As Pot Smoking Rises, So Do Addiction Concerns

By September 16, 2014 Recent News 4 September 2014
With medical marijuana use now legalized in nearly half the states in the U.S. — and recreational toking allowed in both Colorado and Washington — comes a growing buzz of concern about what more pot smoking might mean for the health of society at large. This week has already brought worry over the possibility of more traffic fatalities, with researchers divided on how the drug may or may not affect one’s driving skills. And now a small but striking study of marijuana’s addictive qualities and teens has been released, on Tuesday: It found that 40 percent of those in an outpatient treatment program for pot use exhibited withdrawal symptoms — a hallmark of drug dependence.

“There’s a lot of misperception out there that marijuana is not addictive,” lead researcher John Kelly, of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Addiction Medicine, told Yahoo Health. “But it produces both a physical and psychological dependence in a similar way to that of other drugs, along with its own characteristic withdrawal symptoms.” The most general hint of addiction tends to be the psychological craving for more, he said, caused by the physical, neurobiological change in the brain as it becomes accustomed to the presence of the drug.

Related: Pot-Smoking Mom Fights to Breastfeed. What Are the Risks?
In the study, which looked at 127 adolescents between the ages of 14 and 19 being treated at an outpatient substance abuse clinic, 90 percent said marijuana was their drug of choice. All were assessed and surveyed — both right away and at 3, 6, and 12 months later — on aspects including whether or not they thought the drug was causing problems in their lives and various psychiatric symptoms. Eighty-four percent met diagnostic criteria for cannabis dependence, with 40 percent reporting withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, depression and difficulty sleeping. Interestingly, Kelly said, of those who experienced withdrawal symptoms, the ones who were unconvinced that any of their problems were related to the drug had the toughest time quitting.

Though the study was a small one and covered ground about marijuana addiction that has been examined before, it’s notable both because of the length of the follow-up period and because the subjects were moderate addicts, requiring just outpatient care. Kelly explained that an impetus for the study, funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and published online in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, was to add information about addiction to the discussion of legalization and its public health impacts.