Cannabis has become far more potent over the years, and that may explain why the number of people becoming addicted to the drug has soared, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the University of Bath Addiction and Mental Health Group in the United Kingdom used data from 20 studies to analyze the relationship between the types of marijuana people use and their addiction and mental health problems. The studies involved nearly 120,000 people in all.
The team has done past studies on the concentration of THC -- the psychoactive component in cannabis -- so knew that it has increased significantly over time, making today's pot much stronger.
The researchers found that people who use high-potency marijuana are more likely to experience addiction than those using low-potency products. The study also suggests that people using high-potency cannabis are more likely to experience a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia.
“These results are important in the context of harm reduction, which aims to minimize the negative consequences associated with drug use,” said study author Kat Petrilli, from the university's department of psychology. “While the safest level of use for cannabis is of course ‘no use,' it is important to acknowledge that a significant number of people across the world use cannabis regularly and to ensure they can make informed decisions that could reduce any possible harms associated with it.”
This helps to explain why more people have received treatment for cannabis problems over recent years, according to the study. Data from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction showed a 76% increase in people entering treatment for cannabis addiction over the past 10 years.
Marijuana is third only to alcohol and nicotine as the most widely used drugs worldwide.
Public health guidelines and policies to help make pot use safer could inform how the drug is regulated, the authors said.
Although cannabis use is still illegal in the U.K., the authors note that it is legal for recreational use in parts of the United States, Canada and Uruguay. It may also become legal in other parts of the world, including Germany, the authors said.
“Our findings suggest that people who use cannabis could reduce their risk of harm by using lower potency products,” said senior author Dr. Tom Freeman. “In places where cannabis is legally sold, providing consumers with accurate information on product content and access to lower potency products could help people to use cannabis more safely.”
The findings were published July 25 in The Lancet Psychiatry journal.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more on THC.
SOURCE: University of Bath, news release, July 25, 2022