NIH: Nearly 6 Million Americans Suffer From ‘Marijuana Use Disorder’

By Barbara Hollingsworth | March 11, 2016 | 2:40pm EST
Pot shop in Colorado, where it is legal to purchase recreational marijuana. (AP photo)

( – Nearly six million Americans - or 2.5 percent of adults in the U.S. - suffer from “marijuana use disorder”, according to a new study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

The study was released as a record number of ballot proposals to either legalize or decriminalize marijuana have been proposed in 16 states this year, according to BallotPedia.

“Marijuana use disorder is common in the United States, is often associated with other substance use disorders, behavioral problems, and disability, and goes largely untreated,” according to NIAAA, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The findings from NIAAA’s National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) study were published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Dr. Bridget Grant and eight co-authors interviewed 36,309 participants over the age of 18 about their use of drugs and alcohol and “related psychiatric conditions” over a 12-month period between 2012 and 2013.

“In keeping with previous findings, the new study found that past-year and lifetime marijuana use disorders were strongly and consistently associated with other substance use and mental health disorders.”

Researchers found that the 6.3 percent of the study participants who smoked pot an average of 274 days per year had “lifetime diagnoses” of marijuana use disorder, which “was associated with other substance use disorders, affective disorders, anxiety, and personality disorders.”

“To be diagnosed with the disorder, individuals must meet at least two of 11 symptoms [listed in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] that assess craving, withdrawal, lack of control, and negative effects on personal and professional responsibilities,” the study stated.

“Severity of the disorder is rated as mild, moderate, or severe depending on the number of symptoms met.”

“The new analysis complements previous population-level studies by Dr. Grant’s group that show that marijuana use can lead to harmful consequences for individuals and society,” NIAAA director George Koob commented.

Marijuana use disorder is most common in men under the age of 45. “The risk for onset of the disorder was found to peak during late adolescence and among people in their early 20s, with remission occurring within 3 to 4 years,” the study found, noting that mental disabilities “persist even after remission.”

“Findings suggest the need to improve prevention and educate the public, professionals, and policy makers about possible harms associated with cannabis use disorders and available interventions,” the researchers concluded.

Marijuana (cannabis), classified as a Schedule I substance, has “no currently accepted medical use and [has] a high potential for abuse,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Although marijuana has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat any medical condition, the FDA has approved two synthetic cannabinoids – dronabinol and nabilone – which are available to patients in pill form.

Despite legalization in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia, the use and distribution of marijuana is still illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering whether to hear a federal lawsuit filed in 2014 by the States of Nebraska and Oklahoma requesting that the high court throw out Colorado’s Amendment 64, which legalized the use of recreational marijuana. Colorado voters approved the measure in 2012.

The lawsuit argues that “the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system” that has caused “irreparable injury” to its two neighboring states.

Related: Drug Traffickers Seek Safe Haven Amid Legal Marijuana

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