Cannabis Use and Addiction: New Study

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cannabis useCannabis use can result in the development of an addiction and have many adverse effects on a person’s life. While the drug probably does not require strict prohibition, it’s paramount that safeguards are in place to prevent and address abuse.

There is a significant body of evidence indicating that the drug can affect cognitive function, especially with young people. Those who struggle with “weed” often experience poor school or work performance, and psychiatric comorbidity such as mood disorders.

Current data shows that 22.2 million people have used the drug in the past month. After alcohol, cannabis is the most commonly used mind-altering substance—illicit or otherwise. In states that permit legal use, researchers are still compiling data to better understand the pros and cons of legalization.

The question as to whether marijuana should be legal or illegal will continue to be hotly debated for decades to come. Most policymakers and public health experts agree that prohibition was a failure. However, since researching the drug was a monumental challenge for decades, there is plenty that scientists don’t understand about the substance.

What is clear is that not everyone who smokes “pot” or eats THC-infused edibles develops a problem. Available data shows that cannabis use disorder develops in approximately 10 percent of regular cannabis users. New research aims to understand why.

Habitual Cannabis Use and Addiction

A new study appearing in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging takes a close look at long-term cannabis use. The primary focus of the research is to answer two questions:

  • How does the brain become dependent on cannabis use?
  • Why some long-term regular users do not become addicted?

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China and the University of Bonn, Germany. They found that individual differences in brain systems explain why some people develop cannabis use disorder, whereas others do not.

Compared to people who didn’t use the drug, both dependent and non-dependent users had exaggerated responses in the ventral striatum. This region of the brain is associated with reward processing.

“The identification of the dorsal striatum and habitual behavior as a driver of addiction may allow the development of more specific treatment approaches to increase treatment success,” said first author Xinqi Zhou.

Interestingly, dependent participants were found to have more significant responses in the dorsal striatum—a brain region that plays a role in habit formation. Moreover, brain imaging shows that dependent users had increased responses in areas that attach value to objects (e.g., drug cues).

“The present findings reflect that heavy cannabis use is promoted by changes in the brain’s reward system–however, these changes alone may not fully explain addictive use. Addictive use may rather be driven by changes in brain systems that promote habitual–automatic–use, which also may explain the fact that addicts continue use despite a lack of experiencing rewarding effects of the drug. As such, their behavior has become under the control of the drug cues, rather than the actual reward expectation,” said lead author Benjamin Becker, Ph.D.

Colorado Cannabis Use Disorder Treatment

Please reach out to NorthStar Transitions if you are one of the millions of Americans whose life is negatively impacted by cannabis use. At NST, our trained clinical staff rely on evidence-based therapies to break the cycle of addiction. We equip clients with the tools to take steps toward leading a productive and fulfilling life in long-term recovery. 303-558-6400

If you are considering treatment for yourself or a loved one, then you will be pleased to know we are in-network with many providers. We invite you to fill out our insurance verification form to learn more about your coverage.