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The Analysis of the Studies on Cannabis Dependence

Marijuana accounts for a significant fraction of illicit drugs used worldwide. The addictive qualities of cannabis are often debated and compared to the similar effects of nicotine and alcohol. This topic has received a significant amount of attention recently, as many states consider legalizing the recreational use of the drug. Hence, the importance of the research on the addictive qualities of marijuana can not be underestimated, as it should play a pivotal role in the decision-making process.

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The resources used in preparation for this paper include the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Numerous peer-reviewed scholarly articles and reports available in online libraries were analyzed to gain information on the topic. The first selected study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the New York State Psychiatric Institute (Lopez-Quintero et al., 2010). The second study was funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (Swift et al., 2008). In both cases, funding bodies did not participate in the studies or analysis of the results.

In the first study, researchers aimed to establish the connection between substance use and dependence using the survey data collected by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The analysis was based on the answers of 34,653 adults identified as life-time users of at least one of the following substances – alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, or cannabis (Lopez-Quintero et al., 2010). The data was adjusted to avoid disparities in representation of different social groups based on sex, ethnicity, age, and so forth (Lopez-Quintero et al., 2010). Participants were asked when they tried the substance for the first time to determine the use onset (Lopez-Quintero et al., 2010). The substance use disorder (SUD) diagnosis was was determined by the criteria set by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in DSM-IV (Lopez-Quintero et al., 2010). To establish whether the respondents had SUD, researchers asked them how often they experienced specific symptoms (Lopez-Quintero et al., 2010). The responses showed that the percentage of addicted individuals varied significantly between different substances.

The study results largely reconfirmed earlier research on the topic, which indicated that marijuana users could develop an addiction. However, the probability was relatively low compared to nicotine or alcohol users. The statistics showed that less than 9% of marijuana users would develop addiction over the course of their lives (Lopez-Quintero et al., 2010). Among social groups, younger individuals, males, and American Indians/Alaskan Natives were more prone to becoming dependent on the drug (Lopez-Quintero et al., 2010). The study is based on a large-scale survey that provided sufficient data for all social groups. However, a few serious limitations associated with this method exist. The accuracy of the data largely depends on the respondents’ conscientiousness and can not be measured objectively. Moreover, the survey lacks information on the changes in participants’ income, which could significantly alter the interpretation of the differences between social groups.

The goal of the second study was to determine whether the early exposure of adolescents to marijuana leads to cannabis dependency in young adults. The researchers selected 2032 students from the mid-secondary schools in Victoria, Australia, in 1992 and tracked their progress for ten years, during which they were supposed to participate in eight interviews (Swift et al., 2008). The researchers considered additional factors in sampling, such as sex, school location, parental divorce, parents’ smoking habits and level of education (Swift et al., 2008). The teenagers were asked when they tried marijuana for the first time, and they had to report the frequency of use (Swift et al., 2008). Only 1520 participants took part in the last, eighth wave of reviews in 2001-2003 (Swift et al., 2008). To establish whether the young adults who participated in the last wave of interviews had SUD, the researchers used DSM-IV criteria (Swift et al., 2008). The respondents’ answers helped to establish a connection between adolescent use of cannabis and addiction rates among the young adult population.

The findings of the study are consistent with the previous research, which established that early and frequent exposure to cannabis among teenagers increases the risk of dependence later in life. The results indicated that the respondents who used tried cannabis early or used it regularly in adolescence had a significantly higher chance of developing an addiction by the age of 24 (Swift et al., 2008). Similar to the first study, male gender was identified as one of the additional risk factors (Swift et al., 2008). Frequent interviews and high participation are mentioned among the strengths of the study (Swift et al., 2008). However, the accuracy of the data gained through the self-reporting procedure can be considered a limitation.

Overall, the research proves that marijuana users can develop a dependence, even though it is less addictive than nicotine or alcohol. The review of both studies has shown that long-term exposure to cannabinoids can lead to SUD. Reviewed articles were published within the last 15 years, and they maintain their relevance today, as both studies are often cited in the latest volumes of academic journals. The results of the second research project show that the growing number of marijuana users among teenagers will likely cause a significant increase in SUD diagnoses in the next decade. Further research is needed to bring attention to this issue and explore possible prevention measures.

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Lopez-Quintero, C., de los Cobos, J. P., Hasin, D. S., Okuda, M., Wang, S., Grant, B. F., & Blanco, C. (2011). Probability and predictors of transition from first use to dependence on nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine: Results of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 115(1-2), 120-130. Web.

Swift, W., Coffey, C., Carlin, J. B., Degenhardt, L., & Patton, G. C. (2008). Adolescent cannabis users at 24 years: Trajectories to regular weekly use and dependence in young adulthood. Addiction, 103(8), 1361-1370. Web.

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