Cannabinoids are commonly known as marijuana, pot, weed, or reefer. They are the most commonly abused drug in the United States.
What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoid drugs – commonly known as marijuana – come from the Cannabis Sativa plant native to Asia and Africa, but easily grown almost anywhere.
According to a University of Washington resource site, the Cannabis Sativa plant contains over 480 natural components. Of these 480 components, 66 fall under the cannabinoid classification. One component in particular, known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is solely responsible for the psychoactive effects of the cannabis drug.
Cannabinoids can further be divided into sub-classifications, one of which is THC. A few other cannabinoid sub-classes include:
While THC creates the primary psychoactive effect, other plant components help to moderate the “high” effect produced by Cannabis.
- Mary Jane
- Dinkie Dow
- Dona Juana (or Juanita)
- Flower, Flower Tops
How Do Cannabinoids Work?
Cannabinoids interact with receptor cell sites located throughout the body’s central nervous system. These cell sites, known as CB1 and CB2 sites, naturally bind with cannabinoids when ingested. The central nervous system actually produces a chemical known as anandamide that’s similar in structure to cannabinoids. Other similar type chemicals are also produced throughout the central nervous. Combined with the CB1 and CB2 cell receptor sites, these processes make up the body’s own built-in cannabinoid system. So, when a person ingests cannabinoids, the central nervous system readily metabolizes the drug as if it were its own natural chemical secretions.
How Are Cannabinoids Abused?
According to the University of California-Keck School of Medicine, marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States with an estimated nine percent of the U.S. population meeting the criteria for cannabis use disorder.
Cannabis users typically smoke the plant material, which makes for an easy and effective mode for experiencing the desired “high” effect. Cannabinoids can also be imbedded in fat-containing foods, such as brownies and eaten. Much like any other form of frequent drug use, the more a person uses the more he or she craves the drug.
As cannabis gains easy access to brain and central nervous system functions, the effects of the drug vary from brain region to brain region. Overall, cannabinoids have a numbing, analgesic-like effect on brain and central nervous system functions. Two areas of the brain most affected by cannabis are the limbic system and mesolimbic pathway. The limbic system regulates cognition, memory and psychomotor or movement processes. The mesolimbic pathway has to do with brain’s reward system as well as pain and pleasure perceptions.
Drug interactions with the brain’s limbic system can impair users’ memory functions, decision-making abilities and judgment. Cannabis effects on the mesolimbic pathway create feelings of relaxation, well-being and euphoria.
Because of its analgesic properties, many believe cannabis offers a wide range of medicinal uses, such as controlling pain, increasing appetite and improving mood states. As of 2009, legal debates have brought about the legalization of cannabis in a few regions of the U.S., but only for medicinal purposes.
To date, cannabis use does not pose any life-threatening risks, though other negative effects can result when used for recreational purposes. Driving while under the influence of cannabis can greatly impair a person’s coordination and perception. For people driving under these conditions, car accidents and fatalities are not uncommon.
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Effects of Cannabinoid Addiction
People using cannabinoids for recreational purposes attempt to recreate feelings of relaxation, euphoria and lowered inhibitions each time they ingest the drug. As this drug integrates well with the body’s own cannabis-responsive system, over time the body’s natural anandamide chemical secretions start to shut down and grow dependent on the effects of the drug.
Signs of physical dependence become most apparent when a person stops using or cuts back on usage. In the absence of the drug, the body experiences withdrawal symptoms, some of which include:
Cannabinoid addictions also work to increase a person’s overall tolerance level for the drug in terms of the body requiring larger doses to experience the same desired effects. Over time, physical dependence, cravings, withdrawal and increasing tolerance levels form a vicious cycle that drives the addiction.
Long-term cannabinoid addictions can cause considerable decline in cognitive function that leaves a person at risk of developing any number of psychological disorders, some of which include:
- Cannabis-induced anxiety disorder
- Cannabis-induced psychotic disorder with hallucinations
- Cannabis intoxication delirium
- Cannabis-induced psychotic disorder with delusions
For all of these conditions, excess and long-term cannabis use acts as the causative agent as opposed to developing stress-induced or genetics-based disorders. While cannabinoid addiction, in and of itself, is not life-threatening, a person’s quality of life and overall mental health can see drastic declines.
Treatment programs for cannabinoid addictions are generally less intensive than those for other types of drug addictions. Recovering addicts do still need to go through a detoxification period. Detoxification centers can help ease the effects of withdrawal symptoms during this stage. While there’s no actual medication treatments available for cannabinoid withdrawal, medications can still be administered to help relieve specific symptoms, such as restlessness, irritability and fatigue.
Once a person completes detoxification, the next most likely treatment option is outpatient care. Outpatient treatment programs offer counseling, psychotherapy and group supports to help recovering addicts learn to live without drugs. More often than not, daily stressors and inner conflicts drive a person to use cannabis as an escape route. Psychotherapy treatment enables recovering addicts to work through these issues and develop more health ways of coping with everyday life.
For some people, a cannabinoid addiction becomes a way of self-medicating when underlying anxiety or depression disorders are at work. Outpatient programs are equipped to treat co-occurring conditions involving addiction and psychological disorders. Some people may require antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications to treat an underlying condition while others may only need psychotherapy and ongoing group supports.
Group supports typically come in the form of 12-step programs available through community-based agencies. 12-step programs provide a long-term treatment option where recovering addicts can continue to develop the types of coping skills and habits needed to remain drug-free.
For help finding treatment for cannabinoid abuse or addiction, call (800) 407-7195(Who Answers?).