Cannabis use disorder is on the rise, and few are receiving treatment


The fundamental differences between marijuana use disorder and its use for medicinal, recreational or experimental reasons are:

  • Spending a disproportionate amount of time obtaining or recovering from the substance
  • Forgoing normal activities in lieu of substance use
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as restlessness, disturbed sleep, anxiety, irritability, depression, gastrointestinal issues and decreased appetite

It’s a behavioral health disorder that parents should understand because it’s on the rise, and few are getting treatment, literally leaving an increasing amount of teens stuck in the M.U.D.

The sudden evolution of the marijuana user

 A rise in marijuana abuse could not come at a worse time in history. With cancer at epidemic proportions, the need for “natural” pain management tools has been socially accepted. At the same time, cannabis potency has more than tripled in the last 20 years thanks to scientific advances and genetic modifications to enhance and accelerate its affects.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2014 World Drug Report concludes that changing attitudes on marijuana use has given way to more prevalent access and thus a significant jump in Americans 12 and older using weed.

It’s a perfect storm of a dismantling stigma, acutely refined marijuana recipes and pervasive normalcy of self-proclaimed cannabis aficionados. What used to be ditch weed used by languorous underachievers has become a lifestyle choice of cannabis connoisseurs. If this were the cannabis potency of the 1960s, marijuana use disorder likely would perhaps not be a clinical-level concern. But with hundreds of cannabis variants – marijuana joints, vapor, wine, edible baking ingredients and confections, for example – one can get and stay high all day.

Marijuana use disorder

 The appeal of stronger marijuana is what draws people from occasional use to dependency, and from dependency to life-disrupting cannabis use disorder.

Physiological. Smoking weed poses the same bronchial problems as smoking tobacco. Joints contain carbon monoxide, ash, tar and lesser known noxious fumes. The respiratory tract can be damaged, which leads to coughing, wheezing and narrowed air passages due to smoke, thus hampering lung capacity. The immune system is weakened to respiratory illnesses such as colds, flu, pneumonia and bronchitis.

There are also recent studies demonstrating adolescent pot smokers have lower IQs later on and heavy cannabis users have different brain compositions at a snapshot, compared to nonusers.

Mental. But the risk is not as much medical as it is mental. Marijuana use disorder physiologically leads to higher and higher tolerance, thus needing more to feel its effects. Studies show psychological addiction, however, tend to co-occur with depression, anxiety or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health released a study on marijuana use disorder this past March; the first survey to use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, criteria for the illness.

Frances Levin, M.D., is a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, where the study was carried out in conjunction with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. She says intensive marijuana use might be an individual’s attempt to self-soothe as well as an indicator of a mental health issue.

“Initially they may feel marijuana helps them cope with their psychiatric symptoms, but by the time they seek treatment, marijuana may be making the symptoms worse,” she says.

Treatment slow to catch up

Levin says teens represent around 30 percent of cannabis treatment admissions. Out of the study’s reported 6 million Americans with marijuana use disorder, research revealed only about 7 percent of people with marijuana use disorder nationwide in 2013 got marijuana-specific treatment.

White River Academy has a long track record of working with teens who have a number of different addictions, disorders and life challenges. We keep our dedicated staff as well as students’ loved ones informed on the latest in behavioral health news. WRA provides a safe haven and positive peer culture with our therapeutic residential treatment, to better their lives as they take the path to adulthood. For more information, contact us today.

About the author:

Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting. 

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