"How does resolving cannabis problems differ from problems with alcohol or other drugs?" That's the title of a national study on "cannabis abuse" that really puts the disorder into perspective. The Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital conducted the study utilizing data from nearly 40,000 U.S. adults who sought help for substance abuse. What did the researchers find?
Individuals who resolved their cannabis abuse did so at younger ages than those who resolved problems with alcohol and other drugs. Likewise, the cannabis smokers were "much less likely" to utilize formal resources like rehab, support groups and other drug-recovery programs. Interestingly, people trying to stop other illicit drugs were nearly 2.5 times more likely to seek professional help than those consuming cannabis, yet the cannabis group was three times more likely to participate in drugs courts than those who resolved alcohol problems. Keep in mind, the country's 3,000+ drug courts often require offenders to utilize formal recovery programs, so the number of cannabis abusers who sought help might've been lower if not for cannabis prohibition.
"We did expect that the cannabis-primary individuals would be less likely than the illicit drug group to use formal treatment; but very little is known about the magnitude or nature of such differences," said Dr. John Kelly, Director of the Recovery Research Institute. "That may be due to fewer physiological and other life consequences compared with the impairments caused by drugs like alcohol or opioids. For example, while there is a documented withdrawal syndrome related to cannabis dependence, withdrawal from opioids or alcohol is notoriously more severe and often requires medically-managed detoxification."
Yes, cannabis withdrawal syndrome is real, and the Recovery Research Institute suggests the problem might get worse as cannabis strains increase their levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) put the syndrome in perspective by describing the symptoms as "mild" and listing them as grouchiness, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety and cravings. Moreover, these mild symptoms tend to "peak within the first week after quitting and last up to two weeks."
On the spectrum of abuse, cannabis is to alcohol and opioids what a BB gun is to an AK-47 assault rifle. The difference is huge. In fact, it's almost as big as the irony that the federal government prohibits cannabis but not AK-47s.
Photo credit: Circuito Fora do Eixo/Flickr.