Addicted to the high life

It's no secret that pot is part of the college experience. It's a relaxant; it's part of the party; it can also be part of a daily routine.

"I've used it on and off since I was 15," said Cam, 23, who asked that his last name not be used. "In the past year, I've stepped it up. I use it pretty much every day."

Students might use it with the idea that it's not addictive, and even if you're a regular or chronic user, you can easily stop without any consequences.

However, medical and addiction services officials have noted that the drug is indeed addictive and those who are more-than-frequent users will find themselves with some withdrawal symptoms that, if not handled properly, could lead them back to smoking.

The American Psychiatric Association has been deliberating over adding "cannabis withdrawal syndrome" to its next Diagnostic and Standards Manual for Mental Disorders, to be revised in 2012.

The reason behind establishing this as an official syndrome is so doctors recognize its addictive properties and will be able to consider treatments for dependence, ABC News reported from the APA.

While the Canadian Psychiatric Association has not released a similar statement, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health notes on its website that cannabis is addictive, particularly to those with psychological dependence on it — like if you have a friend who feels they need to do it every day.

There's a difference between doing it recreationally and not missing it, and feeling anxious and irritable if you haven't done it in a few days.

"There's no question it's addictive," said Dr. Charl Els, an addiction psychiatrist and clinical assistant professor at the University of Alberta. "Any drug considered addictive it's in the way it is used."

While marijuana is considered to have relative low addictive potential, said Els, there are withdrawal symptoms that affect people more the longer they've been using the drug.

For Cam, who says he's "perfectly functional" and doesn't feel pot negatively affects his life, even stopping for a day can leave him feeling down. "On days when I don't smoke, I'll think about it, feel a bit lethargic," he said.

He said he does have one friend who could be a case study in cannabis withdrawl syndrome.

"If he hasn't smoked that day, he is just miserable. Angry, stressed out, can barely function," said Cam. "He freely admits he's addicted to marijuana."

One of the risks of long-term usage is schizophrenia, said Pam Hill, program manager of the HeartSpace Counselling program at Addiction Services Thames Valley. However, medical officials are still unsure as to whether it triggers schizophrenia in those where the condition is dormant in their systems or whether it can lead to its development, she said.

Cam also noted that his friend is a "pretty lazy guy anyway" on top of his regular pot usage. This unmotivated predisposition is what can also cause dependency on the drug.

In addition to possibly suffering withdrawal and dependency symptoms, chronic smoking will be pervasive in other ways.

"(The) cycle of dependence. They'll let other things slip — sleeping, exercising, socializing," said Hill. "Some people can control their use, once in awhile and put it aside, and some people can't."

If you feel you or a friend exhibit signs of a possible addiction to marijuana or any other drug, contact Addiction Services Thames Valley at 519-673-3242 or visit their website at www.adstv.on.ca.