Cannabis Use: A New Report

cannabisIf you live in one of the several states which have adopted legislation for medical marijuana, legalized cannabis or both, there is a good chance that you have heard several claims about the drug. While some of what you have heard was likely supported by research, the majority of claims heard about the drug were probably not grounded in science—or what could be considered credible research.

The reality is, there is more that scientists don’t know about the drug, than they do know. And what researchers think they know “now,” is often proved inaccurate by further research. Dizzying, right? This is likely the result of under researching the drug during this country’s lengthy prohibition. Decades of understanding what would have been potentially gained, were lost by 80 years of federal prohibition. Now, with state voters taking a more tolerant approach to the drug, researchers are racing to play catch-up.

It is widely agreed, when it comes to illicit drug use, marijuana is probably the safest comparably. But is it important that we differentiate between “safer” and “safe.” Just because a drug is let say, not likely to lead to an overdose, does not mean that it lacks the potential of negatively impacting your life. It is not uncommon for regular “pot” users to report problems with memory or that they have trouble functioning in certain settings.

Heavy marijuana users are susceptible to withdrawal-type symptoms during sustained abstinence. Those who become dependent on the drug are likely to continue use to avoid such discomfort. If what you have just read sounds like addiction, that is because that is precisely what it is—cannabis use disorder. Of course, marijuana addiction is an extreme example of where regular use can lead. The majority of pot smokers, whose use can be typified as being casual, will probably not find themselves in the grips of addiction down the road. That does not mean that there are no other risks to be aware of, findings that could influence one’s choice to use.

Cannabis Research: Making Sense of the Noise

In recent years, there has been much research conducted on both the potential health benefits and health penalties of cannabis use. Both advocates and opponents of the drug will introduce the findings of such research as if it were 100 percent accurate, when it is often not. Which wouldn’t be such a big deal, if the confidence in such research didn’t sway voters; who, in the end, may find they have voted against their best interest.

Making sense of it all so that we can produce informed decisions about the drug can be nerve-racking, to say the least. To make sense of the noise in deciding which research to put stock in, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) sought to shine some light on the subject. The organization analyzed more than 10,700 study abstracts published in peer-reviewed journals since 1999. The conclusion of which, supports what was written above, researchers know little about the effects of marijuana use.

After looking at research, ranging from studies on marijuana's hand in mental health development, treatment of chronic pain and the drug's effect on the lungs—there was little that could be backed by substantial scientific evidence. NASEM writes:

This is a pivotal time in the world of cannabis policy and research. Shifting public sentiment, conflicting and impeded scientific research, and legislative battles have fueled the debate about what, if any, harms or benefits can be attributed to the use of cannabis or its derivatives. This report provides a broad set of evidence-based research conclusions on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids and puts forth recommendations to help advance the research field and better inform public health decisions.”


The report on the review of the abstracts indicated:

  • Twelve of the conclusions are supported by conclusive or substantial evidence.
  • Twenty-five are supported by moderate evidence.
  • Twenty-seven are supported by limited evidence.
  • Another 27 conclusions no or insufficient evidence.


Problem Cannabis Use

As for substance abuse, or problem cannabis use as it is often called, there is science that users should be aware. The was substantial evidence that cannabis use at an earlier age, being male and smoking cigarettes are risk factors for the development of problem cannabis use. There is substantial evidence of a statistical association between increases in cannabis use frequency and the progression to developing problem cannabis use. There is moderate evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and the development of substance dependence and/or substance abuse disorder for substances including:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Other Illicit Drugs


Moving forward…

A review of research abstracts often resets the starting line for new research. This type of review is a much needed resource for scientists, as they set parameters for new studies. It is also a useful resource for addiction experts in the field of medicine and clinical therapy. NBC Nightly News’ Harry Smith presented a good overview of this study, you can see it here.

If you or a loved one are seeking treatment for marijuana addiction please reach out to our California drug abuse rehab today.

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