A recent lecture hosted by the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) brought medical experts together to discuss the opiate epidemic currently taking place across the United States. Among other topics, one discussion that received a lot of attention was the question of whether or not marijuana use can be considered a potential gateway to opioid addiction.
Participants in this lectureship included Dr. Kevin Gray, MD (professor and director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at MUSC); Dr. Arthur Robin Williams, MD (professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University) and Jacob Sullum (political columnist with Creators Syndicate and Reason magazine).
When questioning whether or not marijuana usage can be considered a possible pathway to further addiction issues, the one thing all experts seem to agree on is that we simply don’t know yet. More research is necessary to answer this question, but ethical concerns limit the quality of the research that can be conducted.
In order to directly observe a relationship between marijuana use and opioid addiction and account for other variables, researchers would have to purposefully expose randomized adolescents to marijuana continuously over a long period of time. This obviously poses a major ethical dilemma and this type of study is unlikely to ever actually be conducted.
Despite the limitations of further research, there are some studies currently underway that circumvents these ethical concerns. The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study by the National Institute of Health is a prime example. It is the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the US and involves 21 participating institutions, including MUSC.
The study follows participating adolescents in order to find correlations between childhood experiences and their biological and behavioral development. In the case of the marijuana gateway question, studies like this may be able to detect correlations that may indicate a relationship between marijuana use and future addiction issues. Though ultimately, even a correlation cannot be considered a definitive answer.
Experts at the MUSC lecture note that the issue is a very complex one. Even a direct correlation will not account for the many other potential variables that can influence the development of opioid addiction issues in any individual. Factors like family history, trauma and accessibility can also play a huge role in the development of addiction. The only answer so far as to what causes addiction is really that there is no answer. In the meantime, the opioid addiction epidemic rages on, regardless of questions asked or answered.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction issues, give us a call at 864-582-7588. At the Forrester Center for Behavioral Health, we’re here to answer all your questions and provide support, treatment and prevention resources. And because we don’t want finances to be a barrier to effective treatment, be sure to ask about our financial assistance program as well.