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Is Cannabis Use Disorder Really a Thing?

Can cannabis use lead to a disorder?
Written by Sarah Friedman

We used to just call people stoners, that was enough. But the medical world always likes things to be more specific, and so now we have the term ‘cannabis use disorder’. But is this really a thing? Or a combination of fear-mongering, and over-enthusiasm to make everything into a problem? Read on and form your own opinion.

How is cannabis use disorder defined?

Though cannabis use goes back for thousands of years without a use issue stated, somehow, when legalizations started happening in the US, it popped up as a disorder. It’s currently listed in the DSM V, which came out in 2013. The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) states the qualifications for psychiatric diagnoses. Since there aren’t medical diagnoses for these issues, this guide is meant to tell doctors how to diagnose psychiatric problems. In the previous edition which was used between 2000-2013 (the DSM IV), cannabis was associated with ‘dependence’ and ‘abuse.’

According to VeryWellMind, cannabis use disorder denotes “problematic marijuana use.” The site then goes on to list the symptoms related to this problematic use. These symptoms include:

“Continuing to use cannabis despite physical or psychological problems; continuing to use cannabis despite social or relationship problems; craving cannabis; difficulty controlling or cutting down cannabis use; giving up or reducing other activities in favor of cannabis use; problems at work, school, and home as a result of cannabis use; spending a lot of time on cannabis use; taking cannabis in high-risk situations; taking more cannabis than was intended; tolerance to cannabis; withdrawal when discontinuing cannabis.”


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However, given all this, it then goes on to stipulate: “Just because the name has changed and the term “cannabis use” has replaced “cannabis abuse” or “cannabis dependence” doesn’t mean that cannabis is not addictive. In fact, research shows conclusively that cannabis is addictive.” However, contrary to this article, research, in fact, does not show any ability for a physical addiction to cannabis, as well as no death toll; and the fact it was downgraded in this way, really says a lot about how innocuous it is.

Have I ever seen a real example of cannabis use disorder in life?

No, not really. And that means something. I can’t speak for every person reading this, but I can speak for my own experience. I’ve been smoking weed for well over 20 years. I admit I never got into it in high school, but when college came around I finally understood what all the hype was about. In reality, I had tried it in high school a couple times with some (now I realize) low-grade herb stolen out of the top drawer of my stepfather’s dresser. He had back issues and had likely procured the green for his pain.

I was one of those people who simply couldn’t get the inhale right. The non-cigarette smokers among us sometimes have problems with this in the beginning. But in the throes of university, I figured it out, and by the end of my junior year, I was a full on stoner. In fact, I went from 0 to 100 in no time at all.

I’ve had times in my life when I wouldn’t go places without a joint rolled or a one-hitter in my pocket. I used to be the one stinking up greyhound buses with my bag of weed stuffed in my backpack, and the scent emanating out. It used to be customary for me to sneak a smoke break in my car at lunch, or to go for a walk and toke up, pretty much whenever possible. My habit might have been irritating to those who didn’t understand my desire to constantly be high.

But the truth is, I never had to do it. If a situation arose whereby I couldn’t have weed, I might have complained, but it was more of a superficial thing. My body wasn’t upset by not getting it. I didn’t go into DTs, or get incredibly sick. I wasn’t irritable and in a generally bad mood; and if I was, it was related to me, not the weed. Because I was never addicted to it.

It also never messed anything up for me. I never prostituted myself to get it, robbed anyone or anything for the money, or missed out on something because of it. It didn’t cause me to fail out of school, lose friends, or become a social outcast. The most is did was make me lazy, and hurt my lungs (the latter of which was rectified by vaping over smoking).

Is cannabis use a sign of our own personal issues?
Is cannabis use a sign of our own personal issues?

Want the real reality check? Most of the time I’ve used like that, I’m unhappy in general, or stressed out in life, with no other way to deal with it. You know that whole idea of self-medicating? It isn’t that a person wants to be blown out of their mind, its that they’re trying to fix a problem, whether consciously or subconsciously. What my weed use indicates to me, is a discomfort in life and in myself, and that has nothing to do with a use disorder, but rather, a reason for use. As in, something not right = more weed use, feeling okay = less. I expect this is true for nearly every person who uses a substance regularly.

Most users I know go through different periods in life with their consumption. And many people seem to cut down on their own when the time is appropriate, or if they feel they’re going overboard. A real drug use disorder involves a lack of control to the point of a problem, but that indicates it needs to cause a real problem. I have yet to see even one person directly ruin their life because of weed. Which, in my opinion, makes for no actual use disorder attached.

Have YOU ever seen a real example of cannabis use disorder in life?

Are you a weed consumer? And if so, how would you characterize your own use? Do you feel compelled at any point to use it? Do you feel like your life is lacking something because of it? Do you feel out-of-control in your ability to use or not use it? Now think of the people around you. Do they seem out-of-control on weed? Like, unable to make decent decisions? Unable to stop from doing more? Unable to stop themselves from tanking out their lives? And all due only to weed?

And have you seen it fundamentally mess up another person’s life? Job lost, partner left, family leaves them behind? Have you seen anyone destitute on the side of the road because they just couldn’t stop smoking weed? Have you heard of a store being burglarized because of it, or a person performing sexual acts to get it? Maybe you have, I can’t say, but I’d certainly bet not. If you had seen it, I probably would have too.

Now, last, have you watched person after person, unable to stop using weed? Trying to quit repeatedly, and unable to consume less, or stop at all? Have you ever heard anyone talk about needing an AA style meeting, or a counselor to get them through the hard part? Has anyone ever disclosed to you their painful experience of trying to leave weed behind? Again, if you say ‘yes’, I won’t argue, but I expect if this were a thing to see, I’d have seen it in my over 20 years of being in the weed scene.

So is there really a cannabis use disorder?

In order for the medical community to prescribe you a medication for anything, they legally need a reason to do it. That reason comes as a diagnosis that creates a need for a treatment, which is then prescribed as a medication. The diagnosis acts as a justification to allow the patient to have a specific medication. A doctor can’t prescribe a medication that requires a prescription, without that justification.

A medical diagnosis is based on objective information, not subjectivity
A medical diagnosis is based on objective information, not subjectivity

If you go to a doctor with a urinary tract infection, that infection is tested for, and the diagnosis made based on the results of the tests. As in, it’s a verifiable problem, for which a medication exists to treat it. There’s 100% no subjectivity there. These are objective tests. This is the same for any medical issue, with a medical definition. Cancer is definable, the flu is definable, a broken bone is definable, a genetic mutation is definable.

Then we get to psychiatric disorders, and the process is the same, but with one not-so-minor stipulation which gets constantly steamrolled over. Psychiatric conditions have no medical diagnosis. There’s nothing to verify they exist, and no way to test for them, or differentiate them. Now, if you’re thinking ‘I’m sure that doctors can test and diagnose issues like schizophrenia’, the sad truth is they uniformly cannot, as there is no true verification method. All diagnoses therefore come from the opinion of each specific doctor. They are only subjective, with absolutely no objectivity involved.

Ever heard of two doctors having two different opinions? Happens all the time! And that can mean two wildly different diagnoses depending on the specific beliefs of the individual doctors. And two wildly different medications prescribed, that can have wildly different effects. Breast cancer is breast cancer no matter which doctor you go to. But depression might be depression to one, bi-polar to another, and a personality disorder to a third. All the doctors will pick up on what they see, which is usually centered on their ideas and beliefs. Now think of how opinionated most doctors are.

So does cannabis use disorder actually exist? Or is the medical community trying to make an unnecessary label so it can prescribe you more meds? It’s not my place to say for sure, but I can give my opinion. Remember that part where I’ve been both a weed user and in the weed community for over half my life? If I can go this long without seeing something that mirrors the conditions of this disorder, than far as I can tell, it’s pretty much the last thing you’ve got to worry about.

Conclusion

Want to worry in life? Worry about getting addicted to opioids, or benzodiazepines, or meth. Worry about your alcohol intake and how you’ll get home without driving drunk. Worry about the boxes of cigarettes you go through and how they affect your health and the health of those around you. And worry about why your governing bodies are consistently pushing you to use unhealthy options over healthier ones.

Worry about the pollution in the air and water, the chemicals in your food, and the long hours you’re made to work that take you away from your family for most of your waking hours. Worry about the stress that gets piled on you, and the terms used to describe the ways you deal with it. But if you like to de-stress yourself with weed, maybe don’t worry so much that you have a so-called disorder, since it doesn’t look to actually cause problems.

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1 Comment

  • Hi! Cannabis user of 20 years here. Letting you know that I have cannabis use disorder, it is very much a thing, and I think this article was poorly written and extremely biased and intentionally naive. You say that you haven’t seen it, so you see no reason why it should exist. First of all… that’s bad logic. Second of all, you almost certainly have seen it. You simply redefined it or rationalized it as something else.

    I’m not a fan of stigma or reefer madness, but I am a fan of truth. I’ve been a champion of cannabis for my whole life, but I’m not gonna sit here and lie to people and say that it won’t cause you to become dependent on it. I know too many people who smoke weed literally every single day of their life but insist that they aren’t dependent, or don’t have a problem. It’s the only drug where people can justify that.

About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.