Study finds marijuana may be addictive

What once was touted as a drug that was immune to addiction now may not be. With the legalization of marijuana underway in two states already, more people are beginning to discuss their growing concerns for the substance and whether it is addictive.

The prevalence of marijuana

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that marijuana is the most used drug in the nation. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stated that in 2012, 2.4 million people 12 years old and older tried marijuana for the first time. Of that number, 1.4 million tried marijuana before they were 18 years old.

Researchers already fear the effects of the drug on people’s driving skills, since it can cause slower reaction times. On Sept. 2, a study on teens and marijuana revealed that 40 percent of those in an outpatient program dealt with withdrawal symptoms. Prior to the findings, no study had correlated marijuana with addictive consequences. However, withdrawal symptoms are a clear indicator of an addiction problem. Now some are wondering if the addiction-proof drug is addiction-proof at all. The findings were published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

The ignorance about addiction

Lead researcher John Kelly, who works in the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Addiction Medicine, noted that many are mistaken about addiction and marijuana.

“There’s a lot of misperception out there that marijuana is not addictive,” Kelly said. “But it produces both a physical and psychological dependence in a similar way to that of other drugs, along with its own characteristic withdrawal symptoms.” Aside from the withdrawal symptoms, another indicator of the drug’s addictive nature is the fact that people psychologically crave more of the substance every time they use it.

The study examined 127 young adults between the ages of 14 and 19 who were being treated at an addiction outpatient facility. The researchers surveyed the adolescents and discovered that 90 percent stated marijuana was their drug of choice. Each participant was assessed and surveyed at three months, six months and a year later on how the drug was affecting him or her. The survey data revealed 84 percent indicated signs of cannabis dependence and 40 percent showed withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms included depression, anxiety, irritability and difficulty sleeping. Of the participants with withdrawal symptoms, those who did not think they had a problem had the most trouble quitting.

Looking forward

Though this is not the first study of its kind, it is the first study to use participants that are moderately dependent on marijuana, as they were in an outpatient facility. The researchers hope their findings will lead to future research on marijuana and its possible addictive effects. Kelly warns that the public should consider all aspects of the drug before bringing it fully to the market.

“Do the benefits outweigh the costs?” he asked. “We need the clinical side saying, ‘This is not a benign substance. It’s not cornflakes.’ The neurocognitive impacts, especially with teens, have been shown to have lifelong implications.”

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