4 million people.
That's the number of Americans abusing or dependent on marijuana according to a 2016 report. With today’s increased access, this number continues to climb. Compare that to prescription drug users and cocaine users and you’re looking at two to three times the amount of dependency.
But, in a climate where more people are profiting from medicinal and recreational marijuana, clients are advocating its use, and legislators are debating its regulation, how do criminal justice and drug treatment professionals handle this controversy?
The first step is to get all the facts.
In this blog post we’ll dispel three common myths about marijuana and explain why marijuana use disorder deserves more attention.
Common Marijuana Myths:
- Marijuana is a proven treatment for common health issues
- Marijuana use doesn’t negatively impact public safety
- Marijuana addiction isn’t as severe as other substances
Myth 1: Marijuana Is Effective in Treating Common Health Issues
Currently, marijuana is used medicinally to treat many health issues but more commonly HIV, glaucoma, pain, and epilepsy. The FDA has not approved the plant as medicine, though two drugs containing delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, are approved to treat nausea caused by chemotherapy and increase appetite in patients with extreme weight loss caused by AIDS.
While marijuana has effectively treated a handful of ailments, like decreasing inner ocular pressure for glaucoma patients, more often than not there is little scientific evidence that it’s a successful treatment option.
For example, marijuana has gained a great deal of media attention as an epilepsy treatment, despite little scientific proof that it’s a viable treatment. In fact, research presented by the American Epilepsy Society shows that only one-third of patients reported a seizure reduction of 50 percent or more, and there was no improvement according to the EEGs. In a troubling trend, adverse effects occurred in 47% of patients, along with increased seizures or new seizures in 21%.
Myth 2: Marijuana Use Doesn’t Negatively Impact Public Health & Safety
The legalization of marijuana in states like Colorado and Washington has shown that an increase in marijuana use can have a negative impact on public health and safety.
Both states have experienced increases in marijuana use and teen treatment admissions. There has also been a spike in marijuana-related DUI cases, marijuana-related poisonings and ultimately, though not surprising, an increase in crime.
Driving under the influence of marijuana is extremely dangerous and one of the more overlooked aspects of the drug. Marijuana is the most common illicit drug found in the blood of drivers involved in accidents, including fatal accidents.
Drivers under the influence of marijuana are three to seven times more likely to be responsible for an accident than drivers who had not used drugs or alcohol.
Myth 3: Marijuana Addiction Isn’t As Severe As Other Substance Use Disorders
Addiction to marijuana is similar to other substance use disorders. While marijuana may not be as addictive as cocaine, heroin or alcohol, it does not necessarily mean that marijuana dependence is easier to overcome. Many factors, including availability, frequency and pattern of use, perception of harm, and cost can contribute to cessation outcomes and the strength of addiction. People with marijuana use disorders, especially adolescents, often suffer with other co-occurring disorders. They may also be using or addicted to other substances.
In addition to being strongly associated with other substance use and mental health disorders, many people with a severe case of marijuana use disorder experience significant mental disability. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, studies have shown marijuana use increases risk for mental health issues like schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression. An increased risk in schizophrenia is associated in people with genetic vulnerability and it’s often reported with co-occurring disorders. These disabilities often persist even after remission of this use disorder.
Other potential impacts of long-term marijuana use include impairments in learning and memory with potential loss of IQ and an increase risk of chronic cough and bronchitis.
As marijuana use continues to be up for popular debate, it becomes increasingly important for drug treatment and court professionals to vocalize the real impacts marijuana use has on communities. Not only can marijuana use disorder damage the quality of life of its users, but it can have detrimental effects on the user's surrounding communities. To stop this serious epidemic from growing out of control, professionals and caregivers must work together to treat afflicted users.
Learn about the legal issues of marijuana. Watch our webinar, Is This What the Doctor Ordered? Medical Marijuana Issues.