Cannabis: Addiction or Dependence?
Addiction or Dependence?
Growing up in the 90’s, cannabis was a massive part of my life, it was everywhere, and it seemed like everyone was doing it. Barely teenagers ourselves, we would sit in the park and spend our weekends sampling each-others Joints. We’d compare strains and talk about cannabis as if we were scientists. I even remember one guy carrying a magnifying glass around with him so that he could show off the THC crystals on his buds. It was a movement, and we were driving it forward.
What was in it for us?
The giggles, the deep conversations about life, and the times spent with friends in nature (the park) – I wouldn’t deny it, we had fun! But, when the giggles and the time spent in “nature” with friends stopped, why did we carry on smoking it even when by ourselves? Why do so many of us carry on even when the experience starts turning a bit negative?
Why do we do it every day? Why is it that even if the dealer has terrible ‘gear’, we still buy it and smoke it? Addiction? Yes, but there is also another part to the story that too many of us aren’t entirely aware of until it’s pointed out to us, then things usually start to make more sense. Dependency…
What is the difference between addiction and dependency?
Addiction, is a ‘towards-movement’, a movement towards the reward. Addiction is more common amongst users of ‘uppers’, or stimulants. Stimulants are any substance that stimulates mind-body activity. Cravings, and urges, are experienced like a compulsive charge.
Some examples of stimulants and uppers, are: cocaine, alcohol, gambling, extreme sports and other activities which stimulate mind-body activity can also be highly addictive. Cannabis (Sativa) is also in this category.
Substance dependency is an away-from movement. A movement away from pain or discomfort. Dependency is more common amongst users of downers, or depressants. Downers are any substance that slows down mind-body activity.
Some examples of ‘downers’ are; painkillers, alcohol, medical morphine, anti-depressants, Cannabis (indica), etc. Food can also be used in this way.
The Cannabis warriors…
I have cannabis-loving friends who would lose their minds and revolt if they saw cannabis in the same category as morphine, or to even call it a downer for that matter! It’s not an attack on cannabis, I promise. I know they are two completely different things and I know that there are people who have a perfectly good relationship with cannabis – more power to them. I am also aware of the medicinal properties of cannabinoids, but none the less, this is not that conversation.
Before we slam morphine too much though, let’s also not forget how useful it can be for hospital patients who would be in dire pain and discomfort without it. Thousands of people use medical morphine every year for extended periods of time while in the hospital and are able to quit without too much trouble, as soon as they are discharged. It’s our relationship to any given substance or behaviour that decides the role it plays in our lives.
A lot of “cannabis connoisseurs”, will know the difference between Sativa and Indica as an upper (Sativa) and a stoner (Indica). Some will even keep both types available to smoke at different times of the day. Sativa for breakfast, and Indica for dinner right? I am not here to judge. Some smokers argue that they only smoke Sativa, but the truth is, UK cannabis is so cross-bred by amateur growers trying to create some magical strain, that you can’t always be sure of what breed you are smoking, or even which one it is that is playing the bigger part in keeping you hooked.
There is one undeniable truth; most of the time when people try to quit cannabis, it’s not the boredom without it that leads them to give up on giving up. It’s the horrible vivid dreams, the extreme mood swings, the weeks of insomnia, and the bouts of depression. All symptoms of dependence (a movement away from pain or discomfort).
I once asked a client why he smoked cannabis, and he literally answered the question as a question “because it relaxes me?”
Surely, if it truly relaxed him, then he would have said it with more conviction. He then went on to tell me that he doesn’t even smoke cannabis to get high any more. He smokes it to “feel normal”. What would you say is at play here? Is this addiction or dependency?
For what it’s worth…
For me, one of the worst side-effects of trying to quit cannabis was insomnia. Most people will go through it for weeks after stopping. It is torture, and it was the sole reason why I gave up on quitting so many times. If we’re only smoking cannabis for the stimulating effects, then surely we shouldn’t need it to sleep. We also wouldn’t become divas when we can’t have a spliff at our usual time in the evening. Let’s tell it how it is, the evening spliff is a very serious matter to most working smokers.
I once asked a client what happens if he missed his six o’clock spliff, and he looked me dead in the eyes and said: “Deniz, trust me, I do not miss my six o’clock spliff!” He meant it, and I believed him. Apparently, his whole life revolved around that time. To some non-smokers, or new smokers, this might sound exaggerated, but I believe that most confirmed smokers (whether they want to quit or not) will relate to that, and unfortunately so will their families.
So where do we go from here?
That’s up to you. Your experience with cannabis is your own. Like I said earlier, this is not an attack on cannabis, nor is it a debate about cannabis. I personally do not smoke it anymore, because I have no need for it in my life. Did I suffer because of cannabis? Yes. Is the cannabis solely to blame for that? Who cares?
Either way, I was dependent on the stuff for years and for a ridiculously unnecessary amount of time, I just accepted cannabis as my identity and carried on paying through the nose for a “relaxant” that didn’t relax anything other than its own side-effects.
How can Cognitive Hypnotherapy help?
I have spoken about the dependence aspect to cannabis addiction in this article because, as with any other addiction, I believe that the most crucial first step in recovery is to accept that the problem is actually there and to have some awareness of how it is operating within your world. The truth is that Cannabis addiction has some other dimensions too – psychological, physiological, social, financial, environmental, past, future, etc. Everyone’s experience is their own, and not every dimension is necessarily a factor for every person.
Cognitive Hypnotherapy is a way of using an extraordinary set of skills to tailor recovery work according to that experience and those dimensions. Within the Cognitive Hypnotherapy model, there are approaches to address all of addictions dimensions and to help release the client from them with as little discomfort as possible. Rather than trying to survive the recovery process, I prefer for my clients to thrive through it, and I equip them with all the tools they need, not only to end addiction but to also create a mental state, where addiction just cannot survive. A higher frequency. It’s as good enough a thing to ruminate on, as any. Isn’t it?