Cannabis has been touted as a cure-all for everything from seizures to acne, and with just cause, but that doesn’t mean there’s no possibility of misuse. As cannabis becomes more easily accessible and more potent products become available, marijuana misuse should not be ignored.
It’s not surprising that cannabis use is on the rise – studies suggest that 6,600 people become marijuana users every day. And, of these new cannabis users, about 30 percent will develop some degree of “marijuana use disorder,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. (NIDA). People who begin using cannabis before the age of 18 are four times more likely to develop marijuana use disorder, according to NIDA.
Marijuana use disorder can lead to marijuana dependence, which occurs when the brain adapts to large amounts of the drug by reducing production of and sensitivity to its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters. This can lead people to take higher and more frequent doses, at a rate which interferes with their daily lives.
Although less common than alcohol use disorder, marijuana use disorder affects about 9 percent of people who use marijuana regularly. Healthline reports that in 2015, about 4 million people in the United States met the diagnostic criteria for a marijuana use disorder; 138,000 voluntarily sought treatment for their marijuana use.
Some researchers describe marijuana as a “gateway drug” and that use, especially in young adults is linked to nicotine and alcohol addition. This 2016 study found that adults who use marijuana are five times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder compared with adults who do not use the drug. People who already have alcohol use disorder and begin using marijuana are more likely to see both problems persist.
Not only is marijuana becoming more popular and more readily available, it’s also becoming more potent. NIDA report that in 1990 the average THC content in marijuana was less than 4 percent. In 2014, THC content averages 12 percent per sample. High-potency edibles and concentrates regularly contain more than 50 percent THC with some products exceeding 80 percent.
Researchers suggest that this increasing potency is one of the reasons the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) still classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance, “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” despite a growing number of studies indicating the opposite.
Cannabis research and long term studies on the effects of cannabis is still an emerging field and there is much more to learn. Despite the very real threat of cannabis misuse, other studies suggest that the availability of legal cannabis can help reduce the rate of opioid overdoses.
Some studies cite a 25 percent reduction in opioid overdose deaths in states with legalized cannabis. But cannabis isn’t the magic pill for those suffering from addictive behaviors. People may use cannabis as a replacement for other drugs which does not treat underlying addictive behaviors but can make them seem less risky.
For more information on marijuana addiction treatment options visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) or call National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at 1 (800) 662-HELP (4357)