Young adults who consume marijuana often enough to have increased risks for marijuana/cannabis addiction may also have increased risks for developing a physical condition called cardiometabolic disease, researchers from two American universities report.
Although many people view marijuana/cannabis use as harmless or nearly harmless, intake of this plant-based drug actually produces addiction in substantial numbers of users, especially people who maintain a daily or near-daily level of intake.
In a study published in January 2015 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from the University of Miami and the University of Florida assessed the potential link between any given young adult’s level of marijuana consumption and his or her chances of developing the group of health concerns known collectively as cardiometabolic disease.
Marijuana Consumption And Addiction
Like the vast majority of mind-altering substances, marijuana/cannabis produces chemical changes in a part of the brain known informally as the pleasure center, thereby triggering an unusually pleasurable state called euphoria. In addition, like repeated exposure to the vast majority of mind-altering substances, repeated exposure to marijuana/cannabis can alter the environment inside the pleasure center and lead to lasting changes in the ways this part of the brain releases and responds to a critical chemical called dopamine.
The eventual outcome of this process is the onset of a state known as physical dependence. A physically dependent marijuana/cannabis consumer develops a diagnosable cannabis addiction when he or she develops symptoms such as a loss of control over intake of the drug, recurring use of the drug in obviously dangerous circumstances, recurring urges to consume additional amounts of the drug and development of withdrawal-related problems when cannabis intake fails to at least meet the brain’s established expectations.
The overall rate of addiction in American marijuana consumers (apart from any considerations of factors such as age and level of intake) is roughly 9 percent, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports. Two groups of consumers—habitual users and teenagers—have addiction rates substantially higher than this baseline level. While teens have a marijuana addiction rate of about 17 percent, habitual users have addiction rates that may reach as high as 50 percent.
Cardiometabolic disease is also known as metabolic syndrome. Doctors use both of these terms to describe a collection of risk factors that substantially increase your chances of developing serious cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) health problems and/or the blood sugar disorder type 2 diabetes. Potential indicators of cardiometabolic disease include carrying excessive amounts of weight in your abdominal region (i.e. having abdominal obesity), having high blood pressure during the resting or active phase of your heartbeat, having unusually low levels of protective HDL cholesterol, having elevated blood sugar levels between meals and having unusually high levels of a bloodborne fat called triglyceride. Doctors typically make a diagnosis in people affected by at least three of these five issues.
Young Adults, Marijuana And Cardiometabolic Problems
In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers used data gathered from 5,674 participants in a project called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to gauge the strength of the connection between marijuana use and cardiometabolic disease in young adults. All of these participants, who enrolled in the project at some point between 2005 and 2010, were between the ages of 20 and 30.
The researchers categorized each individual’s monthly level of involvement in marijuana use as non-existent, light (consuming the drug one to three days per month), moderate or regular (consuming the drug four to 14 days per month) or heavy (consuming the drug at least 15 days per month). In addition, they used standard screening procedures to look for the presence of cardiometabolic disease.
The researchers concluded that 36.5 percent of the study participants identified as heavy marijuana consumers met the criteria used to diagnose cardiometabolic disease or metabolic syndrome. A slightly lower percentage of participants identified as moderate or regular consumers of the drug (34.9 percent) also met these criteria. In contrast, just 22 percent of the study participants with no history of marijuana use had enough symptoms to qualify for a cardiometabolic disease diagnosis.
The study’s authors concluded that, among young adults, marijuana use appears to have a “dose-dependent” effect on the odds of developing cardiometabolic health problems. Essentially, this means that young adults heavily involved in marijuana intake have substantially higher risks for such problems than young adults with little or no involvement in marijuana intake.
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