U.S. Government Receives $3 Million Grant To Research Marijuana Addiction Treatments

By McCarton Ackerman 07/02/15

Some feel that the resources might be better spent on other substance abuse problems.

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A multi-million dollar grant awarded last week to the federal government could be the catalyst for a breakthrough in the treatment of marijuana addiction.

The National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse will award $3 million to fund three separate projects that look to create medications to help stop marijuana abuse. Despite an estimated 4.2 million cannabis addicts across the U.S., there are no medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat pot addiction.

Although allotting funds to address the dangers of pot use seems contradictory to the Obama administration’s attempts to reduce pot law punishments, others believe that they go hand-in-hand.

“The public discourse has shifted in recent years to only want to talk about the benefits of marijuana. But addiction is the huge elephant in the room that many lawmakers want to sweep under the carpet,” said Kevin Sabet, who served in the Obama administration as senior adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. “The problem is huge and, as marijuana becomes more legal, we’re going to be seeing it more often.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported in their funding announcement that marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance in the U.S., with approximately 2.4 million people trying it for the first time last year.

Dr. Stuart Gitlow, former president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, believes that 15-20% of teenagers and 10% of adults who try marijuana will eventually become addicted to it. A study published last year in the Journal of Addiction Medicine found that habitual pot smokers did display symptoms of physical dependence and withdrawal.

But perhaps because of public stigma towards the authenticity of marijuana addiction, most addicts don’t seek treatment. Despite more than four million estimated pot abusers, only 340,212 entered substance abuse clinics to receive treatment in 2010.

The National Academy of Sciences Institute also wrote in a recent report that pot is still less addictive than alcohol or nicotine. Marijuana legalization advocates believes the grant money would be better served addressing addiction treatments for substances with higher rates of abuse.

“I’m [not] saying that marijuana is not addictive ... [but] if we have limited resources, we should be careful in how we’re spending them,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman with the Marijuana Policy Project. “Perhaps we should be funding solutions to other substance abuse problems instead.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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