially being used to make life more manageable, despite the potential consequences. Cannabis abuse is a sign of emotional distress [2].

Woman dealing with cannabis use disorderSome signs of cannabis abuse include:

  • Inability to stop using marijuana or to reduce the amount used
  • Cannabis use interferes with someone’s academic, professional, or social responsibilities
  • Cannabis use results in physically dangerous situations for self or others
  • Needing to use more of the drug in order to get the desired effect (this is referred to as “tolerance”)

While there are debates about whether marijuana is chemically addictive, meaning whether or not someone can become addicted to it based on the chemical interaction alone, any behavior pattern that creates impairment or distress should be taken seriously. The complex relationship between emotions and substances should be understood in order to help prevent and treat substance use disorders.

If someone is struggling with a cannabis use disorder, getting treatment is important [1]. Given that cannabis use can impact a person’s ability to function, one of the main goals should be to re-establish their ability to do so.

Other important goals would be to get mental health treatment for the underlying psychological conditions that perpetuated the substance abuse and to develop coping skills to manage these conditions.

Regardless of whether you believe cannabis addiction is real or not, the tragic effects of compulsive marijuana use are real. For this reason alone, the issue should be taken seriously.


[1] Patel, J. & Marwaha, R. (2020, June) Cannabis Use Disorder. The National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

[2] Maté, G. (2008) In the realm of hungry ghosts. North Atlantic Press.

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on October 26, 2020
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 26, 2020
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.