As the movement to legalize recreational marijuana kicks into high gear, researchers are concerned that it may mean exchanging a crime problem with a public health crisis. Illegal marijuana activists are coming up against strong opposition from those envisioning a profit-driven industry instead of the potential health risks. From a health perspective, the question is, will legalizing marijuana lead to more addiction?
Recently, Dr. David Sack, a practicing addiction psychiatrist and CEO of Elements Behavioral Health, and Stanton Peele, PhD, JD, author of “Love and Addiction” were asked to offer their opinion in regards to the potential consequences of expanded access to marijuana through legalization. According to Dr. Sack, there is a correlation between the widespread use of alcohol and the fact that it is a legal substance that could be applied to the legalization of marijuana. He commented that there is typically a collective denial at the beginning of every drug epidemic. In this case, marijuana advocates want the public to believe that it is not an addictive substance despite all the evidence that supports the fact that it is.
According to Sack, it may come down to legalizing marijuana to avoid making criminals out of citizens or to protect the safety of the population. However, he believes legalized the drug, from a mental health and substance abuse treatment point of view, will result in widespread use and the creation of more addicts.
On the other hand, Dr. Stanton Peele pointed out that while it is difficult to accurately predict at this time what the consequences of legalizing marijuana will be, he believes that the illegal use of the drug offers more opportunity for both legal and social regulations. Referring to a study conducted at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) about gambling that is currently legal in most states, he noted that legalization did not result in increased incidence of gambling addictions. He further suggested that the social context in which a drug is used determines the message of use such and people’s overall image of themselves. He believes that legalization will remove the negative stigma associated with the use of this drug and shift the image of an unlawful citizen to a more responsible one that will be more likely to seek to overcome addiction.
With recreational pot already legal in four states and decriminalized in at least 27 since 2015, it may only be a matter of time before these theories can be tested. Also, according to the 2013 Gallup poll, 58% of Americans already support legalization of recreational use of the drug. Another chilling statistic that is causing parental concern among those who are not in favor of legalizing marijuana is that it is currently the most abused substance by American teenagers and young adults. Legalizing recreational use of marijuana could therefore have serious repercussions for this demographic. According to Dr. Sack, the number of young adults seeking treatment for marijuana dependence has already been increasing.
In reality, the debate of whether or not legalization of recreational use of marijuana will increase addiction will persist, at least until the facts begin to speak for themselves. Until then, advocates to legalize it will continue to promote the drug as a relatively safe substance, and the anti-drug activists will stand by their argument and present facts to substantiate their conviction that addiction problems will increase.
In the meantime, if you are struggling with a dependence or addiction to marijuana, there are drug rehabilitation programs that can help you to safely stop using this drug and alleviate the discomfort caused by withdrawal symptoms.
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