The Problem With Measuring Cannabis Dependency And Addiction

“There’s A Lot We Still Don’t Know”: Researcher Explores Cannabis Dependency

The medical community has been raving about cannabis for a long time, using it to treat things like pain from chronic illnesses and nausea from chemotherapy. But some older adults fear they’ll develop an addiction to marijuana.

To help better understand the effect of cannabis on the brain, Forbes spoke to Dr. Staci Gruber, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School about cannabis use disorder and the stigma against medical marijuana.

Dr. Gruber is an important voice to turn to, as she heads the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery program at McLean Hospital, where her team studies medical marijuana and its long-term effects on the brain.

In their conversation, Dr. Gruber talks about cannabis use disorder, which can exist in two ways. There’s cannabis dependency, which means the user feels withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug; then there’s addiction, indicating that the person cannot stop using the drug even if it interferes with their life.

These are difficult aspects to measure, but is there a way?

“We don’t have a good metric for assessing cannabis use disorders among medical cannabis patients,” explains Dr. Gruber.

Take the CUDIT – or Cannabis Use Disorder Identification Test, for example. This numbered scale can indicate the level at which you depend on cannabis. A score of 8 or more indicates hazardous cannabis use, but daily cannabis use immediately puts the user at a score of 4.

“[CUDIT is] clearly not intended for use in a medical cohort where patients often take their medications daily,” Dr. Gruber says.

Since older patients tend to use more drugs and prescriptions for their health, the combination of cannabis and those drugs can also complicate the perception of dependency.

So, what has Gruber’s team found?

“We use different metrics to look at cannabis use patterns and how they change over time. So far, we don’t really see anything particularly worthy of concern with regard to problematic use patterns, for example, if after three months of use, they start using ten times a day and begin having difficulty functioning.”

Gruber indicates that some patients are experiencing lifestyle improvements: better sleep, better moods, and a stronger ability to focus, just to name a few. But to understand the impact of medical marijuana more clearly, the world of medical science will need a stronger way to evaluate the dependency of marijuana on its users.

“There’s a lot we still don’t know, and we need more data. I think when you talk about cannabis as if it’s all one thing and all the same, and people are using all the same products in all the same ways for all the same reasons, you’re likely to get data that doesn’t necessarily pan out when you then try to distill the differences between the impact of cannabis use in recreational consumers compared to medical patients.”

Read more at Forbes.