Informed High - Becoming Informed about Cannabis

Cannabis Use Disorder

Disclaimer: Practical Pointers are based on my personal experiences and education. This is not advice to be blindly followed. What follows are insights I am sharing for you to think about and be critical of while you read. What works for me might not work for you, see a doctor before making any significant choices. I want to help create informed consumers making informed decisions.


Cannabis Use Disorder


I’ve seen evidence suggesting that around 10% of Cannabis consumers go on to develop Cannabis Use Disorder. This number is an estimate, due to the illicit nature of Cannabis it is unclear how accurate all our data is. That said, the idea that 1 in 10 may develop problematic use of Cannabis is a serious concern.



Also known as Cannabis Addiction


Cannabis Use Disorder can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This is the standard text for classification of mental disorders here in North America. Internationally, you can also find the International International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems or ICD-10. Today I just want to focus on how the DSM-5 has decided to classify and specify the requirements that need to be met to be diagnosed by a Mental Health Professional.


Getting Any Feelings Yet?


If you feel that you have problematic Cannabis use, maybe it’s time for some Self-care, a Tolerance Break, or Learning about Quitting Cannabis. Talk to a healthcare practitioner and mental health professional if you feel like your Cannabis use significantly impacts your life. You can also find mental health resources like hot-lines and crisis numbers, Here for Mental Health and Suicide Resources. For parent’s looking to get informed, Check This Out.


Misconceptions of Self-Diagnosis


As someone who has read the definitions of many mental health disorders and usually gets the feeling that I fit that criteria, I do want to note one crucial point. I do not want readers to see this description and freak-out about having Cannabis Use Disorder. Reading this information may empower you to make a few changes, or seek medical and social support. So here is the key phrase you need to know, and it is consistent across most every disorder and syndrome in the DSM-5.




Clinically Significant Impairment or Distress


To have a mental health professional diagnose you with this condition, you must have clinically significant impairment or distress. Again, this is the cut-off used for basically all disorders in the DSM-5. This phrase is important because some of the rather broad requirements can so easily seem to fit our behavior. That is why I encourage you to read this with skepticism and take some time to self-reflect on your Cannabis use and whether you may want to make any changes


Impairment or Distress


Impairment means that your Cannabis use interferes with other aspects of your life, and distress defines the emotional suffering caused by having Cannabis Use Disorder.  Distress can be thought of as extreme negative stress in response to specific events. You may feel distressed leading up to your exam, but when the exam is over that distress is reduced. If that distress is maintained and becomes daily and you attempt to consume Cannabis in spite of the impairment in other areas of life (exercise, education, social, family, etc.). If you find that you meet the requirements I’m about to list below, just remember this key point.


12-Month Period: Two out of Eleven


This disorder uses the previous 12 months of your life to decide if you meet at least two of the following criteria. I have somewhat reduced things and utilized more understandable terms, so this is not an exact duplication of the DSM-5 Standards.


  • Cannabis is consumed in more substantial amounts over more extended periods of time than was intended
  • Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control cannabis use
  • Significant time is spent obtaining, using, and recovering from Cannabis
  • Cravings to use Cannabis
  • Repeated Cannabis use that results in failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home
  • Continued use of Cannabis in spite of persistent and recurrent social or interpersonal problems that are caused by, or made worse by, Cannabis use
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced due to Cannabis use
  • Repeated events where Cannabis use leads to physical hazards
  • Cannabis use continues despite knowledge of physical and psychological problems that are being caused, or made worse, by Cannabis Use
  • Tolerance: defined as either a need for increased amount of cannabis to reach the desired effect or a diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of cannabis
  • Withdrawal syndrome for cannabis, defined as: Cessation of prolonged and heavy use of cannabis and three or more signs and symptoms within the first week without cannabis (including irritability, anger, aggression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, restlessness, depressed mood, and physical symptoms like abdominal pain, sweating, fevers, chills or headache). These signs or symptoms of Cannabis withdrawal cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or others areas of life. These signs or symptoms are not caused by other medical conditions or mental disorders. Cannabis may be taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms



That’s the list there. I’m sure a few of those sounded familiar to you. As I already noted, there are resources above for those who feel they need it or you can find a healthcare practitioner and/or mental health professional.


Broad Criteria that can Appeal to All


You can probably see how you could feel like you fit some of these criteria so easily. For example, tolerance is something that develops naturally in response to drug use. Usually, this effect that helps us to desire the product less, but there are times when we use more and more to try to gain the levels of high we may have experienced as novices. This chases of old highs can be problematic for any consumer of Cannabis.


Withdrawal and Tolerance


These are normal physiological responses to any drug or substance that is continually consumed. Many of us build up tolerance to caffeine and experience withdrawal symptoms when we stop drinking it for too long. This sort of tolerance building and withdrawal experiencing is not in itself a problem, but it can be indicative of one. That is why this whole description of Cannabis Use Disorder should be framed within that vital phrase: “clinically significant impairment or distress”



Desires and Craving and Cannabis Use Disorder


This can be another tough topic, as it can be hard to differentiate between I want a joint, and I need a joint. Desires and cravings are normal experiences, especially for pleasant things like surgery treats, cups of coffee, and Cannabis. The best way to learna about your desires and craving is by paying attention, spending time self-reflecting on why you make the choices that you do. Spending some time without Cannabis can help inform you of what effects this has on your body and cravings you get.


How to Avoid Cannabis Use Disorder


One of the best things you can do is put off Cannabis use for as long as possible. Hopefully at least 18 or 19, but it’d be even better to wait till your twenties to start consuming. The behaviors we develop in our formative years that impact the rest of our lives. The impact of Cannabis on the developing body and brain is another topic where the evidence is uncertain, but it all points toward the idea that it is better to wait. I know this isn’t realistic for everyone. If you are one of those people who started young, you may want to think about taking a Tolerance Break and learning more about yourself without Cannabis at first. I’ve gone periods of months without cannabis while abroad, and these experiences were insightful and helpful for my avoidance of Cannabis Use Disorder.



Avoiding the Cannabis Use Disorder: Tolerance and Withdrawal


To avoid having Withdrawal at all, and to minimize the effects of tolerance, there are a few key notes. Firstly, try always to smoke the minimum amount needed to get the high you would like to achieve. Secondly, after blazing, try to have as much time as possible before the next cannabis session. Along the same lines, staying high all day can be great on vacation, but doing this all the time will build a high tolerance that reduces your bang for your buck that you spend on Cannabis. Thirdly, try to take short breaks here and there. Have a busy week at work coming up anyways? Why not try to take a week off and not smoke till Friday afternoon. These are just a few ideas, mold them to your specific situation and spend some time self-reflecting on it.


Thanks for Reading!


Arnold Warkentin

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