Addiction to Marijuana on the Rise

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Addiction to marijuana is expected to rise substantially as states loosen medical marijuana laws and allow recreational marijuana use. Currently, two states allow marijuana use as a recreational drug, Colorado and Washington State, and 22 states allow marijuana for medical purposes. On May 30, the Republican controlled House voted 219-189 to stop the Justice Department from prosecuting the use of medical marijuana in states whose legislatures have approved the drug for medical purposes. The vote signals a significant relaxation of drug control policies begun under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. Advocates of addiction relief are not pleased with the vote.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), using marijuana for an extended period of time can lead to addiction. It is estimated that 9 percent of marijuana users will become addicted to the drug. This percentage increases to almost 17 percent if the user started to smoke marijuana in their early teens. If the person uses marijuana daily, the rate of addiction is 25 to 30 percent. The NIH measures addiction by its withdrawal symptoms. Addicted marijuana users trying to quit will feel symptoms similar to nicotine withdrawal. They will report being irritable, have difficulty sleeping, experience anxiety, and feel a craving to use the drug again. Addicted marijuana users trying to quit will also show increased aggression after they used the drug last.

A report last year by Colorado State University estimated that over 665,000 Coloradans will use recreational marijuana in 2014. A similar report by the RAND corporation estimated Washington State marijuana users numbered around 610,000 in 2012. These numbers are expected to rise as marijuana use is introduced to a larger percentage of the population. By NIH estimates, the number of marijuana addicts in these states is expected to be over 114, 000 persons, a number that will increase depending on the amount of daily use, and how soon users were introduced to the drug.

Marijuana and heroin use are on the rise in the United States overall. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 7.3 percent of Americans over 12 years of age self-reported the use of marijuana in 2012, an increase from previous years. In addition, 50,000 more heroin users self-reported in 2012 than in 2011. The number of non-medical new-users of marijuana also saw an increase to 2.4 million people. Other drugs that saw increases in non-medical first-time users were painkillers, tranquilizers, Ecstasy, and cocaine.

The significant increase in marijuana addiction in the United States has put pressure on health organizations to study the drug more closely in order to understand long-term effects. According to Federal law, however, the only agency that can grow marijuana for clinical purposes is the National Institute for Drug Abuse which maintains a farm in Mississippi. Organizations like the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington D.C. are lobbying the Federal Government to approve more licenses for clinical tests.

With marijuana addiction on the rise and the Federal Government stepping down efforts to regulate the drug, State and Federal health policy makers and addiction relief advocates will be scrambling to find policy solutions to treat a new wave of marijuana addicts who want to kick the habit.

By Steve Killings

See also Marijuana: Smoking Style Tied to Addiction Risk

CBS News
Bloomberg Business Week
Washington Post
National Institutes of Health
Colorado State University
RAND Corporation

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