Cannabis Abuse

What is cannabis?

Cannabis, also called marijuana, is a drug that comes from the cannabis sativa (hemp plant). It may also be called pot, weed, or hash. Cannabis can be smoked, baked into food and eaten, or made into a tea and drunk. It can make you feel high, happy, or excited. The effects may start right away and last for 3 to 4 hours depending on whether you smoke or eat cannabis.

What is cannabis abuse?

Cannabis abuse is a pattern of use that causes physical or mental problems:

  • The use of cannabis makes you unable to function at work, school, or in your home. You may be absent often, or your work may be done poorly. You may not be able to take care of your children or your home.

  • You use cannabis when it is dangerous to be under the effects of the drug. This includes when you drive a vehicle or use machinery.

  • You have problems with the police when you are under the effects of cannabis.

  • You keep using cannabis even when you argue with your family and friends about your use.

  • You need to use more cannabis to give you the high feeling or other effects that you want. You have withdrawal symptoms after you stop using cannabis.

What is cannabis withdrawal?

Cannabis withdrawal happens when you have used cannabis for a long period of time, and you suddenly take less or stop taking it. Withdrawal symptoms may start on the first day and may last up to 2 weeks. You may have more than one of the following:

  • Decreased appetite and weight loss

  • Night sweats and trouble sleeping

  • Craving for cannabis

  • Irritability

  • Feeling agitated, anxious, or restless

  • Depressed or negative mood

How is cannabis abuse diagnosed?

  • Psychiatric assessment: Caregivers will ask if you have a history of psychological trauma, such as physical, sexual, or mental abuse. They will ask if you were given the care that you needed. Caregivers will ask you if you have been a victim of a crime or natural disaster, or if you have a serious injury or disease. They will ask you if you have seen other people being harmed, such as in combat. You will be asked if you drink alcohol or use drugs at present or in the past. Caregivers will ask you if you want to hurt or kill yourself or others. How you answer these questions can help caregivers decide on treatment. To help during treatment, caregivers will ask you about such things as how you feel about it and your hobbies and goals. Caregivers will also ask you about the people in your life who support you.

  • Urine tests: Caregivers may test your urine for cannabis.

How is cannabis abuse treated?

  • Brief intervention: Brief intervention therapy is done by meeting with a caregiver who will talk to and encourage you. During therapy, you will discuss your cannabis use with the caregiver. The caregiver will help you understand that you are responsible for making changes in your life. He will explain how you can be helped by decreasing or stopping cannabis use, and give you treatment options.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you change your thinking and behavior. It can help you manage depression and anxiety caused by cannabis use. CBT can help you learn good coping skills and ways to manage stress. CBT can be done with you and a talk therapist or in a group.

  • Motivational enhancement therapy: A therapist or counselor can help motivate you and help set goals to change your behavior and stop cannabis abuse.

  • Group, marriage, and family therapy: Self-help group therapy includes meeting with others who also want to stop using cannabis. Marriage and family therapy can help you by including others to support you in your treatment.

  • Vouchers: This program provides vouchers (rewards) for attending therapy or not using cannabis. You may need to provide urine samples for testing. If your urine shows no signs of cannabis use, you may get a voucher. This program may report you to the court, or tell your family or friends if you decide to use cannabis.

What are the risks of cannabis abuse?

  • Cannabis abuse increases your risk of heart disease and blood vessel disorders. It decreases your immune system, and increases your risk of infections and illnesses. If you have asthma, cannabis may make it worse. Your risk of throat and lung cancer may increase with long-term use of cannabis.

  • Cannabis may decrease your judgment, and increase your risk for injury. Cannabis abuse may increase your risk of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychosis, depression, or anxiety. Your risk is greater if you or someone in your family has a mental health disorder. If you have schizophrenia, cannabis use may make your symptoms worse.

How may cannabis affect my baby?

Cannabis use may keep your unborn baby from growing as fast as he should. It may harm your unborn baby's eyes and nervous system. When he gets older, he may have difficulty in school and with solving problems. He may also have a poor memory, or problems focusing or paying attention. He may be impulsive (reacting without thinking first). He may be at an increased risk for depression. He may have a higher risk of smoking cigarettes and using cannabis when he is an adult.

Where can I find more information?

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse
    6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 5213
    Bethesda , MD 20892-9561
    Phone: 1- 301 - 443-1124
    Web Address: www.nida.nih.gov

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You cannot fight the urge to use cannabis.

  • You have stopped using cannabis, and feel that you cannot cope with your withdrawal symptoms.

  • You want help or more information on how to decrease or stop using cannabis.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • The effects of cannabis have worn off, and you have shortness of breath, a fast heart rate, or chest pain.

  • You want to hurt or kill yourself or others.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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