Marijuana users are more prone to substance abuse, but not more susceptible to anxiety and mood disorders such as depression or bipolar affective disorder, a recent study has revealed.
The findings were presented in the journal JAMA Psychiatry on Wednesday, February 17, following research led by Dr. Mark Olfson, professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center.
Olfson and his colleagues reviewed medical data pertaining to 34,653 U.S. adults that had participated in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, between 2001 and 2002.
The subjects’ physical and mental health was tracked for a period of 3 years, and an extensive analysis was carried out between March 15 and November 30, 2015, in order to determine how marijuana use would correlate with substance abuse and psychological disorders.
After taking into account each individual’s prior mental problems, family history and various socio-demographic variables (employment status, family environment, education, marital status etc.) it was discovered that the 1,279 study participants who had smoked pot were much more likely to develop an addiction to alcohol or narcotics than their counterparts who had never used this psychoactive drug.
More precisely, approximately two-thirds of those who resorted to cannabis were eventually diagnosed with substance abuse disorder, in contrast with just a fifth of those who hadn’t turned to this drug in advance.
The highest incidence of alcohol, cigarette and drug dependence (70.5%) was encountered among regular marijuana users, who had smoked pot at least once per month.
By and large, those who needed marijuana for recreational or medical purposes were about twice more liable to becoming addicted to cigarettes, 2.7 times more prone to suffering from alcoholism, 6.2 times more exposed to the risk of abusing other narcotics and 9.5 times more vulnerable to using cannabis compulsively.
On the other hand, study authors didn’t identify a similar connection between marijuana and anxiety, depression, seasonal affective disorder or bipolar disorder, participants being equally susceptible to such psychological problems regardless of their propensity for pot or lack thereof.
Schizophrenia risk among hardcore marijuana users, which has previously been suggested by other studies, wasn’t investigated thoroughly enough this time, given the fact that the condition remains extremely uncommon, in contrast with other psychiatric problems.
As study authors point out, as more people have been turning to smoking pot in recent years, the number of those being tempted into using heroin, powerful prescription drugs and other dangerous opioids has also grown significantly.
While the findings don’t reveal a clear causal relationship between marijuana and substance abuse, they do support a widely circulated theory, which purports that cannabis may be a gateway drug, that makes people more likely to turn to more powerful narcotics.
However, this hypothesis has been vehemently rejected by Mitch Earleywine, psychology professor at the State University of New York at Albany, and vocal supporter for marijuana legalization.
Earleywine has explained that despite his experience spanning across 4 decades, he has never encountered conclusive evidence that marijuana users are more likely to develop harmful addictions, to alcohol, nicotine or other drugs.
Instead, cannabinoids found in the Cannabis plant have been proven beneficial when it comes to treating glaucoma, combating epileptic seizures, preventing cancer metastasis, decelerating the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, boosting lung capacity, diminishing symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease, alleviating pain and curbing anxiety.
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