Understanding Cannabis Dependence: Facts and Myths

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  • 0:08 Cannabis
  • 1:00 Benefits
  • 2:23 Side Effects
  • 3:37 Physical vs.…
  • 6:21 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

There are many myths about cannabis - or marijuana - use and dependence. In this lesson, we'll look at the medicinal benefits of cannabis, as well as the dangers of cannabis use.


For decades, a debate has raged as to whether marijuana, or cannabis, should be legal. As of 2013, 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized pot for medicinal purposes. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize it for recreational purposes.

Cannabis is an herb that produces a relaxed state of well-being in many people. It goes by many different names - pot, weed and dope among them - and is used for both medicinal and recreational uses. Though it is gaining popularity as a medicine, there are still risks to using it. There are many misconceptions about marijuana use. Let's look at facts about the benefits and side effects of marijuana use and examine the dangers of addiction.


Cannabis use is anytime anyone uses marijuana, while cannabis dependence is when someone becomes addicted to marijuana. Cannabis dependence can cause serious problems for people, but first let's look at the benefits of cannabis use. That is, let's examine the reasons why someone might use marijuana.

Marijuana has been shown to be very effective in fighting nausea. As a result, it is often prescribed as a drug for cancer and AIDS patients, as well as others who have problems with vomiting and trouble with too much weight loss. Cannabis can also help mitigate pain. This is another advantage for cancer and AIDS patients, who are often in a lot of pain. However, in general, it's not often prescribed just for pain because it has side effects, like drowsiness, that are not as marked in prescription painkillers.

Because of its relaxing properties, cannabis is occasionally used for anxiety disorders and insomnia. It can cause a deep sense of relaxation and induce sleep, which makes it popular for people who feel nervous and are unable to sleep. However, most people who use it to treat anxiety do so as part of self-medicating, or taking drugs or alcohol to deal with problems. In other words, it is not often prescribed for anxiety disorders.

Side Effects

Despite all of the benefits of cannabis use, there are drawbacks. For example, marijuana can cause short-term memory loss and cognitive difficulties. That is, people who smoke pot aren't thinking straight. They often come across as dumb because the marijuana is keeping them from being able to process and retrieve information.

In addition, there is a link between certain mental illnesses and cannabis use. Remember how we said that people who suffer from anxiety disorders often self-medicate with marijuana? The reason that it is not often prescribed for anxiety conditions is that long-term use might actually cause anxiety disorders. In some studies, smoking a lot of pot as a teenager was linked with higher anxiety in the late 20s.

Other mental illnesses, like depression and schizophrenia, are also linked with pot smoking. But there's no way to know whether or not the marijuana is causing the mental illnesses or if people who have psychological problems are just more likely to turn to cannabis. Other side effects of marijuana use include respiratory problems, dry mouth, red and itchy eyes and blood pressure issues.

Physical vs. Psychological Addiction

By far, though, the biggest danger with cannabis use is that a person will become addicted, or dependent, upon the drug. Contrary to popular belief, cannabis is an addictive substance and about 10% of users develop a dependence on it. But people still believe that you can't get addicted to pot. Why?

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