How Does Legalization of Marijuana Affect Substance Abuse?

In states all around the country, marijuana has been a hot topic for a variety of reasons. Many states started legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. Additionally, each state has shown to have quite a bit of economic growth because of it. According to an article from Forbes, the marijuana industry may produce upwards of 250,000 jobs by the year 2020. One of the reasons for this growth by 2020 is that now some states are legalizing the recreational use of marijuana as well.

In July of 2017, Nevada dispensaries opened their doors to the public for recreational use. The lines were enormous when these businesses opened at midnight, and people from all over the world were able to purchase marijuana legally in Las Vegas. The problem is that there is still a debate around this topic, so it’s important to dispel some of the myths about marijuana according to studies and statistics.

Is Marijuana Really a Gateway Drug?

The majority of people who use marijuana don’t go on to use other, harder drugs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has conducted studies on this, and you may be surprised about their findings. The findings show that there are additional risks, but there would need to be many more studies to prove that transitioning form marijuana to other drugs is a big enough problem to be addressed.

What researchers have found is that the early use of marijuana in adolescent mice makes it so the brain doesn’t properly create dopamine. When the brain doesn’t create dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that gives pleasure, the person may look for other ways to create dopamine. One of the main ways people create dopamine is by using other drugs.

Something else that was interesting in these findings is cross-sensitization. What this means is that when someone regularly uses marijuana, their mind has a heightened response to any other drug that’s introduced to the system. While the person may never try another drug, if they do, they have a much higher risk of becoming attached to that drug.

How Does Marijuana Affect Harder Drug Use?

One of the biggest problems with marijuana comes from people who already have an addiction to other drugs but were able to stop. Many people get sober from alcohol or drugs like heroin or cocaine, but they believe they can still use marijuana without a problem. The common justification is, “I never had a problem with marijuana before.” This may be true, but one must realize that the problem isn’t with the substance, the problem is with the person trying to fill a void. One study shows that marijuana use can trigger relapse in those addicted to cocaine after they have some clean time.

Something else that has come up as a topic of conversation is that marijuana may be able to help with other addictions. There are certain areas that are plagued by the opioid epidemic, but they have found that when marijuana was legalized, the mortality rates from opioid overdoses went down drastically. This may be true, but there are many addiction professionals who still debate about this topic because it’s not solving the root problem.