The recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado has brought about discussion on the potential impact on marijuana addiction.
And, to date, Colorado has experienced many adverse effects associated with recreational use of the drug. While many have argued against the criminalization of marijuana and promoted alleged benefits of use, the reality is, marijuana is an addictive substance. Its potency has increased dramatically from 3 percent THC in the 1990s to nearly 15 percent today. Unfortunately, the legalization of marijuana increases access to the drug while lowering the perception of risk associated with use. The combination of a more potent drug with changing perceptions regarding the safety of use potentially puts many young adults at risk for developing addiction.
Marijuana negatively impacts the brain — especially an adolescents’ brain — by impairing judgment, intelligence and reasoning. With the recent legalization, the number of teens ages 12 to 17 using marijuana has increased substantially. In fact, one in six adolescents will develop an addiction to marijuana. With easier access to the drug, these numbers are expected to increase. Recently, Dr. Christian Thurstone of the University of Colorado-Denver, reported that his clinic has been “inundated with young people reporting for marijuana-addiction treatment…” A coincidence or spiraling trend?
Further, many people in Colorado have required hospital treatment due to potent doses of edible marijuana. Even more alarming, some deaths have been linked to edible marijuana due to the amounts of THC found in edible batches.
And, while criminal cases have decreased, accidents due to marijuana use have increased dramatically. Law enforcement has been faced with dozens of incidents of public smoking, home explosions and car accidents. Traffic fatalities with drivers testing positive for marijuana has reportedly increased by 114 percent.
In January 2014, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States with approximately 29.5 million people reportedly using the substance at least once since 2008. Marijuana was second-only to opiates in the number of admissions to treatment facilities in 2008.
The short-term side effects of marijuana use vary greatly from person to person and largely depend on the amount of THC exposure and the amount used. Marijuana use can cause problems with learning and memory in addition to loss of coordination, difficulty thinking and distorted perception. In some more severe cases, it can cause panic attacks, paranoia and psychosis.
The long-term side effects include respiratory problems similar to cigarette smokers, lung infections and use can increase the risk of developing psychosis. Marijuana addiction also affects an individual’s ability to complete complex tasks, potentially impacting an individual’s life pursuits.
The lowered perceived risk of marijuana abuse has been one of the greatest contributors to increased addiction among teens in the United States. Surveys on high school-aged teens in 2012 indicate that marijuana is highly accessible and easier to acquire than many other illicit substances. This, in combination with changing attitudes and recent legislation, has contributed substantially to the increase in marijuana addiction among young adults and adolescents. Despite sales of marijuana being restricted specifically to individuals age 21 and up, the increased availability in many households has made the drug more accessible to adolescents and young adults who are especially vulnerable to the negative side effects due to their unique developmental stage. The availability of edible marijuana combined with high doses of THC puts many at risk for a variety of consequences that not only negatively impact themselves, but also those around them.