Why Do People Who Want to Quit Smoking Cigarettes Use Cannabis?
Nicotine and THC (the main active ingredient in marijuana and other cannabis products) are two of the three most commonly used addictive substances in the U.S. Recent data gathered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that roughly 22 million American teenagers and adults smoke cigarettes on at least a monthly basis; another 4.6 million teens and adults use some other form of nicotine-containing tobacco. Approximately 18.9 million teens and adults in the U.S. smoke THC-containing marijuana at least once a month. Both nicotine and THC promote addiction by altering the normal chemical balance in the part of the brain responsible for processing pleasurable sensations. When it occurs repeatedly, this chemical alteration can trigger the long-term changes in brain function that underlie addictive behavior. Over half of all cigarette smokers in the U.S. are nicotine addicts. In addition, up to 50 percent of all daily consumers of marijuana have an addiction to that drug.
Smoking cessation is the common term for all self-directed or supervised attempts to stop using cigarettes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most smokers begin their cessation efforts without guidance and use methods that have no proven, scientifically established effectiveness. However, current research does support the effectiveness of a number of smoking cessation approaches, including nicotine replacement therapy, a nicotine-free medication called buproprion (Zyban), a nicotine-free medication called varenicline (Chantix), short educational and motivational sessions called brief clinical interventions, behavior modification therapy, group counseling sessions, one-on-one counseling sessions conducted either in-person or remotely, and extended one-on-one counseling conducted in person. The best smoking cessation results typically occur among people who seek help and take advantage of both a proven medication and a proven form of counseling, therapy or brief intervention.
Why Does Cannabis Use Continue?
It’s not particularly surprising that use of an addictive drug like cannabis can interfere with successful treatment of nicotine addiction in cigarette smokers. In the study published in the American Journal on Addictions, researchers from the University of Houston, Florida State University and Australia’s University of New South Wales used an assessment of 138 habitual smokers looking for smoking cessation assistance to help uncover the reasons some people who want to quit using cigarettes continue to smoke marijuana or another cannabis product. In addition to gauging the degree of anxiety vulnerability present in each of these individuals, the researchers explored their possible motives for remaining active cannabis users. Specific motives under consideration included using cannabis as a coping mechanism, to fit into a peer or social group, to enhance feelings of fun or excitement and using cannabis in an attempt to develop a more expansive mental state.
After analyzing the anxiety levels, motivations and cannabis intake levels of the study participants, the researchers concluded that cigarette users actively seeking to quit smoking tend to increase their cannabis intake when they use the drug to cope with life stresses, fit into a social group, develop a sense of expansiveness or enhance their experience of fun or pleasure. They also concluded that any given smoker’s level of emotional anxiety affects the chances that they will use cannabis for pleasure enhancement.
Significance and Considerations
The authors of the study published in the American Journal on Addictions believe that cigarette users who are interested in quitting smoking but still use cannabis may benefit from interventions aimed at anxiety-affected individuals who rely on cannabis to enhance positive or pleasurable feelings. Possible approaches suitable for such interventions include finding satisfying alternative pursuits that don’t involve substance use and helping clients/patients see the benefits of pursuits that may produce lower levels of pleasure but don’t come with the risks of cannabis/marijuana intake.