Cannabis, an Addiction?

ANY substance or behavior that can alter your brain chemistry may potentially become addictive.

Even something as subtle as coffee or scrolling on facebook falls in this category. The definition of addiction implies that the substance in question has been used enough to cause significant harm to the user. Most early drug or alcohol users argue for the benefit of their substance. It usually goes something like “it helps my pain, it makes me more social, it helps my creativity, it helps with boredom, it numbs my pain or my nightmares.” Addicts tend to rationalize and intellectualize the substance use in any way to ensure their continued use. After a time though the substance use becomes the norm and they cannot imagine a life without it.

Cannabis has gained a significant amount of “anti stigma” in the sense that it is thought to be non addicting or non harmful. Yes, it may help in various medical ways and not be fatal but for some folks it may cause issues.  The problem with cannabis use is that it’s harm is usually spaced over a long period of time. A life not fully lived. In many cases, the effects are noticed years after continued use. Usually people will look back at their years of use and remember all the good ideas they had that never came to fruition. “I had a really good idea for a book or a youtube channel, a company or [insert goal].”

Question. Why is it that cannabis seems to allow people to think they have great ideas however never act on them? Why does it lead to people not achieving their goals? This has been labeled as the a-motivational syndrome, however it may simply be due to the nature of the drug and the effect on the brain.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a Psychologist who studies “flow”. He calls this the rewarding state that someone enters into when in absolute focus. Picture the musician who is completely engaged in playing their instrument. Multiple senses are engaged from second to second to ensure that every note is struck exactly right. One false note can immediately be recognized. Nothing else matters. See Surfing. To gain this level of flow one has to practice a skill over and over for a very long time. It requires a lot of work. Toddlers seem to be in this state of mind most of the time. Mihaly notes that this state is a form of ultimate pleasure. Through intrinsic motivation it can in itself become addictive due to a release of endogenous morphine, also known as endorphins. The same chemicals are released in the brain during a runner’s high or falling in love.

When using cannabis someone can immediately enter this state of flow. A shortcut to that feeling. Cannabis and other drug users describe their “high” in a similar fashion, a state of euphoria where nothing else matters.

Back to the previous question. So what does cannabis have to do with the flow state and the lack of achievement? Long term goals depend on tons of work, work that requires focus. This continued effort will eventually yield a desired pay off. The process of doing the work eventually results in the “flow” state of being completely engaged in the activity. If someone can gain this feeling instantly, why bother with working endless hours towards it? This is exactly it, this is why some folks who use cannabis constantly stop striving for those future rewards. Their brain gets tricked into thinking the reward is already there. They feel good without trying. The future goal diminish and eventually goes away, all at the cost of instant gratification.

Thanks for reading.

3 thoughts on “Cannabis, an Addiction?

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  1. Hey there! I am currently writing about Cannabis as well and while I believe all of what you’ve mentioned being true (btw a similar need for instant gratification is built up when using social media!), I think the study and thereby also this post had one big flaw: It conceptualizes a cannabis consumer who smokes regularly (daily?). If you only smoke cannabis from time to time the ideas you get from it you may actually act upon. I would also be interested in how cannabis affects the memory of sporadic users.

    1. Hi Ben, yes I agree, occasional use may actually be beneficial in different ways to different people. I think that may hold true for any drug or even alcohol. I sometimes wonder if the literature greats like Hemingway actually drank occasionally to spark creativity as apposed to the common belief that he was a hardcore alcoholic. In my personal case I noticed improvement in some areas of life, although these improvements were closely tied to daily cannabis use. For example I became very fit because I would go smoke every morning in the woods and run the trails. I also became very proficient at playing guitar but again, because I played whenever I got high. The interesting part though was when I quit finally after realizing my cannabis use was in fact problematic, I slowly noticed an even greater improvement in those areas. I found after a long time that I could run just as much without smoking and I started writing songs along with playing guitar. After all that, whenever I did occasionally smoke I noticed a totally different experience in these areas. Joe Rogan actually mentioned this as well that the optimal way to use it is occasional binging. I’m still trying to figure it all out but I think that’s all part of the experience and journey of life.
      Hope this helps. Sorry for the delayed response.
      Dr Z.

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