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Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD)

Editorial Oversight by Brian Canfield, Ed.D.

‘Cannabis use disorder’ is the proper medical term used to describe marijuana addiction. You may also have heard this referred to as marijuana dependence or marijuana use disorder. Regardless of the name, the core element of the addiction is the same—that is to say, a physical tolerance and dependence to marijuana that interferes with other domains of your life (APA DSM-5, 2013). The occasional craving to smoke doesn’t necessarily mean you have an addiction. Needing to smoke in order to avoid certain symptoms, though, should be a warning sign that your body is dependent on marijuana to feel normal. When you don’t smoke, the constellation of physical symptoms and mental discomfort that you feel is collectively called withdrawal. The following statements are typical of someone who has either tolerance or withdrawal.

  • Tolerance: I have to use a lot more marijuana than I used to in order to feel any effects.
  • Withdrawal (or Dependence): I become irritable, have poor sleep, and feel physically uncomfortable if I don’t smoke regularly.

Most people who use marijuana don’t develop a use disorder off the bat. Tolerance develops insidiously, meaning you often don’t notice that you’ve doubled how much or how frequently you smoke until someone else points it out. Similarly, people oftentimes become blind to all of the ways in which their marijuana use has taken over their lives. Maybe you’ve had disagreements with loved ones, colleagues, or employers about your marijuana use. Maybe you’ve lost track of time while smoking and missed an important appointment or personal obligation. Maybe you then smoke because you feel lonely, distressed, or stressed out.

Symptoms of Cannabis Use Disorder

Confronting your habits surrounding marijuana can be scary but is a huge step towards getting better. Answering the following yes/no statements as honestly as possible will help you gain a sense of whether or not you have a problematic pattern of marijuana use:

  • I often end up using more, or more frequently, than I intend.
  • I have tried to cut down how much I smoke but haven’t been successful.
  • I spend a majority of my day to day thinking about, using, or obtaining marijuana.
  • I frequently have strong urges or cravings to smoke.
  • Marijuana has interfered with my responsibilities at school, work, or at home.
  • My marijuana use has created tension in my personal relationships, but I continue to smoke.
  • Marijuana has replaced my other hobbies and has made me less social.

If you said yes to at least two of the above statements, and agreed with statements about tolerance and withdrawal, you likely have cannabis use disorder (APA DSM-5, 2013). So, when doctors are considering a diagnosis of addiction, the symptoms listed above are exactly the types of things they are looking for.

Recognizing that you have a disorder can be hard, especially when loss of self-control is part of the condition. Just remember that putting a name and diagnosis to the overall picture is empowering yourself, and that you’re doing the right thing by acknowledging a problem in your life. If you have cannabis use disorder, and want to get better, there’s no better place to find out how.


The best way to prevent marijuana addiction is to recognize warning signs before it’s too late. While this may sound cliché, it’s no easy task. Again, loss of self-control is core to addiction, and, once it’s been compromised, it can be difficult to get back, let alone recognize.

Warning Signs

It can be challenging to pick up on the red flags in your own smoking patterns, but they may be apparent to the others surrounding you. Listen carefully to your family, friends, and colleagues, or think back to what they’ve said. Likewise, if you are the relative or the friend of someone you suspect may be suffering from cannabis use disorder, the following red flags may be reason for concern:

  • Have people commented on your marijuana use, or have you kept your habits secret from your loved ones?
  • Have people commented that you’ve changed over the past couple months?
  • Are you more withdrawn than you used to be?
  • Has your performance at school or work begun to falter?

Starting a Conversation

If you’re a marijuana user, initiating a conversation about your marijuana habits may be the last thing that you want—criticisms can oftentimes seem hurtful, or unjustified. Remember, though, that from the other end, broaching the topic of possible marijuana addiction with someone you care for can be incredibly daunting. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or colleague, the persons who choose to voice their concerns are people who truly care about you. When talking about possible marijuana addiction, keep these principles in mind:

  • Have an open discussion: preventative conversations should never be interrogations, or one-sided. When people are criticized, their natural reaction is to put up a defense, or perhaps even to lash back. Remember that the goal is not to win, but to listen.
  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes: if you’re a loved one who wants to broach the topic of addiction with someone you are worried about, keep in mind how off-putting it may be if you catch someone off guard with uninvited opinions. Build trust and demonstrate empathy by trying to understand the other person’s experience through questions like What do you think about what I said? What have you been going through?
  • Help each other to optimize supportive environments and lifestyles: prevention of marijuana addiction isn’t about squashing habits whenever they start to boil over. Our social, physical, and mental environments play a huge role in influencing our personal behaviors. If you live with someone who has a worrisome pattern of marijuana use, try and identify those lifestyle factors which create opportunities—or drive—to use, whether it’s boredom, stress, or a particular social crowd.

Finally, remember that marijuana addiction can exist on a spectrum. While you or someone you love may not necessarily meet all of the diagnostic criteria for cannabis use disorder now, they may still exhibit many of the behaviors that foreshadow a clinical condition. In these circumstances, the treatment strategies for cannabis use disorder are equally effective. If you’re interested in trialing some of the mental frameworks and guides for cutting back on your marijuana use (be it a lot or a little), jump to The Weedless Guide.