Line by Line
On January 5th, an opinion piece entitled “Marijuana addiction is a real thing. This is what NJ should know” ran in northjersey.com.
It was written by Maria T. Krause, interim nursing director of the New Jersey-based Sunrise House Treatment Center.
While there were several valid points made in this opinion, we saw an opportunity to provide a bit more context to the bias-infused writing as well as some helpful resources. Our additional content is below in italics.
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.
While we think we know what the author is conveying here, it's confusing. Addiction isn't something new or specific to cannabis. We can look to almost anything else - the obvious ones like alcohol and tobacco as well as other consumable substances like food as well as activities like gambling and using the internet - find instances of addictive human behavior. The only reason we start from a place of addiction or danger when it comes to any cannabis conversation is because of the stigma associated with who uses it and the federal prohibition designed with ulterior motives.
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.
What could have been mentioned to help readers to develop a comprehensive view of the topic is what the American Medical Association shared in 2021:
Youth marijuana use does not increase after states enact legalization for medical or recreational use, researchers concluded in a study published in a prominent scientific journal on Tuesday. The policy change instead has an overall impact on adolescent cannabis consumption that is “statistically indistinguishable from zero,” they found.
In fact, it seems that establishing certain regulated cannabis models actually leads to lower marijuana use among adolescents under certain measures—a finding that directly conflicts with anti-legalization arguments that are commonly made by prohibitionists.
The analysis, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed federal Youth Risk Behavior Survey data from 1993-2019 in 10 medical or adult-use states. It builds upon existing studies on the impact of cannabis reform on youth consumption that have reached similar conclusions.
Researchers determined that the adoption of recreational cannabis legalization “was not associated with current marijuana use or frequent marijuana use.”
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.
Speaking of safety, we can look at the study published on the National Library of Medicine website “Adherence, Safety, and Effectiveness of Medical Cannabis and Epidemiological Characteristics of the Patient Population: A Prospective Study to learn more about the safety and cannabis. The conclusion of the study states:
“We observed that supervised medical-cannabis treatment is associated with high adherence, improvement in quality of life, and a decrease in pain level with a low incidence of serious adverse events.” Approximately 10,000 patients participated in the study. Isn’t perception based on facts just being informed?
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.
We’re so glad the author mentioned public perception! We’d like to seize the opportunity to mention our “Secrets About Stigma” post from last year. We’re hopeful that education - accurate, verifiable, science-backed information - will influence public perception, as that’s what’s really needed, especially as we address considerable social inequity, the opioid crisis and other substance abuse, and the wellness properties of the plant.
The reference to those who “were most likely to believe that marijuana use has benefits” and the context surrounding it could be interpreted as being purposefully positioned to convince readers that the belief is unfounded and incorrect. This feels murky. There’s a chicken and egg issue at work here - we need more research to fully understand cannabis and its effects, but the federal prohibition in this country severely limits this forward movement. That results in its continued federal categorization as a substance with no medicinal value because there’s not enough available research. And, those in positions of power tend to disregard the valid research that’s coming out of other countries.
We can look to the Harvard Health Blog and the writings of Dr. Peter Grinspoon and the American Cancer Society Journal for informed information about potential cannabis benefits. You have the opportunity to consider authority sources via the links below.
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.
Cannabis, when used appropriately, isn’t harmful. There have been hundreds, maybe even thousands, of reports to validate this (you can visit https://www.elucidationstrategies.com/post/cannabis-policy-top-10 if you’d like to review specific examples) over the past 150 years. This position doesn’t acknowledge the widely-known fact that anything can be harmful if misused or abused. The author appears to choose to disregard this foundational concept and villainize a plant that’s been used around the world for thousands of years.
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.
Cannabis use disorder is a reality. We’ve found the Yale Medicine writing on the disorder to be particularly insightful. This important topic absolutely should be included in the accurate re-education of the country when it comes to cannabis as part of the big picture. Access to all the information is what the public deserves, not just stats and opinions that further one’s individual position (those individual positions are often fueled by personal bias). It’s worth noting, since the author didn’t, that cannabis addiction is classified as psychological, not physical.
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.
Yes, that makes sense. Increased use volume could lead to increased addiction.
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.
This is why a regulated market is so essential. The cost of state-by-state legalization (nearly 40 states have legal access to medical cannabis, over half of all the states have adult-use - what does that indicate to us?) and the continued federal prohibition is what prevents necessary research and regulation. Potency should be a concern, but the prohibition line undermines safety issues associated with it.
While it may be legal to use marijuana in New Jersey, the question is: Should you?
Good question, but let’s be sure to ask New Jerseyans after providing accurate and comprehensive information.