20 Years of Marijuana Research: What Did We Learn?

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

A new study, published in the journal Addiction, tells a story of 20 years of marijuana research that some people might not want to hear.

Since marijuana legalization and decriminalization efforts have ramped up over the last few years, researchers have closely monitored the acute and chronic effects of both short- and long-term use. The research is clear on one point: marijuana does have adverse effects on the body and brain after regular and sustained use. However, the report stops short of declaring anything else for certain, because marijuana affects people differently depending on the rest of their unique chemical makeup.

Marijuana’s Impact

So let’s break it down. The acute effects of marijuana – paranoia, anxiety, cognitive impairment and even psychosis – have risen in the last 20 years and researchers say that spike is probably due to coinciding increases in the THC levels of marijuana. Let’s face it, modern marijuana is much more potent than it was two decades ago.

As for the social impact, there is also a corresponding uptick in car crashes while high on marijuana and low birth weights for mothers who use marijuana during their pregnancies. But, as the study notes, no one has ever died from a “natural” marijuana overdose.

Chronic Effects

When it comes to some of the chronic effects of marijuana use, the story shifts. Yes, marijuana can be addictive – for some people. The report indicates somewhere around 10 percent of all daily marijuana users becomes dependent on the drug. And the younger the user, the percentage increases.

While the study affirmed that marijuana does cause changes in the brain’s hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex, there is no indication of how long those changes last or if the changes stop when a person stops using marijuana.
The report indicates somewhere around 10 percent of all daily marijuana users becomes dependent on the drug.

Teenagers and the Gateway Argument

The idea of marijuana as a gateway drug? Probably true, according to the research. Teenagers smoking pot do tend to move on to other drugs, but as the study points out, it is unknown whether this is a causal link.

Will researchers ever know for sure? That’s a question only time can answer. For the time being, however, the experts can only suggest we increase public awareness about the often-serious effects of chronic marijuana use and include safety precautions with legalization efforts.

Learn more about treatment options for marijuana abuse and treatment.
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