Addiction or tolerance, withdrawal or desire?

Addiction or tolerance, withdrawal or desire?

Di: Carmen Arriaza Terapeutico

After several years of use, anyone can develop an addiction. When this consumption becomes a habit, and if the intake is so commonplace that it becomes systematic, it can lead to a greater tolerance of the substance in question. Depending on a number of circumstances, these factors can lead to a desire to consume more in order to achieve the intended effects and, therefore, lead to an addictive disorder.

When we talk about withdrawal syndrome, we are referring to the symptoms caused by a break in the consumption of some substance in our bodies. In the case of marijuana, the withdrawal syndrome is much milder than with other drugs, including more common ones like alcohol. In fact, alcohol withdrawal syndrome, known as Delirium Tremens is one of the most serious and can have consequences such as death.

The cessation of use can affect each individual differently depending on various factors such as the level of marijuana use, the age and metabolism of the user, as well as various social factors in everyday life. Those users who have been smoking marijuana for a long time, and who have maintained a level of consumption more akin to an addiction, experience more serious side effects than those who use marijuana more moderately or for a shorter length of time. Cannabis withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, irritability, and mood disorders. Other problems such as decreased appetite and disturbed sleep, or symptoms similar to those seen in mild infectious diseases such as the flu (excessive sweating, chills and the jitters) may also occur. Once these symptoms appear, nothing can be done to alleviate the discomfort that can result from withdrawal. Studies are currently being conducted to use tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the main cannabinoids in marijuana, as a possible remedy to help those who decide to stop using marijuana. The objective is to alleviate withdrawal symptoms to help make the experience as smooth as possible. In addition, there are also professional detoxification programmes and appropriate treatment. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that there is currently no evidence that habitual marijuana users develop a physiological dependence as is the case with other substances such as cocaine and opioids.



THC has been identified as the component of the cannabis plant responsible for producing this possible dependence. Interestingly, if someone is a regular cannabis smoker and uses enough every day, they are not likely to have withdrawal symptoms. This is because THC is lipophilic and binds to fat cells, which is why it is eliminated from the body very slowly and the reason withdrawal symptoms hardly ever appear immediately. Symptoms don’t usually appear until a day after you stop using, reaching a peak about three days later.

With regard to tolerance of cannabis use, we’re referring to a very wide spectrum with a multitude of factors that play a relevant role. Regular users develop a tolerance to marijuana in most cases. If a high tolerance to any substance develops, we’ll stop noticing these effects and it will be necessary to increase the dose to achieve the desired effects. It really is a question of habit: if the consumer gets used to consuming a certain amount of herb regularly, he or she will experience a high tolerance to its effects. The body quickly develops a tolerance to substances that are regularly consumed. Of course, this tolerance factor will always be subject to factors such as the amount and frequency of consumption, the gender of the individual, the marijuana’s potency and THC levels and, of course, the body mass index. For those who smoke or consume regularly, a tolerance break (ie. a break from consuming marijuana) is an excellent way to restore the body and fight against this tolerance in order to obtain the desired effects. Research hasshown that CB1 receptors in the body are rejuvenated and replenished after two days of tolerance break and this continues for three to four weeks.

Results of studies have shown that female cannabis users can develop a tolerance faster than men, and sometimes a greater sensitivity to the effects of the plant. Although the causes for this are not yet clear, it is possible that oestrogen levels play a role.

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