Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

Cannabis Use Disorder: Understanding, Treating, and Preventing

Table of Contents

With marijuana being legalized in several parts of the world, more people are smoking the substance than ever before. However, along with increased use comes increased risk. There are physical or psychological problems that can arise from marijuana use, like addiction. This is how Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) begins.

CUD is substance abuse that can lead to marijuana dependence. It happens when someone can’t stop using marijuana even though it causes problems in their life. It is part of a larger group of substance use disorders which include alcohol dependence and illicit drug abuse.

Addressing CUD is critical because it affects mental health, physical health, and even personal relationships. This is why the mental health services administration and national institutes like the National Institute on Drug Abuse are dedicated to spreading awareness about CUD.

Defining Cannabis Use Disorder

Understanding Addiction and Substance Use Disorders

Addiction, whether to marijuana or other drugs, is a medical condition where you can’t stop using a substance even when it’s causing harm. Substance use disorders, like marijuana addiction or cannabis dependence, are serious forms of addiction that need treatment.

Diagnostic Criteria for CUD

The American Psychiatric Association and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) provide clear criteria for diagnosing Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD). According to the DSM-5, CUD is defined as a problematic pattern of cannabis use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by at least two of the following, occurring within a 12-month period.

  • Cannabis is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.

  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control cannabis use.

  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain cannabis, use cannabis, or recover from its effects.

  • Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use cannabis.

  • Recurrent cannabis use results in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.

  • Continued cannabis use despite having persistent or recurrent social, psychological, physical, or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of cannabis.

  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of cannabis use.

  • Recurrent cannabis use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.

  • Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:

    (a) A need for markedly increased amounts of cannabis to achieve intoxication or desired effect.

    (b) A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of cannabis.

  • Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:

    (a) The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for cannabis (refer to Criteria A and B of the criteria set for cannabis withdrawal).

    (b) Cannabis (or a closely related substance) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

CUD Prevalence and Impact

Cannabis Use Disorder is more common than people might think. Studies suggest that many people who use marijuana may struggle with CUD. The impact of CUD is vast, leading to mental health issues, physical health problems, and negative consequences in life.

Risk Factors of Cannabis Use Disorder

Marijuana use can have many effects and can lead to marijuana addiction or Cannabis Use Disorder. This disorder can be influenced by many factors and can impact many areas of a person’s life.

Genetic and Environmental Influences

  • Genetics: Research shows that genes can play a part in the development of CUD. Some people might have a genetic makeup that makes them more likely to become addicted to marijuana.

  • Environment: The environment in which a person lives can also play a role in the risk of developing CUD. If marijuana use is common in a person’s community or family, they might be more likely to use marijuana themselves. This is especially true for people who start using marijuana at a young age.

  • Legality: Living in a place where marijuana is legal can increase the risk of CUD. Easy access to the drug can lead to more frequent use.

Effects of Marijuana

The effects of marijuana, a product of the cannabis sativa plant, can vary widely depending on several factors, including the strain of cannabis, the method of consumption (typically smoked or consumed in cannabis extracts), the user’s individual tolerance, and the quantity used.

Here are some of the physical, mental, and long-term effects that marijuana use can have:

  • Physical Effects:

    • Immediate: These can include dry mouth, bloodshot eyes, increased heart rate, and in some cases, dizziness or fainting.

    • Long-term: Regular, chronic marijuana use can have detrimental effects on the respiratory system, similar to those caused by tobacco. This is especially true when marijuana is smoked, leading to persistent cough, bronchitis, and a potential risk of lung infections.

  • Psychological Effects:

    • Immediate: Marijuana use can result in altered perception, euphoria, heightened sensory experiences, and changes in the perception of time. In some cases, it can also lead to feelings of anxiety or paranoia.

    • Long-term: Chronic cannabis use can potentially lead to mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, or more severe conditions such as schizophrenia. It’s important to note that more research is needed to fully understand the link between marijuana use and mental health disorders.

  • Cognitive Effects:

    • Immediate: Marijuana can impact short-term memory, attention, judgment, and other cognitive functions.

    • Long-term: Chronic marijuana use may have lasting effects on cognitive abilities, especially if marijuana use begins at a young age. It can lead to difficulties with attention, memory, and learning, which can impact academic or professional performance.

  • Effects on Personal, Social, and Professional Life: Marijuana addiction or cannabis use disorder can lead to neglect of responsibilities, relationship problems, and impaired academic or professional performance.

  • Potential for Dependence and Addiction: Regular marijuana use can lead to cannabis dependence or marijuana use disorder, characterized by an inability to stop using marijuana despite negative impacts on one’s life. This can lead to withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug.

  • Therapeutic Effects: Medical marijuana is used to treat certain medical conditions, such as chronic pain, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, and spasticity due to multiple sclerosis. However, it’s important to differentiate between medical cannabis use under professional supervision and self-medication or recreational use.

Recognizing and Assessing Cannabis Use Disorder

Signs of Marijuana Abuse and Addiction

Recognizing the signs of marijuana abuse and addiction can be the first step toward helping a loved one find treatment and support. Some observable changes in behavior, appearance, and habits may suggest a problem with marijuana use.

Here are key signs to be aware of:

  • Changes in Appearance: The person may look disheveled, unclean, or exhibit poor personal hygiene. Chronic marijuana use may also lead to bloodshot eyes or a lasting smell of marijuana on clothes and other personal items.

  • Behavioral Changes: Marijuana abuse can lead to alterations in behavior, including a constant state of being giggly, relaxed, or seeming unorganized. Additionally, they might display a lack of motivation, changes in sleeping patterns, or social withdrawal.

  • Increased Tolerance: This is a common indicator of marijuana addiction. If the person needs to use more marijuana to achieve the same effect they once experienced, this might indicate a developing dependence on the cannabis plant.

  • Financial and Legal Issues: If a person is spending a significant amount of money on marijuana or engaging in risky behavior like driving while under the influence, these can be warning signs of marijuana abuse.

  • Cravings and Withdrawal Symptoms: People who use marijuana regularly and then stop may experience withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, sleep difficulties, and a loss of appetite. They may also exhibit strong cravings for marijuana, indicative of a marijuana use disorder.

  • Neglecting Responsibilities: Those struggling with cannabis addiction may start neglecting their responsibilities at work, school, or home due to the time spent obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of marijuana.

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these signs, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. At NuView Treatment Center, we’re here to provide the guidance and support you need. Call us today at (323) 307-7997 or send us a message from our contact page to schedule your consultation.

Assessing Severity and Progression

Professionals use several criteria to assess the severity and progression of CUD. These can include:

  • Frequency and Amount of Use: How much and how often someone uses marijuana can be an indicator of CUD. Using marijuana multiple times a day or in large amounts might suggest a higher severity of CUD.

  • Impact on Life: Professionals will also look at how much a person’s marijuana use is affecting their life. This includes looking at whether marijuana use is causing problems at work, school, or in relationships.

  • Withdrawal Symptoms: The presence of withdrawal symptoms when a person tries to cut back on marijuana can also indicate CUD.

Treating Cannabis Use Disorder

Behavioral Therapies for CUD

Behavioral therapies involve changing the patterns of thinking and behavior that lead to problematic marijuana use. Two main types of behavioral therapy used in CUD treatment include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This is a type of therapy that helps patients learn to recognize and avoid harmful behaviors and situations related to marijuana use. Here’s how CBT can help:

    • Recognizing Triggers: CBT helps people identify situations or feelings that trigger their marijuana use. This could be stress, boredom, or certain social situations. By recognizing these triggers, people can start to develop healthier ways to cope with them.

    • Changing Thoughts and Behaviors: CBT also helps people change their thoughts and behaviors around marijuana. This might involve learning to challenge negative thinking patterns that lead to marijuana use or developing new, positive behaviors to replace marijuana use.

    • Managing Stress: CBT can teach useful stress management techniques. This can be helpful since stress is often a trigger for marijuana use.

  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): This is a therapy designed to build motivation to change. Here’s how MET can be useful in treating CUD:

    • Building Motivation: MET helps people tap into their own motivations for wanting to stop using marijuana. This could be wanting to improve health, mend relationships, do better at work or school, or simply feel better.

    • Setting Goals: Once motivation is established, MET helps people set clear, achievable goals for reducing or stopping marijuana use.

    • Tracking Progress: Through MET, people also learn to track their progress toward their goals, which can be motivating and rewarding.

Medications and Pharmacological Interventions for CUD

As of now, there are no specific medications for treating CUD. However, some medications can help ease withdrawal symptoms during the recovery process. It’s important to note that any medication should be taken under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Supportive Programs and Self-Help Groups

Support groups, such as those found in treatment programs, can provide encouragement and understanding for people dealing with CUD. These groups can be a safe space to share experiences and learn from others who have been through similar situations.

Overcoming Cannabis Use Disorder

Overcoming Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) is a complex and individual process. It requires not only the cessation of marijuana use but also making significant changes to one’s lifestyle, developing new coping strategies, and building a strong support system. Let’s delve into these components in detail:

Strong Support System

A robust network of support is crucial for those trying to overcome marijuana addiction. Here’s why this matters and how to build such a system:

  • Understanding and Encouragement: A good support system provides understanding and encouragement during challenging moments. They can offer a listening ear, words of motivation, or simply provide a non-judgmental space for sharing experiences.

  • Resources: People within your support network can provide resources for dealing with CUD, from recommended reading materials to helpful contact information, such as local support groups or therapists.

  • Components of a Support System: A strong support system might include family and friends, mental health professionals, support groups like Narcotics Anonymous, or even online communities dedicated to recovery from drug abuse. Remember, the goal is to surround yourself with people who understand your struggle and support your decision to overcome marijuana addiction.

Effective Coping Strategies

Learning new ways to deal with stress, cravings, and triggers is an integral part of managing CUD. Here’s how you can build your own coping strategies:

  • Exercise: Regular physical activity can help manage stress levels and improve mood, making it easier to resist cravings.

  • Mindfulness Techniques: Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation or yoga, can help to stay focused on the present moment and avoid succumbing to cravings.

  • Engaging in New Hobbies: Building new hobbies can distract from thoughts of marijuana use and provide a source of joy and satisfaction.

Lifestyle Changes

Adopting a healthy lifestyle supports recovery from CUD. This involves:

  • Regular Exercise: Apart from its benefits as a coping strategy, regular exercise promotes overall physical health, which can contribute to mental well-being and resilience.

  • Balanced Diet: A balanced diet is essential for physical health and can improve mood and energy levels, thereby reducing the desire to use marijuana for these effects.

  • Sufficient Sleep: Quality sleep contributes to mental and emotional health, and sleep problems are often associated with increased substance use.

  • Avoiding Triggers: This might involve avoiding certain social situations where marijuana use is prevalent or even changing one’s social circle if it is predominantly composed of people who use marijuana.

Preventing Cannabis Use Disorder

Education and Awareness About CUD Risks

One of the best ways to prevent CUD is through education. Understanding the risks associated with marijuana use and the potential for addiction can help people make informed choices.

Parental Guidance and Prevention Strategies

Parents can play a vital role in preventing CUD in their children. This involves talking about the risks of drug use, monitoring behavior, and fostering positive behaviors.

Cannabis Use Disorder and Co-occurring Disorders

The link between CUD and Mental Health Conditions

There’s a significant link between CUD and mental health conditions. People with CUD are often at higher risk for conditions like depression and anxiety. This is why it’s so important for mental health professionals to be involved in the treatment of CUD.

Integrated Treatment Approaches for Dual Diagnosis

When someone has CUD and a mental health condition, it’s called a dual diagnosis. In these cases, an integrated treatment that addresses both issues can be especially effective.

Comprehensive Care for CUD and Co-Occurring Disorders

Comprehensive care means addressing all aspects of a person’s health. For someone with CUD and a co-occurring disorder, this might include therapy, medication, support groups, and lifestyle changes.

Take Control of Your Life Today with NuView Treatment Center

Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) can disrupt your life, harm your health, and strain your relationships. It’s a challenge, but it’s one you don’t have to face alone.

At NuView Treatment Center, we understand the complexity of CUD, and we’re ready to help you navigate your path to recovery. Our dedicated team of professionals is well-equipped to provide you with a broad range of services, including:

  • Expert-led behavioral therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Contingency Management.

  • Support in developing effective coping strategies and making beneficial lifestyle changes.

  • A nurturing environment that fosters the growth of a strong support system.

It’s time to reclaim your life from marijuana addiction. Don’t let another day pass without taking the first step toward your recovery. At NuView, we’re committed to helping you every step of the way.

Reach out to us today to learn more about how NuView Treatment Center can be your partner in overcoming Cannabis Use Disorder. Call us today at (323) 307-7997 or send us a message from our contact page to schedule your friendly and personalized consultation.


Cannabis Use Disorder is a serious condition that can have far-reaching effects on an individual’s life. However, with awareness, proper diagnosis, and comprehensive treatment strategies, it is possible to overcome this disorder and lead a healthy, fulfilling life. Preventing and treating CUD is crucial to fostering healthier communities and workplaces.

Patel J, Marwaha R. Cannabis Use Disorder. [Updated 2022 Jul 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:

Tessa Robinson, Muhammad Usman Ali, Bethany Easterbrook, Stephanie Coronado-Montoya, Dimitri Daldegan-Bueno, Wayne Hall, Didier Jutras-Aswad, Benedikt Fischer, Identifying risk-thresholds for the association between frequency of cannabis use and development of cannabis use disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Volume 238, 2022, 109582, ISSN 0376-8716,

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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