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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia Study Shows Marijuana Use Disorder Is on the Rise Nationally; Few Receive Treatment

The percentage of Americans who reported using marijuana in the past year more than doubled between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013, and the increase in marijuana use disorders during that time was nearly as large, according to a new study in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The research conducted by scientists at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), also showed that 2.5 percent of adults — nearly six million people — experienced marijuana use disorder in the past year, while 6.3 percent had met the diagnostic criteria for the disorder at some point in their lives.

The study also found that marijuana use disorder is often associated with other substance use disorders, behavioral problems, and disability, and goes largely untreated.

The data were collected in the 2012-2013 wave of NIAAA’s National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), the largest ever conducted on the co-occurrence of alcohol use, drug use, and related psychiatric conditions. For this study, over 36,000 U.S. adults were interviewed about alcohol, drug, and related psychiatric conditions. The data showed that marijuana use disorder is about twice as common among men than women, that younger age groups are much more likely to experience the disorder than people age 45 and over, and that those at the lowest income levels were at the highest risk.

This is the first national survey to use the diagnostic criteria from Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). In DSM-5, the old categories of marijuana dependence and abuse are combined into a single disorder. To be diagnosed with the disorder, individuals must meet at least two of 11 symptoms that assess craving, withdrawal, lack of control, and negative effects on personal and professional responsibilities. Severity of the disorder is rated as mild, moderate, or severe depending on the number of symptoms. As the severity of marijuana use disorder increased, so did associated disability levels and frequency of marijuana use.

Dr. Deborah Hasin, lead author and professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and in the department of psychiatry at CUMC, was on the workgroup responsible for making the changes in DSM-5 substance use diagnostic criteria, including marijuana use disorders. In a study published last year, Dr. Hasin reported that three out of 10 marijuana users experienced marijuana abuse or dependence in 2012-13.

“An increasing number of American adults do not perceive marijuana use as harmful,” said Dr. Hasin. “While some can use marijuana without harms, other users do experience negative consequences, which can include mental and physical problems, and impaired functioning. This paper helps provide information on some of those risks.”

The researchers found that only about 7 percent of people with past-year marijuana use disorder receive any marijuana-specific treatment, and only about 14 percent of people with lifetime marijuana use disorder receive treatment.