A new peer-reviewed study has found that cannabis — often referred to as marijuana — is almost as addictive as prescription opioids among teenagers, contradicting widely held beliefs about the drug, which has now been legalized or decriminalized in dozens of states across the country.
The study, published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, a journal operated by the American Medical Association, found that a year after first trying cannabis, 10.7% of individuals ages 12 to 17 met the criteria of addiction. The results were nearly identical to the addiction rate for prescription opioids, which was 11.2%, Bloomberg reported.
The new findings may cause legislators to rethink efforts amid a broad push to liberalize use of the drug under the assumption that it is not particularly addictive or dangerous. New York is reportedly on the verge of becoming the 15th state to fully legalize the drug, according to DISA Global Solutions, while several other states have adopted measures to decriminalize the drug or allow iits use for medicinal purposes.
Nora Volkow, one of the study's authors and the current director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, reportedly characterized the addiction rates as significant, especially given the fact that during the teenage years, human brains are still developing.
"One in 10 teens having a marijuana addiction — that's huge," Volkow said in a phone interview with Bloomberg. She added that marijuana use also gives them a higher chance of becoming addicted to other drugs later.
The study found that the younger the individuals were, generally, the greater the addictive effect the drug had. The addiction rate of cannabis for those ages 18-25 was only 6.4%.
Researchers noted that the findings underscore the need for doctors to ask teenage patients about recreational drug use, a practice that is not always emphasized.
Bloomberg reported that the study was "based on data from 2015 to 2018 collected by national surveys done by an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services."
The news outlet also noted that while marijuana use is restricted to those 21 and over in legal states, its legalization in general may have ties to increased use among younger individuals. That assertion was backed by a survey of marijuana use conducted in Canada in 2019, which found that its use among young people increased after legalization.