Marijuana addiction is a real thing
Legal sales of recreational marijuana began in New Jersey on April 21, 2022. In just a little over the first two months, these sales totaled almost $80 million.
With so many people legally buying weed, it’s hard to believe marijuana addiction is real.
According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 18% of people over the age of 12 (49.6 million) reported using marijuana in the past year. Another recent study sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that in 2021, past-year marijuana use among young adults had reached the highest levels recorded since 1988.
Despite the growing number of people who buy and use marijuana, it is, in fact, an addictive substance, and it’s important to understand the risks.
Public perception and the legalization of marijuana
Many people you talk to will insist that marijuana (cannabis) isn’t addictive. After all, it’s often used for medicinal purposes and otherwise remains the most widely used illicit drug in the U.S. (marijuana and THC continue to be categorized at the federal level as illegal substances). Potentially bolstering a collective perception of marijuana’s relative safety is the fact that a growing number of states have legalized recreational use.
New Jersey is one of 19 states that have legalized recreational marijuana, and this trend is likely to continue. Loosening cannabis laws could continue to influence public perception of the drug’s risks and benefits and lead to increased use. One national study found that residents in states with legal recreational marijuana were most likely to believe that marijuana use has benefits and have the highest rate of use.With greater societal acceptance of marijuana, there is an increase in usage in many demographics; adults of all ages, both sexes, and even pregnant women are using marijuana at higher rates than in previous years.
Put simply, marijuana use has become mainstream, which may give people the impression that it isn’t harmful. Among a surveyed group of young adults ages 19 to 30 in 2021, 42.6% had used marijuana in the past year — a considerable increase from just a decade before, when that figure was 29.4%.
A 2021 Gallup Poll found that 49% of American adults reported they’ve tried marijuana — the highest rate ever and a 1,125% increase from 50 years ago, when 4% reported they had tried it.
Scientific evidence shows marijuana is addictive
Contrary to popular opinion, marijuana use can lead to what’s known as a cannabis use disorder — the clinical or diagnostic term for marijuana addiction. What starts as merely cannabis use may progress to a cannabis use disorder, at which point a person begins compulsively using the substance despite its leading to significant problems and interfering with important areas of a person’s life.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that roughly one in 10 individuals who use marijuana will become addicted to it, and when individuals start before the age of 18, that rate increases to one in six.
Not only is marijuana addictive, but it appears the risk may be growing. In a study examining the connections between recreational marijuana legalization and modifications in marijuana use, frequency of use and cannabis use disorder in the U.S. from 2008 to 2016, findings suggest a potentially increased risk for addiction in both adult and adolescent users after the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Beyond legalization, another possible contributor to a rising risk of addiction is the steady rise in marijuana potency. THC levels in seized marijuana samples in 2018 averaged 15%, a startling increase from the average of 4% in the 1990s. Concentrates can contain even higher levels of THC. Marijuana today is simply much stronger. While the full extent of the risks is not yet known, more potent THC can have a greater effect on the brain, and, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, it may raise the risk of dependence and addiction.
As the number of young adults who try marijuana continues to grow, it’s important to note the additional risks of early use. Individuals who start using marijuana before age 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than those who begin using it as adults. Multiple studies have shown cannabis use is linked to an increased risk of certain psychiatric disorders, and this is especially true for those who start using cannabis at a young age. Using cannabis frequently doubles the risk of schizophrenia, and when a person uses high-potency THC, this risk can be up to five times higher.
While it may be legal to use marijuana in New Jersey, the question is: Should you?