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How Cannabis Use Disorder Differs From Frequent Cannabis Use

Chane Leigh

by Chane Leigh

December 4, 2019 02:54 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 4 Minutes
How Cannabis Use Disorder Differs From Frequent Cannabis Use

Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) is a diagnosis given to individuals who have problematic cannabis consumption. Many people would look at this disorder as the proof they need to show that cannabis is addictive. However, keep in mind that frequent cannabis consumption does not necessarily mean cannabis dependence or problematic consumption. There is a difference. Cannabis use disorder is an established diagnosis in the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM -5). 

It is important to explain the difference between frequent consumers and individuals with cannabis use disorder. The only thing they have in common is the regular consumption of cannabis.  The individuals with cannabis use disorder allow frequent consumption to be their most important priority and are therefore will make sacrifices in order to allow the frequent consumption to remain their top priority. While frequent cannabis consumers favor cannabis consumption, their priorities remain healthy. 

The Cause and Risks:

Cannabis use disorder is most often exacerbated by prolonged and impulsive consumption of cannabis.  The most common cause is a genetically or environmentally acquired proneness to becoming addicted to substances. The younger the consumer and the more frequent consumption, the higher the risk. Other factors that can contribute, either directly or indirectly, to cannabis use disorder include (but is not limited to): underage consumption, personal maladjustment, emotional distress, poor parenting, dropping out of school, affiliating with drug-users, and ready to use access to cannabis. 

The Symptoms:

Cannabis Use Disorder is marked by the negative impact of cannabis consumption on your health and life due to a lack of control over the desire to consume. Individuals suffering from CUD are willing to take and accept risks in order to consume. These negative impacts include (but are not limited to) agitation, bloodshot eyes, paranoia, self-isolation,  tolerance build-ups leading to higher doses, neglecting responsibilities in order to consume, irritability when there isn’t an opportunity or means for consumption and putting yourself in harms way in order to get some cannabis. Despite these symptoms for possible cannabis use disorder, the DSM-5 has its’ own criteria to be met in order for one to be diagnosed with cannabis use disorder. 

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The DSM-5 on Cannabis Use Disorder: 

According to the DSM-5, individuals need to meet at least 2 of the following criteria within a 12-month period in order to be diagnosed with cannabis use disorder.  There are also 3 levels that need to be stated along with the diagnosis. 


  • Hazardous consumption of cannabis (consuming cannabis even if it puts you in harms’ way)
  • Social and/or interpersonal problems as a result of cannabis consumption
  • Neglecting responsibilities (such as work) in order to consume cannabis 
  • Withdrawal symptoms which can only be fixed by cannabis
  • Higher tolerance to cannabis
  • Consumption of larger amounts or for longer than intended
  • Repeated attempts to quit or control cannabis consumption but never succeeding
  • Spends a lot of time on consuming cannabis
  • Physical and/or psychological problems related to cannabis consumption
  • Giving up activities for cannabis consumption 
  • Craving cannabis


  • Mild: 2-3 criteria met
  • Moderate: 4-5 criteria met
  • Severe: 6 or more criteria met


Due to the few numbers of individuals suffering from cannabis use disorder compared to all the other substances (including alcohol and opioids), there are little options for the treatment of CUD. Currently, there aren’t any medications that can be taken for the specific treatment of cannabis use disorder. However, there are psychotherapeutic methods that are promising. Individuals looking for treatment can consider cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, contingency management, support-expressive psychotherapy, family and systems interventions as well as twelve-step programs. 

If you are experiencing any of the DSM-5 criteria due to cannabis consumption, consult with your doctor right away to prevent the worsening of the disorder.  

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