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By Robert G. Bell

Robert G. BellI have found during my years of drug development that products whose side effects include euphoria tend to be abused. Marijuana, like alcohol and opiates, is addictive. Drug dependence is the body’s physical need (addiction) for a specific drug, and there is little difference between dependency and addiction. Drug abuse is the overwhelming desire to use increasing amounts of a particular drug substance or substances to the exclusion of other activities and interferes with many aspects of the substance abuser’s life.

Approximately one in 10 people who have tried marijuana at least once in their lifetimes will become dependent on the drug. The debate still continues on whether marijuana should be considered a “gateway” drug, meaning the use of marijuana can lead to the future use of harder drugs (e.g., narcotics, cocaine). However, as with other abusable substances, marijuana has the capability to wreak havoc on the susceptible user’s life, as well as their family and society. At this time, although it is not possible to identify populations that may be susceptible to marijuana addiction, there may be biomarkers that reflect the potential for addiction.

As we have discussed in previous posts, the early use of drugs (and alcohol) interfere with brain development and increases the chances of developing a drug addiction. So the key is prevention and making drug experimentation among our youth an unattractive choice. I know, easier said than done. Years ago when caught smoking cigarettes, some parents chose to have the youthful offenders smoke cigarettes until they got memorably sick, which usually instilled a negative association with smoking cigarettes (thanks, Mom). This typically does not occur by vaporizing or combusting marijuana (“greening out” occurs), but a sick feeling can be experienced by ingesting too much edible cannabis (e.g., marijuana brownies or marijuana candy bars). Regardless, educating children in middle school as to the abuse potential of alcohol and drugs, including both medicinal and recreational marijuana, should continue to be reinforced, as well as developing new educational drug and alcohol prevention programs.

For those who are experiencing marijuana dependency, functional or not, there is assistance out there to break marijuana dependency should you decide to seek help. Marijuana dependency (or addiction) is similar to other substance abuse dependency such as alcohol and opiates. Unfortunately there is no one size fits all treatment that is appropriate for everyone, but counseling and having people help you though the difficult times plays a big part in recovery. Addiction is very complex, and usually medical and behavioral therapy is required to address the lifecycle of this disease. Effective treatment includes detoxification, addressing withdrawal, and preventing relapse. Sadly, many drug abusers find another, much less desirable treatment paradigm in the criminal justice system.

You thought we were done? Stay tuned, there’s still a lot more to come.

Robert G. Bell, Ph.D., is president and owner of Drug and Biotechnology Development LLC, a consultancy to the pharmaceutical industry and academia for biological, drug, and device development.