The Feds Are Addicted to Pot – Even If You Aren't

Friday, December 18, 2009

Marijuana's addiction potential may be no big deal, but it's certainly big business.

According to a widely publicized 1999 Institute of Medicine report, fewer than 10 percent of those who try cannabis ever meet the clinical criteria for a diagnosis of "drug dependence" (based on DSM-III-R criteria). By contrast, 32 percent of tobacco users and 15 percent of alcohol users meet the criteria for "drug dependence."

Nevertheless, it is pot – not booze or cigarettes – that has the federal government seeing red and clinical investigators seeing green. As I reported for Alternet last year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – which overseas more than 85 percent of the world's research on controlled substances – recently appropriated some $4 million in taxpayers' dollars to establish the nation's first-ever "Center on Cannabis Addiction." It's mission: to "develop novel approaches to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of marijuana addiction."

Of course, what good is a research center if it isn't conducting clinical research? To this end, the U.S. National Institutes of Health recently made millions of dollars in grant funding available "to support research studies that focus on the identification, and preclinical and clinical evaluation, of medications that can be safe and effective for the treatment of cannabis-use and -induced disorders."

According to NIH's request for applications: "Cannabis-related disorders (CRDs), including cannabis abuse or dependence and cannabis induced disorders (e.g., intoxication, delirium, psychotic disorder, and anxiety disorder), are a major public health issue. ... Nearly one million people are seeking treatment for marijuana dependence every year and sufficient research has been carried out to confirm that the use of cannabis can produce serious physical and psychological consequences.

"Currently, there are no medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of CRDs. Given the extent of the use of cannabis in the general population, and the medical and psychological consequences of its use, ... there is a great public health need to develop safe and effective therapeutic interventions. The need to develop treatments targeting adolescents and young adults is particularly relevant in view of their disproportionate use patterns."

Sounds dire, huh? It's meant to. But as usual, the Devil is in the details.

First, there's the issue of the so-called "one million people seeking treatment for marijuana dependence." Or not. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the actual number of persons seeking drug treatment for marijuana "as a primary substance at admission" in 2007 (the most recent year for which data is available) was 287,933. Still a large total to be sure, but even this tally is highly misleading. Think these folks are seeking treatment for pot "dependence?" Think again.

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