In his book “Weed Science: Cannabis Controversies and Challenges,” Godfrey Pearlson talks about why and how people use cannabis products and how the misuse of any substance can lead to addictions like cannabis abuse disorder. Specifically, when it comes to marijuana, he writes:
As with all recreational drugs, motivations are numerous and varied: different people choose to use cannabis for widely disparate purposes and intentions. As Randall Jarrell reminds us, the same water can run a prayer-wheel or a turbine.
Certainly, there is a difference between using cannabis (or other intoxicants) for a spiritual ceremony, medical use, or normal recreational use, versus abusing a substance or depending on it. While medical use of marijuana will by definition involve seeing a healthcare professional, self-guided uses of substances are more concerning.
In this article, we will review Pearlson’s take on motives for cannabis use, explain what cannabis use disorder is, and talk to Plain Jane customer Chris Grosso. Chris is an accomplished author, speaker, and mentor on the subjects of integrated spirituality and addiction recovery.
Table of Contents
Skip Ahead to Topic
- 1 Table of Contents
- 2 Indie Spiritualist Chris Grosso on CBD, Cannabis, and Addiction Recovery
- 3 Addiction as a Multifaceted Condition
- 4 Why Do People Use Cannabis?
- 5 Misguided Self-Prescribed Psychotherapy
- 6 What is Cannabis Abuse Disorder?
- 7 Final Thoughts: Can CBD Help Cannabis Abuse Disorder?
Indie Spiritualist Chris Grosso on CBD, Cannabis, and Addiction Recovery
How Do You Use CBD?
Sabine Downer: Retail hemp and CBD products aren’t intended for medical use. The FDA has not evaluated them for safety or efficacy, and a person’s experience with CBD (or other forms of cannabis) will always be uniquely their own. You wrote a wonderful product review that I hope readers will also check out, but for those who don’t click the backlink, can you tell us about what led you to try Plain Jane hemp products and what has been your personal experience with CBD and hemp?
Chris Grosso: I am (or was) an avid runner until a little over a year ago when I developed a pretty significant back injury that morphed into a bunch of other unpleasantness (herniated and bulging discs, severe spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, etc). Over the past year, I’ve tried everything from spinal injections (which really suck) to inversion tables, heat and ice, physical therapy, and a whole lot more—all of which provided minimal returns at best.
Not wanting to take narcotics, I began researching natural methods of pain relief and came across CBD. I was vaguely familiar with CBD but had never really done any research about it. After spending considerable time reading various articles, studies, message boards, and more, I decided it would be worth giving a try, and I’m so glad that I did (especially Plain Jane’s brand as I read in numerous places to be aware of “snake oil salesmen” when it comes to buying CBD).
Using Cannabis for Addiction Recovery
Sabine Downer: Using cannabis to support addiction recovery is still controversial, and researchers still are unsure if/how it can really work for that purpose. From your experience in the addiction recovery community, can you shed some light on how CBD and cannabis are perceived and used?
Chris Grosso: There’s no shortage of stigma that continues to surround CBD and cannabis in the recovery communities, which is unfortunate. I understand that it can be a slippery slope for some people, but using the correct strain and dose of medical marijuana, particularly CBD infused (CBD:20 THC:1 ratio for example) can be game-changing. The strains I use do not create any psychoactive effects, so I’m not getting “high.” The experience is more like a natural alternative to benzodiazepines (Klonopin, Ativan, etc). Benzo’s are so overly prescribed and highly addictive. Not to mention people often combine them with alcohol (God knows I did) and that’s a recipe for disaster, and often death. The proper CBD strains provide the same relief from anxiety than any benzo’s I’ve been prescribed throughout the years did but in a much safer way.
While I understand the concerns and apprehension some people have in the recovery community, the majority of it is based on dogma and outdated beliefs. The stigma needs to end in recovery communities when it comes to CBD and cannabis (in the proper healing context). And to be clear, CBD and cannabis are not for everyone, but the studies that have been done thus far, as well as based on my own direct experience, there’s so much potential for healing with these plant medicines.
Hell, even Bill W. (founder of AA) was a proponent for LSD in the treatment of alcoholism. There are some old AA pamphlet’s back in the 40’s where he mentioned that, but were swept under the rug over time after he passed away, which is really too bad. Complete abstinence and following the 12-Step fellowship works for a lot of people, and that’s amazing. But in the proper context, using CBD and cannabis for certain people can be an amazing complementary component to their healing journey.
Lastly, I’d like to highly recommend anyone reading this that’s interested in the topic check out Gabor Mate’s book In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, as well as check out any of the numerous videos of his on Youtube (particularly an episode of David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things he was featured in… it’s a game-changer).
Sabine Downer: Finding the right support resources is very important for those struggling with addiction. If you are a person in addiction recovery, are there any particular resources to turn to if you are interested in using CBD or medical marijuana? Or are people turning more to self-treatment?
Chris Grosso: Do your research. Read studies. Read about real life experience (both the pros and the cons). Talk to a physician. Talk to your therapist. Talk to your support network. And once you’ve done all of that, listen to what your intuition is saying. I think if an individual does that, they’re making the most informed decision they possibly can.
Recreational Use vs Substance Abuse vs Substance Addiction
Sabine Downer: In your interview with the Daily Evolver Podcast, you talk about how “Our rock bottom is what we make of it.” You explain how addiction starts with experimentation, then regular use, then finally abuse which can turn into an addiction. What are some of the signs of abuse and addiction that people should be aware of? Are there any specific signs that delineate cannabis use from cannabis abuse and cannabis abuse disorder?
Chris Grosso: So, here’s a real-life example. I work with teens in a residential setting and I have seen marijuana cause serious trouble in some of their lives. This underlying issue however for many of them, however, as well as for many adults, is they’re using cannabis to numb their feelings and emotions. But when cannabis and CBD are used as part of a therapeutic program (including things like therapy, exercise, proper sleep, nutrition, etc.), again, it can be a wonderful compliment.
Regarding cannabis use vs. abuse, the individual needs to look at why they’re using cannabis and CBD, as well as how much. It’s so important to be really real with oneself when answering this question… particularly when mental health is involved. If you’re using CBD and cannabis as prescribed for therapeutic purposes, and not simply to get high and drop out for a while, then, of course, there’s no abuse happening. But when someone does begin using them to get high, or numb out, that’s a definite sign of potential abuse. We just need to be really vigilant and honest with ourselves when using these medicines for healing purposes
Sabine Downer: Your friend Godfrey Pearlman does a wonderful job in his book “Weed Science” explaining the different motives for substance use. What risks do you see in self-prescribed cannabis and CBD use? Where do you personally draw the line between self-guided use and the need to consult with a medical professional?
Chris Grosso: For anyone in recovery, they should always consult with a medical professional first, and that also includes their therapist/psychiatrist as well. Unfortunately, the stigma of cannabis and CBD use still runs deep in those professions as well. Luckily, there are alternative medical professionals beyond an individual’s primary care physician who specialize in medicinal marijuana and can talk to you about your symptoms and whether cannabis and CBD are potentially right for you. It’s encouraging to see more and more states legalize cannabis, or at least decriminalize it, but again, if you’re in recovery, I’d always recommend professional consultation over self-prescribing.
Personally, I know I’d need to draw the line for myself if I start using strains and ratios that are psychoactive. The strains and ratios I use now work wonderfully and allow me to function in society without experiencing any impairment in my ability to function. If I smoked a Sativa strain, or something that had a higher THC to CBD ratio, that’d be a completely different story. I’d probably be crawled up in a ball experiencing terrible anxiety and panic as those strains and ratios aren’t conducive for my needs.
Addiction as a Multifaceted Condition
Sabine Downer: Addiction has many aspects, from what is going on in the brain, to the body, and then there are the emotional and social aspects. Researchers have shown how the endocannabinoid system plays an integral role in the pathology of addiction and have some idea of how cannabinoids can play a positive role in recovery. But truly, their studies have been mainly in animals. As a human with experience with addiction, how do you think cannabis and CBD help to address the multifaceted aspects of addiction?
Chris Grosso: Yeah, I’ve read many different studies that say CBD and cannabis can not only help with pain, anxiety, long-term recovery, and so on, but also reduce the potential for relapse, help heal organs such as kidneys and liver affected by prolonged drug abuse, as well as help in creating new neural pathways in the brain. Let me be perfectly clear though, I’m no neuroscientist, and a professional answer to this question is far beyond the scope of my expertise. But personally, I can attest to experiencing most of the aforementioned benefits and believe they are just a few of the ways cannabis and CBD can help address the multifaceted aspects of addiction.
Why Do People Use Cannabis?
In his book “Weed Science,” Pearlson describes the many ways that people use cannabis. He starts by examining cannabis use statistics along with anecdotes of people’s individual experiences. While experimentation, religious use, and medical use of cannabis are less concerning motivations for cannabis use, using cannabis recreationally or as a self-prescribed treatment are more concerning when it comes to the risk of abusing cannabis.
Cannabis use varies based on demographics. Research shows college students, and young adults most commonly use cannabis to socially conform (42%), experiment (29%), and for enjoyment (24%). Twelve percent primarily use the agent to manage stress or relax consistent with other studies associating its use for depression, anxiety, social anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.From Patel J, Marwaha R. Cannabis Use Disorder. (2020)
Nearly four percent of the global population was using cannabis in 2015. Amongst teenagers, eight percent in the US and 16% in Europe report use. Nine percent of all users experience addiction of which nearly a fifth began to use in adolescence.
…prolonged and heavy cannabis use can alter brain circuitry.”
Purposeful Controlled Recreational Intoxication
Recreational drug use for purposeful occasional intoxication is the type of cannabis use that people are beginning to equate with occasionally getting drunk. Indeed, cannabis and alcohol can both be used in this way. They both also present the risks of becoming harmful if purposeful recreational intoxication is a regular activity vs an occasional social experience.
What is purposeful controlled recreational intoxication?
Individuals employ cannabis in this manner to get pleasantly stoned, experience mild euphoria, heighten perception, tweak their creativity, better appreciate music or lovemaking, see the pretty colors and so on.From “Weed Science: Cannabis Controversies and Challenges” by Godfrey Pearlson
Recreational Use Taken to an Extreme
When purposeful controlled recreational intoxication goes to the next level, more risk for substance abuse can arise. Extreme recreational use may also be seen as occasional substance abuse because risky behaviors enter into the equation.
Ultimately frequency and intention are what draw the not-so-clear line between getting loaded at a special event like a stag party and having an extreme substance use pattern that is harmful (binge drinking for example).
Examples include getting trashed as a rite of passage, for example, during spring break in the United States. Employing cannabis in this manner offers chance to become intoxicated, shed inhibitions, behave outrageously, celebrate, and hook up. Entangled with these motivations are the urge to rebel, equally applicable to teen tobacco smoking and binge drinking alcohol. Also bound up with this drive can be a desire to push things to the limit and beyond as part of a personal quest or dangerous journey, in other words to prove oneself and return safely (hopefully) from the other side. But the uncertainty in that word “hopefully” is part of the thrill for some people.From “Weed Science: Cannabis Controversies and Challenges” by Godfrey Pearlson
Moderation is the key when it comes to how risky intoxication is. However, we are not always self-aware of the changes in our brains and bodies, or underlying biases and predispositions that blur our ability to moderate. Addictions can creep up on people in that way.
Misguided Self-Prescribed Psychotherapy
Misguided self-prescribed substance use is one of the more concerning substance use motives when it comes to cannabis and CBD. Many people feel that they know their body better than a doctor, or have turned away from traditional medicine and are treating themselves with natural remedies.
However, many natural substances are harmful, and most people do not truly have the medical training and objectivity that are key to guiding medical cannabis use. Without objective medical insights, it is easy for a person to slide into risky or harmful cannabis use habits that they may not be self-aware of.
Examples here would be using cannabis to deal with personal problems, frustrations, anxiety, and depression. Users in this category are likely to be more troubled before they use the drug, and this pre-existing psychopathology contributes at least some part of their motivation to indulge. When cannabis effects wear off, the prior unpleasantness returns, so that this population is more likely to use the drug more frequently, and in turn this type of habitual use enhances the risk of developing new psychopathological problems, and of cannabis dependence… Use of cannabis by individuals in the context of pre-existing serious mental illness, so-called “dual diagnosis” is a separate phenomenon… This entire last category of individuals is the one that most concerns policy experts. Their worry is that cannabis will be sold to individuals who will be psychologically harmed by it.From “Weed Science: Cannabis Controversies and Challenges” by Godfrey Pearlson
Dual diagnosis is a phenomenon where cannabis use can trigger underlying genetic predispositions to schizophrenia or other forms of psychosis and mental health conditions. There is some confusion, even among researchers, as to whether cannabis induces psychosis or people predisposition to it are more likely to use cannabis.
Ultimately, the takeaway is that you should be open and honest about substance use with your doctor, and if you have any mental or physical health condition, you should talk to them before trying cannabis or CBD. They will be able to objectively review your health history and make you aware of the real risks you may be taking.
What is Cannabis Abuse Disorder?
Many people wonder how safe cannabis use actually is, and you can read more on cannabis safety, addiction criteria, and other cannabis health hazards in our article, “Cannabis Safety: How Safe is Cannabis Really?” To give a summary of that, cannabis abuse disorder is a real condition, and so is cannabis withdrawal and the adverse effects of cannabis.
There should be no question that there are health risks to using cannabis. The type of cannabis you use and how you use it will greatly influence the degree of risk you take by using cannabis. Cannabis risks are most often experienced in heavy users and frequent users of cannabis. Some people are both heavy and frequent users as well, the most at-risk group.
Here are just some of the cannabis abuse disorders and conditions that are covered in the DSM-5 clinical diagnostic criteria (used by doctors to determine diagnosis):
- Cannabis Intoxication
- Cannabis Withdrawal
- Cannabis Intoxication Delirium
- Cannabis-Induced Psychotic Disorder
- Cannabis-Induced Anxiety Disorder
- Cannabis-Induced Sleep Disorder
- Cannabis Use Disorder (chronic effects)
Here are the criteria used to diagnose Cannabis Use Disorder:
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:
1. Cannabis is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
2. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control cannabis use.
3. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain cannabis, use cannabis, or recover from its effects.
4. Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use cannabis.
5. Recurrent cannabis use results in failure to fulfill role obligations at work, school, or home.
6. Continued cannabis use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of cannabis.
7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of cannabis use.
8. Recurrent cannabis use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
9. Cannabis use continues despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by cannabis.
10. Tolerance, as defined by either: (1) a need for markedly increased cannabis to achieve intoxication or desired effect or (2) a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.
11. Withdrawal, as manifested by either (1) the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for cannabis or (2) cannabis is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.”From Patel J, Marwaha R. Cannabis Use Disorder. (2020)
What Does Addiction Look and Feel Like?
Chris shares his experience with addiction and recovery in his writing, podcasts, talks, and workshops. In his first book, “Indie Spiritualist,” Chris explains how he transitioned from experimentation with drugs and alcohol to regular use and then to substance abuse and addiction, and the toll that took on him physically, spiritually, and emotionally:
From drug free, I quickly made my way through the stages of drug use, including experimentation, regular use, abuse, and, finally, full-on addiction. What started as an occasional beer and joint at practice or before a show quickly turned into tripping on acid and mushrooms, sniffing cocaine and Ritalin, and spending plenty of time getting fucked up on ketamine, PCP, OxyContin, and crack. Oh, and of course there was always enough liquor to get a small army drunk. And so it was in my late teens that I became a fullblown (albeit functioning) addict. … I was brought to my knees by my addiction and knew that if I was going to live, I needed to surrender and find a new way to live life. Every part of my physical self was ready to die and welcomed the thought of death. But inside, a small flame flickered. It was very faint and very deep, yet it was enough that, no matter how hard I tried to ignore it, I couldn’t; it wouldn’t let me. Hope.From “The Indie Spiritualist” by Chris Grosso
… I’d known for a while that I had a serious problem with drugs, but refused to really acknowledge the extent of it. I mean, I was diagnosed with gout (sudden, severe attacks of pain, redness, and tenderness in joints) at the age of twenty-three, due to how heavily I was drinking. That probably should have been a huge red flag, but like any good addict I just buried my head in the drugs and ignored it.
Not everyone has the same addiction experience as Chris, but the experience he describes has many of the common elements of the path to addiction. When someone is addicted to a substance, they do not feel good when they use. Their brain chemistry changes and gets stuck in a “reptilian fight or flight mode” fueled by an out of balance reward circuitry. Addiction is difficult because it is strongly tied to many aspects of a person’s lifestyle and can alter the trajectory of a person’s life and keep them from succeeding.
Final Thoughts: Can CBD Help Cannabis Abuse Disorder?
The idea of treating cannabis abuse disorder with cannabis sounds insane, but it is not a new idea. We talk about how this is possible in our article, “The Role of CBD and the Endocannabinoid System in Addiction.” Researchers Patel and Marwaha also elaborate on the potential benefits of cannabinoids like CBD for addiction recovery:
In terms of addiction, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary molecule responsible for the reinforcing properties of marijuana. …There is no medication that is FDA approved to treat cannabis use disorder. Tetrahydrocannabinol does show some potential in treatment, but more information is needed to demonstrate the validity and inform on dose, duration, formulation, and adjunct therapies. Gabapentin and N-acetylcysteine are also used but have unclear benefits. Another component of cannabis, cannabidiol, holds promise by modulating the serotonergic, glutamatergic, and endocannabinoid systems.From Patel J, Marwaha R. Cannabis Use Disorder. (2020)
CBD or cannabis may or may not be right for you if you are struggling from addiction, but we hope that this article and Chris's insights will help guide you on your own journey and make you aware of the pitfalls and missteps that can come along the way.