11 Ways Addiction is Assessed

11 Ways Addiction is Assessed

Laura Geftman, LCSW

written by

Laura Geftman, LCSW

Laura Geftman, LCSW

written by

Laura Geftman, LCSW

In the throws of addiction, it can be difficult to understand that a doctor could possibly understand all that you’re going through.  Thinking about getting a doctor’s help may seem overwhelming. However like all medical conditions, doctors assess addiction disorders with a predetermined set of criteria. While each person’s experience of addiction is very different, there are still various symptoms to best diagnoses substance use disorder.

What is addiction?

These days it’s pretty common to hear someone say they’re addicted to avocados, binge watching TV, travel, makeup, working out, tattoos… It’s even become common practice to add “-aholic” to thing you claim to be addicted to like “shoeaholic” or “workaholic.” Really our attitudes about being compelled to do or use things too frequently has become all “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.” All jokes aside, there’s a thin line between over use and addiction.

Addiction is a crippling disease that involves what you’re doing or using taking over your life.

In 1956, the American Medical Association first recognized what we now call “addiction,” “substance abuse,” “chemical dependency,” and “substance use disorder.” While the terminology has changed, the chronic brain disease continues to cause compulsive activity despite health, social and legal consequences. The disease is caused by a variety of factors and lead to long-term negative consequences that can be deadly. 

The American Society of Addiction Medicine has described addiction as “a primary chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” It is all too common to think that addiction is only about a substance you can’t stop using. The brain disease causes those suffering from it to a need toward compulsory behavior or use of a substance.

6 Stages of Addiction

Yes, you read that right- there are six stages of addiction. It’s a bit different than what your high school health teacher probably taught you. They likely said that if you tried drugs just once, you’d get addicted. That’s pretty simplified. More of a scare tactic but not entirely wrong. 

Addiction can be broken down to six stages. It affects the brain’s reward center controlling pleasure, memory and motivation, and doesn’t just pop up one day. Like other chronic illnesses, addiction occurs over a series of stages that turn into a habit or cycle.

  1. Initial Use Whether you give into peer pressure or are prescribed an addictive medication by a doctor, there are many situations that can lead to first use of substances. Regardless alcohol and drugs can present in your life in many ways, and not everyone gets addicted to the substances used. For initial use to lead to addiction, there are other risk factors involved including family history of substance abuse, previous abuse or neglect, mental health disorders, chaotic home environment, and permissive peer groups. 
  2. Abuse The next stage is abuse. This may seems like a jump. Really if we break it down, it’s not. Abuse is using a substance on a recurring basis with higher doses that is having a harmful impact on daily living. So yes, any regular use of alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, etc…with an additional drink, hit or bump that has you oversleeping and gives you a hangover is considered abuse. This applies to all substances- legal or illegal, OTC or prescription.
  3. Tolerance In this stage, it’s evident that the brain has changed in response to the drug. As result of persistent use, the brain no longer craves the original doses. The brain wants to recapture the original result but requires more than the original dose to achieve it. It’s not about the social aspects of using but chasing the euphoric response you’d previously experienced, and ignoring the detrimental physical responses as a deterrent. (source).
  4. Dependence This stage is well beyond the previous. With dependence the brain and body can only function with use of the substance. Therefore without the drug, the person addicted to it will have physical and mental symptoms of withdrawal. This develops with the brain has fully adapted to the presence of the drug. Therefore the use will need to continue use to avoid withdrawal. (source). Dependence also doesn’t just effect the reward center of the brain but also the thalamus and brain stem. The main function of the thalamus is to communicate motor and sensory signals in the brain, and the brain stem communicates with the rest of the body. In dependence, the messaging of these parts of the brain are hindered or destroyed. (source).
  5. Addiction Without an ability to face life without alcohol or drugs, lack of control over your use, and detrimental consequences to your career, relationships, and other aspects of your life, the presence of addiction- now called substance use disorder- is evident. The disorder is much more than the symptoms as the chronic disease has taken over all aspects of your life. Use has changed your motivation, movement, emotion, judgement, and memory. All that seems to matter is obtaining and using your substance of choice.
  6. Relapse It’s important to keep in mind that chronic conditions over time can be managed. However there is always potential for relapse. In fact, relapse is a part of the disease and usually indicates how best to readjust treatment needs. Further understanding of how to interrupt the cycle of addiction is very helpful in recognizing the signs and symptoms that relapse maybe imminent.

Types of Addiction Diagnoses

Doctors and therapists need to consider many factors in properly diagnosing which a patient or client maybe experiencing. There’s often a fine line between substance abuse and dependence. While there are many different types of addiction diagnoses, they share the same criteria for diagnosis (a per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).) With the following eleven criteria, professionals also evaluate whether the severity of the condition denoting mild, moderate or severe. Other specifiers can include the notation of early or sustained remission.

11 Criteria Assessed for Substance Use Disorder

Addiction effects each individual differently but when assessing the condition, there are various criteria that help determine the clinical diagnosis. As determined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), each of the eleven criteria for substance use disorder are evaluated as mild, moderate or severe, and include:

  1. Amount used over time You will be asked to report what you’ve used, how much (has it increased?) and for how long.
  2. Cravings You will describe if and how you’ve desired or longed for continued use.
  3. Tolerance Chasing the high involves building up a tolerance and using an increased amount to get back to the high you first knew. 
  4. Attempts to control use or quit Maybe you’ve tried to stop using or even cut back your use.
  5. Changes in daily living You no longer participate in the activities you used to enjoy prior to engaging in substance use.
  6. Neglected roles So you maybe avoiding activities- this is about your responsibilities at work, home and/or school.
  7. Interpersonal problems Often substance abuse causes problems for the relationships in your life.
  8. Health issues related to use Use had led to related medical and/or metal health conditions such as liver damage, anxiety or depression.
  9. Time spent using It’s not literally how long it take you to use but how much time you are spending thinking about obtaining the substance, actually getting it, finding a place to use, and everything leading up to actually using. It’s the preoccupation with using.
  10. Risky behavior Choices made under the influence aren’t always the best. This aspect deals with DUIs, overdose, unprotected sex, etc…
  11. Withdrawal There is a list of symptoms experienced when use is terminated. They are noticeable in any attempt and are best managed by a professional. 

Substance Use Disorders Diagnoses

When assessing a client for addiction, there are many aspects mental health professionals take into consideration. All those factors are boiled down into a diagnosis. For all substance addictions, there are eleven categories or diagnoses. Often the language of a diagnosis doesn’t exactly describe what I person maybe struggling with but the category that struggle is considered part of. In order to help you understand the diagnoses and all that they include, here’s some more information about them:

Alcohol Use Disorder 

This diagnosis refers to what is commonly thought of as drinking liquor, wine and beer.  Alcohol may also be noted as its scientific name “ethanol” or abbreviated as ETOH. This depressant slows brain activity, and triggers dopamine associated with pleasure (source). It can also cause an increase of GABA providing stress relief (source). Alcohol is the most commonly misused substance (source). It’s widely believe that alcoholism is hereditary or genetically determined which actually is thought to effect half of those addicted (source).It’s also worth noting that alcohol isn’t just found behind the bar. There are various foods and household products that contain alcohol including mouthwash, hot sauce, sugarless gums, hand sanitizer, air freshener, and more.

Opioid Use Disorder

The term ‘opioid’ is an umbrella term describing opioids and opiates. Yes, there is a difference. Opioids are man-made drugs derived from morphine. Opiates are naturally occurring drugs devised from the opium poppy plant. And yes, that opium plant- that’s a DEA controlled substance and categorized as a Schedule II drug in the United States. All opioids are registered with the government and classified as controlled substances.

Thought to have many medicinally qualities especially for pain relief and muscle rigidity, opioids  have created a significant problem in the US. Now the number of unintentional deaths by overdose of a prescription opiate has surpassed the number of deaths associated with illicit drug use by 15% (source).

Opioid addiction has proven to be very confusing. You wouldn’t think that a doctor could prescribe you a substance that would make you sicker, right? That’s not been the case with opioids.

This is a list of opioids- one note: if you’re looking at this list for anything more than what to avoid, please consider see a mental health professional and talk about your use. The opioid epidemic is real and has claimed too many lives already. So here’s a list of highly addictive prescription drugs to avoid and/or receive opioid use disorder treatment for:

  • Abstral
  • Acetaminophen
  • Actiq
  • Avinza
  • Buprenorphine 
  • Butrans
  • Codeine
  • Demerol
  • Dilaudid
  • Dolophine
  • Duragesic
  • Duramorph
  • Embeda
  • Exalgo
  • Fentanyl
  • Fentora
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Heroin
  • Hysingla
  • Kadian
  • Kratom
  • Lorcet
  • Lortab
  • Meloxicam
  • Meperidine
  • Methadone
  • Methadose
  • Morphine
  • Morphabond
  • MS Contin
  • Naloxone
  • Naltrexone
  • Norco
  • Nucynta ER
  • Onsolis
  • Opana
  • Oxaydo
  • Oxycodone 
  • OxyContin
  • Palladone
  • Percocet
  • Percodan
  • Roxanol
  • Roxicet
  • Sublimaze
  • Suboxone
  • Tramadol
  • Vicodin 
  • Zohydro ER

Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder

Sedatives, hypnotics and anxiolytics are medicines prescribed by doctors and psychiatrists to relieve anxiety and/or induce sleep. These are drug were developed in create calm in its users. They are sometimes also prescribed for alcohol withdrawal and pain in pill and liquid forms. 

There are two forms of prescription sedatives- barbiturates and benzodiazepines. Often referred to as “sleeping pills,” barbiturates offer short-term aid for relaxation and sleep. Benzodiazepines or “benzos” have a tranquilizing quality. 

Hypnotics are also called “sleep aids.” They are mostly prescribed to induce sleep and treat insomnia. They are also sometimes used as a surgical anesthesia. They are supposed to lengthen sleep for those who don’t get adequate sleep.

Anxiolytics drugs are used to prevent or treat anxiety. These medications manage abnormal excitability targeting key chemicals in the brain. They are usually prescribed for short-term use as they also can be habit-forming.

All anxiolytic, sedative and hypnotic medications carry a risk for misuse or abuse. Discontinuation of these drugs should be monitored by a medical professional to manage symptoms of withdrawal. 

  • Alprazolam
  • Ambien
  • Amobarbital
  • Amytal Sodium
  • Antinaus 50
  • Ativan
  • Belsomra
  • Benadryl (*OTC)
  • Butabarbital
  • Butisol
  • Butisol Sodium
  • Chloral Hydrate
  • Chlordiazepoxide
  • Clonazepam
  • Desyrel
  • Desyrel Dividose
  • Dexmedetomidine
  • Diazepam
  • Diphenhydramine (*OTC)
  • Doral
  • Doxepin
  • Doxylamine (*OTC)
  • Edluar
  • Estazolam
  • Eszopiclone
  • Fentanyl
  • Flurazepam
  • Halcion
  • Hetlioz
  • Hydroxyzine
  • Intermezzo
  • Klonopin
  • Limbitrol
  • Librium
  • Lorazepam
  • Lorazepam Intensol
  • Luminal
  • Lunesta
  • Nembutal
  • Nembutal Sodium
  • Phenadoz
  • Phenergan
  • Phenobarbital
  • Pentobarbital
  • Precedex
  • Promethegan
  • Promethazine
  • Quazepam
  • Ramelteon
  • Restoril
  • Rozerem
  • Secobarbital
  • Seconal
  • Seconal Sodium
  • Silenor
  • Sonata
  • Sublimaze
  • Suvorexant
  • Tasimelteon
  • Temazepam
  • Trazodone
  • Triazolam
  • Unisom (*OTC)
  • Valium
  • Vistaril
  • Xanax
  • Zaleplon
  • Zolpidem
  • Zolpimist

Cocaine Use Disorder

Call it “blow,” “coke,” “crack,” “snow”… it’s all cocaine. Made from the leaves of the coca plant, cocaine may seem like a good time but it changes the brain’s reward center and it highly addictive. Users snort, inject or smoke/freebase either powder or rock forms of cocaine. 

The stimulant produces energy, alertness, happiness, hypersensitivity, irritability and paranoia. Cocaine increases levels of dopamine in the brain that stops normal communication flooding the brain. With increased use or addiction, people attempt to feel the same original high. However the brain has had to adapt to continue to access dopamine. Therefore it become less sensitive to it. Using more cocaine more frequently cannot create the same sensation but it can create habitual use (source).

It’s also worth noting that cocaine is often mixed with other substances that contribute to it’s addictive qualities. Cocaine has been found to be cut with various substances including opioids, spice/K2, and baking soda.

Cannabis Use Disorder

Before you jump all over this one with which ever side of the argument you believe is true, Cannabis Use Disorder is a diagnosis that is listed in the DSM and that many mental health professionals use in assessing clients. Whew…got that out of the way…now for more…

Cannabis Use Disorder is diagnosed with problematic cannabis use. There is new information about the addictive qualities of cannabis which has many questioning whether or not you can truly become addicted to the substance. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 30% of those who use cannabis may have some degree of the disorder (source).

Cannabis is considered disordered when a person is unable to control their use even though it interferes with aspects of their lives. The brain adapts to heavy cannabis use and can reduce productivity.

Also widely debated is whether or not cannabis can be associated with withdrawal. Noted symptoms include: decreased appetite, irritability, physical discomfort, mood changes, and sleep difficulties. These symptoms are said to last up to two weeks after discontinuing use.

As of 2015, it was recorded that there are 4 million people int he United States who met the criteria for marijuana use disorder (source). Of them, 138,000 or 3.45% of those people have sought treatment for their condition. (source: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ). Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS): 2003-2013. National Admissions to Substance Abuse Treatment Services. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2015. BHSIS Series S-75, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4934.) Psychosis seems to be the prevalence caught for cannabis user to seek treatment (source).

Ultimately a mental health professional evaluates your overall relationship to the plant and it’s effects on your life.

Hallucinogen, Phencyclidine Use Disorder

Hallucinogens and Phencyclidine seem to be somewhat lesser know substances by their clinical terms. They are a diverse group of drugs that alter perceptions, thoughts, and feelings by creating images or sensations that seem real. Mushrooms, acid, ecstasy, and mescaline are types of hallucinogens, and PCP, angel dust, ketamine, and fry are all examples of phencyclidines.

Both of these types of substances tend to produce altered awareness, hallucinations, or disconnection from your body or environment. They are extracted from plants or synthetically created. Though they have been used in religious ceremony and more recently for fun, they deregulate the communication between your brain and spinal cord to effect mood, sensory perception and muscle control. 

Though classic hallucinogens are only thought to at worst give you a “bad trip,” overdose can be a concern with some dissociative drugs. They both risk serious alteration of perception and mood. They’ve also been known to cause seizures, comas, and death (source). 

More research is need to help determine the addiction potential of hallucinogens and phencyclidines. In some cases, ketamine is used to treat depression and chronic pain. However all of these drugs can produce tolerance and risk flashbacks and persistent psychosis.

Inhalent Use Disorder

Inhalants are a range of different substances that when fumes are deliberately inhaled cause a high. The toxic gases are typically found in household products including glue and paint thinner. It is also referred to as “huffing” when fumes are collected in a bag to then be inhaled. Abuse of nitrous oxide and popper are also considered under inhalant use disorder.

Nicotine, Tobacco Use Disorder

The leading cause of preventable death in the US is cigarette smoking. Tobacco isn’t just smoked but sniffed, chewed and vaped. Nicotine is the addictive ingredient that makes quitting difficult. When tobacco is smoked, nicotine rapidly reaches peak levels in the bloodstream and enters the brain. Otherwise it is absorbed through the mucus membranes and reaches its peak more slowly. The use of nicotine stimulates the adrenal glands and causes an increase in blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate.

Amphetamine Use Disorder

Amphetamine is a central nervous stimulant. It can increase brain activity and produce a feeling of focus and energy. It has been know to be abuse for the purpose of managing hangover to weight loss. Prescription forms of amphetamine is also used treat depression, hyperactivity and narcolepsy. Students have been known to abuse amphetamine is increase their ability to study and perform. Common types of amphetamines are Adderall, Dexedrine, and Vyvanse. As prescribed use includes swallowing a pill; whereas snorting or injecting dissolved pills have been shown to create a faster, stronger high. Use is very difficult to cease and can induce depression and suicidal tendencies.

Polysubstance Use Disorder

Someone diagnosed with poly substance dependence has shown a pattern that doesn’t identify one substance of choice. Instead someone afflicted with polysubstance use disorder prefers to be intoxicated by any means. The use of alcohol is often combine with two other substances for this type of dependence.

Those assessing substance use disorders are also evaluating impaired control, social impairment, risky use, tolerance, and withdrawal to determine the severity of addiction. That severity is rated as mild, moderate or severe. 

Understanding your diagnosis is a critical part of your treatment. Recognizing your drug of choice and how you’ve come to chose it can help you identify underlying cause for your use. Learn more about your diagnosis and the treatments others have found helpful in their recovery.

Seeing a Mental Health Professional

If you become concerned addiction, it’s best to seek the support of a mental health professional- such as a social worker, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist. When you see someone professionally trained in mental health care, they can help you understand the difficulties you’re experiencing. 

Sure just the thought of seeking mental healthcare can create more cravings. You may think they will make you talk about your past. Or that you won’t connect with them to feel comfortable to talk about anything. Maybe you’re afraid to cry in front of anyone let alone a stranger. Worse- you think they’ll put you in a hospital, rehab or institution.

Please know I don’t bring this up to elicit fear but to say- those who work in the mental health field are trained to work with you at your own pace. You don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to. Ever. The idea is to create a safe space for you to feel comfortable to connect with someone who can help you understand your symptoms and learn to manage them. Therapist are legally bound to uphold privacy and confidentiality. That means they can only repeat what you’ve said to them if they are concerned about your safety or the safety of others. Anything else you tell a therapist, they cannot repeat to anyone else without your consent. You literally have to sign paperwork stating they can talk to others about what you’ve shared with them.

Keep in mind- Untreated substance abuse disorders can be harmful to your health and even fatal. If you think you or your loved one may have a substance use disorder or addiction, see a doctor or therapist to determine the best course of treatment.

When to seek emergency treatment

Here are the signs and symptoms would warrant a trip to the emergency room immediately:

      • changes in consciousness
      • trouble breathing
      • seizures or convulsions
      • signs of a possible heart attack, such as chest pain or pressure
      • any other troublesome physical or psychological reaction to use of the drug

If anything listed is cause for concern, call 911 or go to your local emergency room immediately.

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Stay calm. Canna-curious is cool! But collect some info first.
If you are:

  • under 25 years old
  • taking any medication
  • at risk for heart disease
  • family history of psychosis
  • family history of mood disorders
  • family history of addiction

…please be sure to consult a medical or mental health professional.



2-Arachidonoylglycerol - The Endocannabinoid You Probably Did Not Know You Know All Too Well

2-Arachidonoylglycerol – The Endocannabinoid You Probably Did Not Know You Know All Too Well

LJG 2021

written by

Laura Geftman, LCSW

Hannah Sadock, LMFT

reviewed by

Hannah Sadock, LMFT

written by

Namen Namestein

reviewed by

Namen Namestein

2-Arachidonoylglycerol, 2-arachidonoylglycerol, 2-arachidonoylglycerol – say it three times fast and you might just produce some. Yes, activating your brain to say this very long and complicated word could very possibly produce this especially abundant cannabinoid. If I am speaking a whole other language to you, just keep reading because 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) is well worth knowing about…


What are Cannabinoids?

Aside from cannabinoids being the most mispronounced word in cannabis science- kuh–nab–uh-noid- they actually comprise approximately 100 chemical compounds out of 500, responsible for psychological and physiological effects. Cannabinoids are a group of chemical compounds made up of 21 carbon atoms in a 3-ring structure. They bind to receptors throughout the brain and body. 

Cannabinoids are neurotransmitters that exert their effects by interacting with specific cannabinoid receptors present on the surface of cells. The effects of cannabinoids depend on the part of the body or brain they are targeting. They mediate communication between cells, allowing for immediate response to deficiencies or problems in our endocannabinoid system and  halt unpleasant symptoms and physical complications. Simply put, cannabinoids activate receptors to maintain internal stability and health. 

While most cannabinoids are not intoxicating themselves, combinations of their presence can influence how each affects you. Different cannabinoids connect with or influence different receptors to produce different effects to achieve homeostasis or balance. 

There are three different kinds of cannabinoids:

🌿 phytocannabinoids or exogenous cannabinoids

👤 endocannabinoids or endogenous cannabinoids 

🧪 synthetic cannabinoids

Now, let us focus on endocannabinoids as it applies most to the anandamide…


What are Endocannabinoids?

Endocannabinoids or endogenous cannabinoids are produced inside the body as the Latin prefix “endo” – meaning internal or within- specifies cannabinoids produced from our body. Yes, the magic of the body as it makes similar chemical compounds to those of cannabis plants. Endocannabinoids are on-demand neurotransmitters. We make them when we need them. They go to work in seconds and can disappear again.

Endocannabinoids lend themselves to rebalancing the most essential systems in the body, and function as activators of the immune system.They are synthesized from fatty acids and act locally where they are produced. Just like phytocannabinoids, endocannabinoids interact with receptors to initiate a physical response. The two most commonly occurring endocannabinoids are:

👤 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG)

👤 N-arachidonoylethanolamine – “anandamide” (AEA)


What is 2-Arachidonoyl Glycerol?

Considered one of the most important and common endocannabinoids, 2-AG is a major endocannabinoid produced by the body which helps maintain homeostasis. 2-AG is present in high levels in the central nervous system and works to bring the body into balance. To be very clear about this- it is not found in cannabis flower.

2-AG performs many crucial functions as it is a key regulator of neurotransmitter release in the central nervous system. It is thought to play an important role in:

🧬 regulation of appetite

🧬 immune system functions

🧬 pain management

🧬 regulation of the circulatory system 


In Conclusion

As endocannabinoids research continues, it is clear that 2-AG contributes a crucial function  in human physiology and our overall well being. 2-AG, along with the rest of the endocannabinoid system, is quickly becoming a target for the treatment of various conditions. Its role in the circulatory system has made for the potential target for cardiac related illnesses and neurodegenerative conditions.

Hillard, C. Circulating Endocannabinoids: From Whence Do They Come and Where are They Going?. Neuropsychopharmacol. 43, 155–172 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2017.130






Karabowicz P, Grzęda E, Baranowska-Kuczko M, Malinowska B. Znaczenie endokannabinoidu 2-arachidonyloglicerolu w fizjologii i patofizjologii układu krążenia [Role of endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol in the physiology and pathophysiology of the cardiovascular system]. Postepy Hig Med Dosw (Online). 2014 Jun 12;68:814-27. Polish. doi: 10.5604/17322693.1108875. PMID: 24934539.


Marc P. Baggelaar, Mauro Maccarrone, Mario van der Stelt, 2-Arachidonoylglycerol: A signaling lipid with manifold actions in the brain, Progress in Lipid Research, Volume 71, 2018, Pages 1-17, ISSN 0163-7827, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plipres.2018.05.002.

Zuzana Justinová, Sevil Yasar, Godfrey H. Redhi and Steven R. Goldberg, The Endogenous Cannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol Is Intravenously Self-Administered by Squirrel Monkeys, Journal of Neuroscience 11 May 2011,  31 (19) 7043-7048; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6058-10.2011

2-Arachidonoylglycerol - The Endocannabinoid You Probably Didn’t Know You Know All Too Well Pin 1
2-Arachidonoylglycerol - The Endocannabinoid You Probably Didn’t Know You Know All Too Well Pin 2
2-Arachidonoylglycerol - The Endocannabinoid You Probably Didn’t Know You Know All Too Well Pin 3



Stay calm. Canna-curious is cool! But collect some info first.
If you are:

  • under 25 years old
  • taking any medication
  • at risk for heart disease
  • family history of psychosis
  • family history of mood disorders
  • family history of addiction

…please be sure to consult a medical or mental health professional.



Everything You Thought You Knew About Marijuana and Everything You Need to Know About Cannabis

Everything You Thought You Knew About Marijuana and Everything You Need to Know About Cannabis

LJG 2021

written by

Laura Geftman, LCSW

Hannah Sadock, LMFT

reviewed by

Hannah Sadock, LMFT

written by

Namen Namestein

reviewed by

Namen Namestein

It may seem kind of silly to address what cannabis or marijuana is as most of us may have met the substance at a high school or college party. Truth is- while cannabis is believed to be one of the oldest cultivated crops in history, recent, impactful discoveries about the plant have been made within the past few years that may be worth knowing. Specifically linked to our unawareness of all the varietals of the plant that appear to yield medicinal benefits. 

So let’s start with this- marijuana is not the actual scientific name of the plant. It is slang devised from dated racist legal terms meant to criminalize its use, possession, and distribution. “Cannabis,” is the largely preferred actual scientific name and term of choice of the plant known to produce industrial, medicinal, therapeutic, and recreational benefits.

What is Cannabis?

Many plants have been discovered and used for their medicinal effects over the course of human evolution. The Cannabis Sativa L plant was thought to have originated over 10,000 years ago in the Himalayas with a use for its fiber and oil-bearing seeds. The plant was made into fiber for rope and cloth, and its seed’s oil was used for household needs.

Its first recorded medical use was noted in Indochinese texts over 3,000 years ago. A Chinese pharmacopeia recorded its effectiveness in treating tapeworm, constipation, and hair loss. Cannabis use for recreational and medicinal effects spread throughout various empires. By the Middle Ages, it was regularly used as a topical to relieve muscle and joint pain.

In 1545, the Spaniards introduced the Americans to cannabis for its use as fiber. Hemp quickly became a major crop throughout the Americas in the 18th century.

In 1839, Dr. William B. O’Shaughnessy returned to the United State from his time in India having learned of the medicinal use of cannabis. He recommended its use for insomnia, pain, muscle spasms, and other conditions. He encouraged other physicians to recommend the use of cannabis and soon it became an acceptable treatment included in the US pharmacopeia. Cannabis tinctures were sold as patented medicines.

In the late 19th century, over 280 manufacturers of cannabis were established as laws started to be enacted to address issues of adulteration, mislabeling, etc. Since then various laws and policies have been established to control the plant, its use, and those profiting from it.

All of this is worth noting; the legal limits placed on this plant contributes to how it is defined within our society.. As we know it today, the Cannabaceae family of flowering plants yields 170 species including cannabis, hemp, hops, hackberries, and more. Members of the family are erect or climbing plants with leaves born oppositely or in spirals. The plants are dioecious, meaning that individuals are either male or female and the flowers are petal-less.

The cannabis plant has a wide variety of colors and crystals located on its buds. It emits a distinct aroma that can seem pungent. It does not all smell the same- sometimes it is fruity and other times it is skunky. Each plant offers various patterns of growth, chemical compound profiles, levels of resiliency, recreational effects, and medical applications. There are some differences based on its three diverse set of species including:

🌿 Cannabis Sativa can grow fifteen-feet high making it more suited for outdoor growth to reach its maximum potential. It also grows best in higher temperatures and humidity levels. These conditions may be a concern for mold and other environmental effects on the offspring, though tend not to decrease its popularity due to its higher yield of psychoactive components.

🌱 Keep in mind, Hemp (aka that CBD stuff you see everywhere) is a type of Cannabis Sativa. In accordance with the UN Narcotics Convention, the US federal government classified “industrial hemp” in the 2018 Farm Bill as cannabis containing no more than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC- the principal psychoactive constituent) by dry weight. As defined by this law, hemp is being bred to produce minimal levels of THC. 

🌿 Cannabis Indica is a stocky plant, typically growing no higher than 3 to 6 feet tall. This makes it more conducive to growing indoors. Cannabis Indica plants flower fast and present thicker foliage and broader leaves. Cannabis Indica plants tend to have an earthy smell and taste and are often more pungent. This type of plant tends to be tolerant of colder temperatures and relative humidity.

🌿 Cannabis Ruderalis aka “ditch weed” lacks psychotropic effects and is mostly used for breeding hybrids as a source of producing auto-flowering traits. It grows relatively short, reaching a maximum height of approximately two feet. Originating in Siberia, Cannabis Ruderalis is accustomed to colder climates. It has a short life cycle and blooms quickly. 

It is, however, worth noting that due to genetic engineering, some of the typical characteristics cannot be assumed about modern day cannabis plants.  The shapes and sizes of these plants do not adhere to this paradigm as there are now innumerable hybrid plants bred for different effects.

What is Cannabis Used For?

Cannabis consumption is generally described as either medical or adult-use (previously recreational). Adults using it for anything other than treating a medical condition tend to find cannabis aids in enjoyment, stress relief, and creative stimulation. Whereas medical users are hoping to alleviate symptoms such as pain, anxiety, insomnia, appetite loss, and more.

The hemp plant is also an important agricultural resource. Its strong fibers have been used to make ropes, clothing, textiles, building materials, and more. Hemp seeds can also be consumed as they are packed full of essential amino acids, protein, and other valuable minerals. Other cannabis byproducts can be manufactured into cooking oils, and can even function as a sustainable biofuel.

What are the Components of Cannabis?

Just when you thought you were understanding cannabis, we are going to break it down even deeper. Cannabis is actually made up of many different chemical components which determine everything from the way it looks, tastes, and smells to the way it affects you if you use it. There are over 500 chemical compounds in cannabis that work together to provide a wide range of psychological and physiological effects. The following is a breakdown of the most commonly occurring constitutes:

🔬 Phytocannabinoids (“phyto” meaning of a plant or referring to a plant- also called cannabinoids) are a group of chemical compounds made up of 21 carbon atoms in a 3-ring structure. Scientists have identified over 120 cannabinoids specific to the cannabis plant. The most commonly occurring cannabinoids in the cannabis plant are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

🔬 Terpenoids (aka terpenes or terps) combined together with cannabinoids can also influence the effect of cannabis on the body to regulate brain function and mood. If you are familiar with “essential oils” you already have some experience with terpenes. High quantities of terpenes are found in various essential oils. The terpenes in these essential oils contribute to the uplifting effects you experience if you smell the rind of a lemon or walk through a pine forest.

🍋 limonene is in the essential oil of lemons and limes

🌲 pinene is found in the essential oil of pine needles

High concentrations of terpenes are found in the bud of the cannabis plant. The combination of terpenes with the other cannabis chemical compounds can enhance your experience, affect its taste, and smell. There are over 100 different terpenes in the cannabis plant.

🔬 Flavonoids are chemical compounds responsible for color pigmentation, odor, and flavor of plants. They are not unique to cannabis as they are found in thousands of plants including fruits and vegetables. In cannabis, flavonoids have synergistic qualities with terpenes, but whether they enhance the properties of cannabinoids or modulate their efficacy is not yet fully known and needs more research. Flavonoids are also partly responsible in the protection of plants from harmful UV rays, pests, and diseases.

Keep in mind- this is what we know so far. Scientists are still hard at work discovering more about cannabis and hemp plants everyday. So stay tuned!

What is a Cannabis Strain?

Reviewing the different chemical compounds in the cannabis plant will help you understand the multiple cannabis strains. Strains are essentially different breeds of cannabis. Each strain contains a different combination of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids profiles. Different strains of cannabis produce different effects, and thus can be used for different reasons. 

When you go to a cannabis dispensary, you will find the products are categorized by Sativa, Indica, and/or Hybrid. These names look familiar, right? Yup, they are the same as the plant species. That is not the only confusing thing about them. Here is what these categories are suppose to mean:

🍃 Sativa is believed to produce an uplifting head high.

🍃 Indica is believed to have a whole body effect that is relaxing or sedative.

🍃 Hybrid is thought to offer a combination of both.

Unfortunately, it is not that simple. More recently, the cannabis industry has moved away from categorizing strain in this paradigm. For an effective result, individuals should determine what works best for them with a combination of strain identity, cultivator source, cannabinoid, and terpene contents specific to that product batch rather than classifying cannabis products based on subjective effects. 

Some websites like Leafly have started to categorize cannabis strains by their terpene profiles. However, it looks as though chemotype classification may be the future distinction to help offer unique medical benefits and effect profiles. Five different chemotypes have been identified as follows:

🪴 Type I: the “drug type” because of its high THC content and low CBD:THC ratio

🪴 Type II: the “intermediate,” consisting of nearly equal parts THC and CBD

🪴 Type III: the “fiber” or “non-drug type” is mainly CBD

🪴 Type IV: which is predominantly cannabigerol (CBG), with little THC present

🪴 Type V: material with undetectable amounts of any cannabinoids

Ultimately, it is up to each consumer to try experimenting with different strains and potencies to find what works best for you. Be sure to keep track of your findings!

What Does It Feel Like to be High on Cannabis?

If this is your first time using cannabis, you are likely curious about the experiential feeling during the process such as how it will make you feel in the moment. Getting “high” or “stoned” does not have to be scary. For many it is really fun. Though, as we know everyone is different, the plant can have drastically different effects on each individual. Some people find cannabis to be calming while others find it energizing. For many, the munchies are real, causing you to be inclined to eat combinations of foods you might not normally consume. Really if you have never experienced cannabis before you should proceed with caution as it is important to not use too much inducing a negative reaction such as anxiety, panic, and paranoia. The following are the common reactions, good and bad, to cannabis:

✅ euphoric

✅ relaxed

✅ amused 

✅ giggly

✅ creative

✅ hungry

✅ increased sensitivity

😬 anxiety

😬 confusion

😬 delusions and hallucinations

😬 high blood pressure

😬 nausea and vomiting

😬 panic

😬 paranoia

😬 psychosis

😬 racing heartbeat

Can You Get Addicted to Cannabis?

It is critical our language around cannabis is not too quick to judge or report, rather a balance between what is common and uncommon. An uncommon reaction is for an individual to become addicted to cannabis in the same manner as other substances do with uncontrollable cravings affecting daily functioning. However with regular or heavy use, it is common for individuals to develop a dependence on cannabis. Dependence causes the brain to adapt to large amounts of cannabis causing more frequent use to feel the effects, which creates a potential for financial or social risks. Another way to think about it is as a really bad habit that is very hard to break such as smoking cigarettes. Habitual or dependent cannabis use may produce withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop, such as:

🚩 moodiness 

🚩 irritability

🚩 nausea 

🚩 difficulty sleeping

🚩 change in eating habits

🚩 sweating

🚩 shaking

🚩 diarrhea

If you become concerned about dependence or withdrawal, be sure to consult your doctor, therapist or other medical professionals within your self-care routine.




Cannabis: The facts. (2017).

Is marijuana addictive? (2020). drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-addictive

Morales P, et al. (2017). Molecular targets of the phytocannabinoids: A complex picture. Phytocannabinoids. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-45541-9_4

What is marijuana? (2019).

What is the scope of marijuana use in the United States? (2018).

Heustis MA. (2007). Human cannabinoid pharmacokinetics. DOI:

Is marijuana medicine? (2018).

Piomelli D, et al. (2016). The cannabis sativa versus cannabis indica debate: An interview with Ethan Russo, MD. DOI:

Schauer GL, et al. (2014). Toking, vaping, and eating for health or fun. DOI:

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Stay calm. Canna-curious is cool! But collect some info first.
If you are:

  • under 25 years old
  • taking any medication
  • at risk for heart disease
  • family history of psychosis
  • family history of mood disorders
  • family history of addiction

…please be sure to consult a medical or mental health professional.



Track CBD & Meditation Hero

How to Track Your CBD and Mediation Progress

Jessica Christion

written by

Jessica Christion

LJG 2021

reviewed by

Laura Geftman, LCSW

written by

Namen Namestein

reviewed by

Namen Namestein

If you have tried out CBD with your meditation practice then hopefully you are aware of the benefits, sometimes when you are just starting out trying new forms of CBD and even new ways to meditate can seem a bit overwhelming.  One suggestion I have for beginners is to track your CBD and Meditation combinations through journaling your experience. Trust me doing this will make the process a whole lot easier and more enjoyable. If you are new to the benefits of CBD and meditation check out my previous blog called Find Your Mind: Making CBD Your New Meditation Partner for a complete overview on the two partners in crime. 

What does it mean to track your CBD and meditation progress?

Tracking your CBD and meditation progress should be done through journaling your experience. Meaning, everytime you try a new form of CBD you would want to keep track of how a particular form of CBD aided in your meditation practice. Since there are different forms of CBD like flower, vaping, topicals, edibles, tinctures and sprays to name a few it can get super overwhelming to keep up on the method that worked or did not work for you. You can find out more information about 4 Ways to Incorporate CBD into Your Meditation by reading my previous blog. This will tell you all about the different ways to consume CBD. 

Why It’s Important to Track

CBD can get expensive, especially if you are trying various methods and not keeping up with how they affect you. Tracking is a great way to keep up with cost, dosage, form of CBD and how it helped with your meditation practice. When you are first starting your CBD and meditation journey you are going to want to find what best works for you so that you have something to go back and refer to. You can also share your experience with friends and family who can also benefit from the combination. It would be nice to find multiple forms of CBD that work for you as well. You can see if different types of meditations like mindfulness, guided meditations, or Transcendental Meditation compliment a specific type of CBD form. I really encourage you to use a tracking method like journaling, or even keeping track on a chart or spreadsheet that you can print. 

How to track your CBD and mediation progress: 

This is the last step to your CBD and Meditation partnership. The best thing you can do on this wonderful journey is to journal your experience and Reflect… Reflect… Reflect! This will be the only way to truly know if the CBD and Meditation combo is the right fit for you. You also want to keep track of the effects it had on your body during meditation. It is important to journal every time you try a new consumption method so that you can find the best and most useful form of CBD for you.

Here are a few things you may want to ask yourself when journaling:

  • What way did I choose to consume CBD? 
  • How long did it take for me to feel each form?
  • What is my dosage for said form.
  • What is my monthly cost to use said form?
  • How did I feel getting into my meditative state? Did it take me a long/short time with this form? 
  • How did I feel after my meditation?
  • How long was I able to meditate? 


I hope your CBD and Meditation Journey is fulfilling and that you can find peace in your busy everyday life. It is important to always make sure your self-care is up to par to be the best you that you can be. Although it may seem like meditation is not for you, consider the fact that it may just be uncomfortable to face our thoughts, and really become relaxed. CBD can help you become more comfortable and confident within your practice. I encourage you to try multiple methods, and to give yourself time to adjust to your new partner in crime… and peace!

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Stay calm. Canna-curious is cool! But collect some info first.
If you are:

  • under 25 years old
  • taking any medication
  • at risk for heart disease
  • family history of psychosis
  • family history of mood disorders
  • family history of addiction

…please be sure to consult a medical or mental health professional.



Cannabis for pain Hero

Cannabis for Pain: Does Medicating with Marijuana Increase Abuse Risk?

Of all the conditions that motivate medical cannabis use in the US, chronic pain tops the list. Sixty-six percent of adult Americans now view marijuana as beneficial for pain management. An estimated 62% of patients rely on weed to help render chronic pain more manageable, and plenty more unregistered consumers likely seek it for the same purpose. 

While evidence accumulates that cannabis can work wonders for those living in the grips of chronic pain, it’s not necessarily a quick fix or simple solution. Cannabis is a nuanced plant medicine that can elicit distinctive effects at different doses and provoke varied responses depending on delivery method and body chemistry. 

Get it right and you have a powerful plant-based ally that can help lower your volume of pain. Get it wrong and you may experience paranoia, nausea, or other unwanted side effects.

A recent study published in the January 2020 issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry reports that adults who use cannabis to manage pain are at a higher risk of developing a use disorder than those using cannabis for purposes other than pain. The research highlights the need to cultivate an awareness of the potency of cannabis, despite its harmless, non-toxic reputation. 

Does pain lead to cannabis use disorder?

Ultimately, the above study concluded that cannabis consumers living with pain might be vulnerable to adverse outcomes. Healthcare providers treating patients with pain need to monitor for signs of Cannabis use disorder (CUD) and convey credible information and education about the health risks associated with cannabis use. CUD can be characterized by a set of symptoms that affect the behavior, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial aspects of one’s life.

In the study, researchers studied non-medical cannabis consumption, comparing patterns between adults with pain and without pain, and drawing on data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions in 2001–2002 and 2012–2013. Approximately 20% of participants in both surveys had moderate to severe pain.

Those with pain used cannabis more frequently than those without pain in both surveys. In the 2001–2002 survey, 5.15% consumed cannabis for pain compared with 3.74% who didn’t; in the 2012–2013 survey, 12.42% consumed cannabis for pain compared with 9.02% who didn’t.

The researchers found that cannabis use disorder was more prevalent among respondents with pain rather than those without pain. In the 2012–2013 survey, 4.18% of consumers with pain developed cannabis use disorder (CUD), compared with 2.74% who developed the disorder but didn’t consume cannabis for pain. 

Do consumers really understand the plant?

Cannabis consumption and education is also a hot research topic, with a survey, also published in January 2020, reporting significant discrepancies between cannabis consumers’ knowledge and available evidence. Among some of the more striking findings, 74-81% of participants got their understanding of cannabis from their own experiences, while only 18% received information from primary care providers. 

Those who received information from providers had a more thorough knowledge of medical efficacy. Between 38-42% thought cannabis consumption did not increase any risk. Those who consumed medical cannabis more frequently had an increased risk of adverse events. Again, the study’s authors highlighted the need for more education from physicians, caregivers, and dispensaries to raise awareness about both efficacy and risk.

For Dr. Oludare Odumosu, PhD, and CEO of Zelira Therapeutics, cannabis is medicine and must be handled with awareness and a concern for safety. 

“With every medicine, abuse is a risk. Any adverse effect should be taken seriously,” he says. “A 2017 report released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine cited pain as a condition for which cannabis is effective,” said Odumosu. “That said, education is an evolving process, and no one should assume that they understand all there is to know about the use of cannabis.”

The treatment of pain with cannabis requires a subtle approach that takes into consideration the subjective qualities of an individual’s pain experience. 

“For example, if you ask me and I say on a scale from one to ten that the pain that I feel is a five, my five might be somebody’s three. Somebody’s three might be somebody else’s ten.” With such variation in pain thresholds, a tailored approach to pain treatment, developed by a cannabis healthcare professional, can be highly beneficial to avoid unwanted effects.

How to stay informed when medicating with cannabis

Odumosu encourages seeking cannabis medicine for pain through state-approved programs with credentialed health practitioners, and he also cautions against turning to the internet for guidance on self-medicating for pain with cannabis. 

“There is an increasing number of scientific articles coming from outside the US, from countries like Israel, Canada, and Australia, with legalized cannabis programs,” he points out. “Although many are custodians of some form of cannabis knowledge, please do not rely on unverified information sources. Engage with practitioners within your state’s program because they know the products that are in your area and have the requisite knowledge and skill sets to guide you to an appropriate medicine.”

Those with expertise and experience can support a safe and effective approach to dosing, as well as selecting the optimal mode of delivery. “Certified physicians, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, and healthcare practitioners within the dispensary system are constantly learning and applying what I call real-life empirical data, as well as drawing from the available body of clinical data with patients,” said Odumosu. 

Odumosu further emphasizes the need for providers to monitor patients to reduce the risk of cannabis use disorder. “Because this is an emerging space, we should constantly monitor patients, as we would for any condition. For example,  If somebody presents with cancer, we don’t just hand them a bunch of chemo drugs and say go home,” he said. “They come back; we watch their progression, we’re monitoring several aspects based on the presentation. It should not be any different for cannabis-based therapies.”

This article written by Emma Stone was originally posted on Leafly.com.

Deborah S. Hasin, Ph.D., Dvora Shmulewitz, Ph.D., Magdalena Cerdá, Dr.P.H., et al. U.S. Adults With Pain, a Group Increasingly Vulnerable to Nonmedical Cannabis Use and Cannabis Use Disorder: 2001–2002 and 2012–2013. The American Journal of Psychiatry 177, 7 (July 2020).


Kevin F. Boehnke, Saurav Gangopadhyay, Daniel J. Clauw, and Rebecca L. Haffajee. Qualifying Conditions Of Medical Cannabis License Holders In The United States.

Health Affairs 2019 38:2, 295-302. 


Patel J, Marwaha R. Cannabis Use Disorder. [Updated 2021 Jul 12]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538131/


Kruger DJ, Kruger JS, Collins RL. Cannabis Enthusiasts’ Knowledge of Medical Treatment Effectiveness and Increased Risks From Cannabis Use. American Journal of Health Promotion. 2020;34(4):436-439. doi:10.1177/0890117119899218

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Stay calm. Canna-curious is cool! But collect some info first.
If you are:

  • under 25 years old
  • taking any medication
  • at risk for heart disease
  • family history of psychosis
  • family history of mood disorders
  • family history of addiction

…please be sure to consult a medical or mental health professional.



Why Do We Get So SAD Around This Time of Year? Hero

Why Do We Get So SAD Around This Time of Year?

Caroline Platzman

written by

Caroline Platzman

LJG 2021

reviewed by

Laura Geftman, LCSW

written by

Namen Namestein

reviewed by

Namen Namestein

From usually around November until March, as the sun begins to set earlier and the nights feel colder, many individuals experience feelings of melancholy, vulnerability and anxiety. Sometimes, these feelings can manifest into depression, a type that looms at this particular time of year when it gets colder and darker in many places. This condition is known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

What is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder, otherwise known as SAD or seasonal depression, is characterized by symptoms of depression that can become prominent in fall and winter months, when the days become comparatively colder and darker than the rest of the year. Seasonal affective disorder is a mood disorder that is cyclical, as depressive symptoms will generally subside when the individual begins to feel comfortable in their environment again. 

Seasonal affective disorder is impacted by both neurological and environmental factors, such as the amount of sunlight we are exposed to and the chemical disposition of our individual brains. Seasonal affective disorder is most common in the colder, winter months but, although it is less common, individuals can experience seasonal affective disorder in the spring and summer as well (Nussbaumer-Streit et al., 2018).

How common is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is extremely common, with over 3 million U.S. cases reported every year. According to Dr. Paul Desan, director of the Winter Depression Research Clinic at Yale New Haven Hospital, about 5% of people live with seasonal affective disorder. And, roughly 33-44% of SAD cases actually turn into non-seasonal major depression cases (Nussbaumer-Streit et al., 2018).

While anyone can develop seasonal affective disorder, some populations are more at risk than others. Seasonal affective disorder is more common in women than men, and is typically more common in younger populations. However, it can occur at any age. Another factor to consider is location: according to experts, those who live farthest north or south from the equator are more at risk for developing seasonal depression.

Why does seasonal depression occur?

Scientists speculate that people develop seasonal affective disorder for a few reasons. Most notably, the decrease in sunlight in fall and winter months in many parts of the world can affect the body’s internal clock in a negative way. Additionally, hormonal changes in the body may contribute to onset in colder months: lack of sunlight means lower levels of serotonin and melatonin, two hormones that play essential roles in regulating mood and sleep.

What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?

The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder parallel the symptoms of major depression, both mentally and physically. This means that individuals can experience SAD in a number of ways.

Emotional symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include, but are not limited to:

      • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or melancholy
      • Feelings of loneliness
      • Feelings of emptiness
      • Lack of motivation
      • Anxiety or agitation 
      • Irritability

Physical symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include, but are not limited to:

      • Lack of energy
      • Lack of focus
      • Fatigue and tiredness
      • Sleep disturbances
      • Increase or decrease in appetite
      • Weight gain

The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder vary from person to person, but a wide range of those living with it report depressive symptoms like lower energy levels and increased fatigue. According to Nussbaumer-Streit et al. (2018), “in addition to depressive symptoms, most patients also experience hypersomnia, increased appetite often accompanied by weight gain, and extreme fatigue during winter months”. In other words, those living with seasonal affective disorder are prone to excessive sleepiness, tiredness, and appetite.

Additionally, an individual might become more irritable or moody during the change in seasons, and feel less energized overall. Plus, the inclination to stay inside during the colder months can make a person feel more like sleeping in or oversleeping, ignoring household tasks and other necessities, or not socializing as much. For the most part, “in summer, SAD patients are free of depressive symptoms. However, little is known whether or not the fear of upcoming depressive episodes impacts their well-being” (Nussbaumer-Streit et al., 2018). The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can be seemingly daunting, however, they are not impossible to manage.

Is seasonal affective disorder treatable?

Research suggests that seasonal affective disorder is not only manageable, but treatable. In fact, for less severe episodes of seasonal affective disorder, the first choice treatment is light therapy. Other effective treatment options can include certain antidepressant medications as well as cognitive behavioral therapy (Nussbaumer-Streit et al., 2018). With the help of a mental health professional, individuals can work through their symptoms most effectively in order to learn healthy and safe ways to cope with symptoms during these months.

Some find solace in the utilization of other treatment options that are more natural in regulating mood and sleep, such as melatonin supplements or cannabis as a way to combat seasonal depression. Exercise and nutrition also play a huge part in the regulation of mood, so sometimes a lifestyle or diet change may help fight seasonal depression (Nussbaumer-Streit et al., 2018).

Bottom line

Seasonal affective disorder is never something to be ashamed about. And, this winter, we have had a new and looming presence amidst the cold and dreary days: a global pandemic. Depression and anxiety are at an all time high, so if you are feeling the pressure, understand you are not alone. And, understand it’s fairly normal to feel this way, particularly now. As Dr. Desan puts it, “The pandemic conditions plus the winter season – a lot of people will find this is a very difficult next few months. It’s not your imagination.” It’s not.







Meyerhoff, J., Young, M. A., & Rohan, K. J. (April 2018). Patterns of depressive symptom remission during the treatment of seasonal affective disorder with cognitive‐behavioral therapy or light therapy. Retrieved from Wiley Online Library, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/da.22739


Nussbaumer-Streit, B., Pjrek, E., Kien, C. et al. Implementing prevention of seasonal affective disorder from patients’ and physicians’ perspectives – a qualitative study. BMC Psychiatry 18, 372 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-018-1951-0

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Stay calm. Canna-curious is cool! But collect some info first.
If you are:

  • under 25 years old
  • taking any medication
  • at risk for heart disease
  • family history of psychosis
  • family history of mood disorders
  • family history of addiction

…please be sure to consult a medical or mental health professional.