Cannabis legalization is sweeping the nation. More people are using it for medical and recreational purposes. It brings its share of benefits and downsides. Among its disadvantages is the possibility of cannabis use disorder.

A recent study showed that cannabis use disorder is on the rise in the legal state of Washington. But it is also increasing in other legal states. It can even occur in people who use medical marijuana.

What is Cannabis Use Disorder?

A person may be diagnosed with cannabis use disorder (CUD) if they have two or more of the following symptoms:

Currently, there are no treatment centers that treat CUD. However, addiction has negative consequences. It can lead to mental disorders, cognitive issues, violent behavior, and self-harm. People with CUD may require medical care and hospitalization.

Cannabis Use Disorder in Washington State

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, reviewed data collected from nearly 110,000 patients of Washington State’s Kaiser Permanente integrated health system. They were asked about their attitudes towards marijuana and their weed use in the past year. Only those who reported using cannabis in the past 30 days, or 1,500 people, were included in the study.

The survey focused on how often people use weed and for what purposes.

“The authors show that 38.8% of medical marijuana users, 25.2% of non-medical marijuana users, and 56.1% of mixed medical/non-medical cannabis users consume the substance daily or almost daily,” said Dr. Alexandre Dumais, University of Montreal associate clinical professor of psychiatry, who was not involved in the study.

“Moreover, 39.7% of mixed users consume more than 3 times per day,” he went on to say.

The study also noted that people who used cannabis for non-medical purposes were more likely to develop CUD. This study is one of the only ones that made an evaluation based on marijuana prevalence and the severity of addiction.

The study also revealed that people who used weed for both medical and recreational purposes are likely to develop a more severe cannabis use disorder. Researchers also noted that many people will forget about their weed use or may be reluctant to report it. Therefore, the prevalence of CUD found in the study is likely underestimated.

Cannabis Use Disorder in Other Places with Legal Weed

A beautiful young woman is sitting on the sofa by the window on a cold winter day.

Increasing cases of cannabis use disorder are not specific to Washington state. They are happening all over the country and all over the world.

CUD has been on the rise in Germany, New Zealand, Australia, France, and the Netherlands. 2020 research showed that 22% of users in those countries, along with the U.S., would develop cannabis use disorder in their lifetimes with a 33% increased risk for younger people who use weed weekly or daily.

A 2021 study showed CUD increased from 17.7% to 24.3% in Canada after weed was legalized.

Expert Feedback

Some experts in the field have weighed in on the importance of the study.

“The main take-home message of our study is that cannabis use disorder is common among primary care patients in a state with legal cannabis use,” said Gwen Lapham, lead study author and assistant professor at Kaiser Permanente Bernard Tyson School of Medicine.

“The study reports some unique, badly needed data on cannabis use in the post-legalization period, specifically, what is the extent and nature of problematic, concerning cannabis use in the general population,” said Nicholas Vozoris, assistant professor and clinician investigator in the division of nephrology at the University of Toronto department of medicine, who was not involved in the study.

Beth Cohen, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and co-director of UCSF’s program in residency investigation methods and epidemiology, who was also not involved in the study, weighed in on its findings.

“As cannabis becomes increasingly legal and available, it’s important that we acknowledge the potential harms so that people can make informed use decisions,” she said.

“Though many people can use cannabis without becoming addicted, the rates of CUD seen in this and other studies highlight a need for a better understanding of who is at greatest risk of CUD as well as better education for the public and healthcare providers on how to treat it.”

Is Marijuana Addictive?

There has been much debate about marijuana being addictive. However recent studies show a tendency for addiction.

Marijuana is not as addictive as some drugs. 2020 statistics showed that approximately 14.2 million people 12 and over met the criteria for drug addiction. It is estimated that 1 in 10 people will develop CUD with a higher risk for people who began using cannabis before the age of 18.

Experts believe that marijuana is addictive because it causes physiological changes in the brain when used continually. THC may be the main contributor to addictive tendencies. Studies have shown that it stimulates the reward system of the brain to increase dopamine levels.

This type of rewarding stimuli is often associated with addiction.

Withdrawal is a telltale symptom of cannabis use disorder. When people use marijuana often, their body gets used to having the drug in their system. When the drug is not present, it makes the person feel ‘sick’.

Symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include irritability, shaking, sweating, chills, and insomnia.

The person knows the only way to reduce these symptoms is to take more of the drug. They continue using, hence the ongoing cycle of addiction.

Cannabis use disorder is likely to increase as more states and countries legalize the drug. Hopefully, a solution will come with raised awareness. Until then, use responsibly!