The increasing potency of the THC levels in marijuana is being blamed for the rise in addiction to the plant that can now be legally bought and smoked in nine States and Washington, DC.
Public health and medical practitioners say that apart from withdrawal symptoms and increased usage, addiction can also be attributed to the fact the marijuana plants are now being genetically engineered to increase potency levels.
Potency levels are being blamed
A medical practitioner at a free clinic in San Francisco’s drug-ridden Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood does not question the fact that people can become addicted to marijuana but questions why this pattern is on the rise. Dr David Smith believes that the root cause of marijuana addiction can be blamed on the increased potency levels of the plant.Smith points out that THC levels used to average between two to four percent but now potencies have been increased to as much as 20 percent and, in some cases, even 30 percent.
THC levels in concentrates and extracts can range from 40 percent to 80 percent, and the use of these substances has increased steadily over the last five years, states reports by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Some industry spokesmen remain unconvinced
But the chief spokesman for the National Cannabis Industry Association, Morgan Fox, is not convinced that more potent strains of marijuana are responsible for addiction. This allegation has not been substantiated by any scientific studies. Fox says stronger THC weed-content simply meant that less marijuana was needed to achieve the desired end-result. His organization, however, does not dispute the findings that about nine percent of pot-users become addicted.
Both the federal government and the marijuana industry agree that over the last decade the use of marijuana has remained somewhat constant even though it is now commercially available in states throughout the country.
Drug addiction comparisons
Drug addiction in the U.S. is estimated at:
- Marijuana – 9 percent
- Alcohol and cocaine – 15 percent
- Heroin – 24 percent
Unlike alcohol and opioids, there are no known deaths recorded as a result of overdosing on marijuana. However, public health and medical practitioners describe marijuana withdrawal symptoms as similar to opioids and include cravings and psychological dependence.
Using marijuana can lead to dependency
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says using marijuana can lead to dependency or even addiction in more severe cases. Data suggests that about 30 percent of marijuana users suffer from a degree of dependency and that people who start using weed before the age of 18 years are up to seven times more prone to dependency.
The Institute says marijuana withdrawal symptoms include:
- Mood swings
- Sleep disorders
- Decreased appetites
- Physical aches and pains
The director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Nora Volkow, says there are an estimated 2.7 million people nationwide who match the criteria for weed dependence, coming in second to alcohol addiction.
By 2015, an estimated four million people in the U.S. demonstrated marijuana dependency symptoms, while 138,000 volunteered to undergo marijuana addiction treatments.