Every couple of years it seems like more states alter their policy regarding marijuana use, whether that be for medical or recreational purposes. While California was the first state to successfully pass and implement a medical marijuana program in 1996, the Golden State would not be the first to legalize recreational pot use for adults. But, nevertheless California voters passed legislation ending the prohibition last November, joining: Alaska, Colorado, DC, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. All told 29 states and Washington DC have medical marijuana programs operating or in the works.
The issue of cannabis use in the United States has historically been a hallmark of political division across the country, but it is clear the gap continues to diminish in size—arguably the result of fewer Americans viewing the plant as inherently dangerous. Even Americans who do not use cannabis products (or plan to) now believe that possession of the drug is not cause for arrest and/or imprisonment. More and more people in the U.S. understand that our prisons have more inmates (by far) than any other country in the world, and that the majority of the people behind bars are there because of nonviolent drug offenses. The product of a seemingly futile war on addiction—masquerading as a “war on drugs.”
The Big Picture
The arguments for legalization of medical marijuana and recreational use are very appealing when you consider the damage done to individuals whose only crime was simple possession of what even members of the government consider to be a fairly benign substance (relatively speaking). Such arrests do not just affect the individual, they impact families and entire communities that are by and large impoverished and mainly populated by ethnic minorities like African Americans and Latinos. Whether you are for or against marijuana use, it is hard to disagree with the statistics of who has been affected the greatest by the war on drugs.
On the other hand, it is important that we take a look at the big picture and what an end to prohibition can bring with it—particularly heightened addiction rates. There is still a lot that scientists do not understand about cannabis, and the drug’s impact on humans. We know that it can wreak havoc in the developing brains of teenagers and young adults, and impact cognitive function in older adults. But there is rarely much talk about marijuana addiction, otherwise known as cannabis use disorder. However, researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia University Medical Center have attempted to shed some light on progressive marijuana policies and addiction.
Cannabis Use Disorder
One reason why people do not speak much of weed addiction is because when compared to other substance use disorders it can be hard for people to view the former as being a big deal. Stereotypical representations of pot smokers do not show such people pawning all their belongings so they can inject weed into their arm. Sure, people who smoke pot may have a deficit in motivation, but they are not robbing pharmacies to get their fix. Even in rooms of addiction recovery, some people are prone to look down their nose at those whose life became unmanageable because of smoking marijuana. Yes, even among addicts there is at times what could be called a reverse hierarchy. To be clear regarding recovery programs, people viewing other problems as somehow lacking the credentials for free admission to recovery is not the norm—but rather the exception.
Opinions aside, there is clear evidence that cannabis use disorder is real. It can, and does, negatively impact people’s lives. The condition is recognized in the fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and furthermore, pot addicts who attempt to quit the drug do in fact experience withdrawal symptoms which can precipitate relapse.
Even though the country is steaming towards an end to prohibition on the Federal level, it is important that people living in states where the drug is now legal understand all the risks. A new study looked at cannabis use and cannabis use disorders before and after medical marijuana laws were passed in certain states, ScienceDaily reports. The researchers found that illicit marijuana use decreased and marijuana use disorder remained flat between 1991-1992 and 2001-2002, but both illicit use and cannabis use disorder rates increased between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013. Naturally, more research is needed to better understand the correlation.
“Medical marijuana laws may benefit some with medical problems. However, changing state laws — medical or recreational — may also have adverse public health consequences, including cannabis use disorders,” said study author Deborah Hasin, PhD, associate professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. “A prudent interpretation of our results is that professionals and the public should be educated on risks of cannabis use and benefits of treatment, and prevention/intervention services for cannabis disorders should be provided.”
If marijuana is impacting your life in negative ways, it is possible that you are dependent on the substance. If you continue to use despite adverse effects, it is a usually a sign that a problem exists. Help is available and there are a significant number of people who are recovering from cannabis use disorder, living productive and fulfilling lives. Please reach out to us at Hemet Valley Recovery Center & Sage Retreat to discuss treatment options and beginning the journey of recovery.