Cannabis is one of the most commonly used drugs in the world, and the most widely used in New Zealand with about 13% of the population aged 16–64 admitting to using it on a regular basis, making the country the 9th highest cannabis consumer in the world.

Cannabis is a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing when it comes to drugs, perceived as harmless fun, which is reflected in its criminal status worldwide. Studies have shown that the addiction rate for cannabis is less than that for caffeine, tobacco or alcohol, all of them legal substances so, some argue, why not legalise cannabis? And indeed, although possession and cultivation is still illegal in most countries, campaigns to decriminalise its use can be seen throughout the world regularly, on the basis that it isn’t a “hard” drug. Possession of small amounts has already been decriminalised in many countries in Europe and some parts of the US, while it is completely legal in The Netherlands and Uruguay.

However, no drug is ever fully safe to use, and cannabis consumption should be taken as seriously as any other substance abuse, as it can lead to addiction as surely, as well as to mental and physical problems.

What differentiates cannabis from other drugs, though, is that it is a favourite among teenagers, possibly because it is cheaper and easier to get than other drugs, and perceived as less dangerous. But increasing evidence has shown that using cannabis at an age where the brain is still developing can cause serious and irreversible neural and cognitive damage as cannabis acts on regions of the brain governing thinking, memory and motor skills. It has also been linked to developing psychosis and schizophrenia later in life, with a higher risk when the cannabis user starts under the age of 15.

Identifying that a teenager has been using cannabis can be difficult, as it is an age where most adolescents will, in any case, put some distance between their parents and themselves and seem to lose interest in anything that isn’t themselves, while not uttering more than the occasional grunt in response to any of your enquiries!  However it is natural for teenagers to push boundaries and experiment, but in the case of cannabis, the consequences can be far-fetching.

In older users, addiction to cannabis is more likely to occur among heavy users and affect about 10% of them. Although it may seem like a small number, it still has the potential to cause health problems such as respiratory difficulties,

Like with any drugs, cannabis use leads to greater tolerance over time, with physical changes in the way the body manages the absorption, distribution, processing and elimination of the drug, requiring increasing doses to achieve the same high.

Although not as medically severe as for harder drugs, at least half of patients experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using, such as mood swings, depression, irritability, poor sleep, lack of appetite or stomach problems, although these are usually resolved after a few weeks. And like with any addiction, relapses are common without proper addiction treatment.

Studies have demonstrated that treating the physical addiction with medication only isn’t very effective and that the underlying mental health disorder needs to be addressed through addiction counselling and therapies, and that family-based treatments have a better chance of long-term success.

If you are concerned about a young adult, if you want to stop using cannabis or have tried in the past but have relapsed, you may want to consider talking to addiction counselling agencies in Auckland, such as the Robert Street Clinic. Our team of psychotherapists and psychiatrists specialise in addiction counselling in Auckland and can offer you a comprehensive addiction treatment whatever your age or history.

Contact us or call us on 09 973 5950 for a discussion about your situation and how we can help you overcome your addiction.