Higher average potency cannabis may increase risk for first disorder symptom

December 17, 2018

AMES, Iowa - Recreational cannabis is legal in 10 states and Washington, D.C., but regulations regarding potency do not exist. The results of a new study, led by an Iowa State University researcher, may prompt states to reconsider.

Higher average potency cannabis at first use increases the risk for the first symptom of cannabis use disorder within a year of use, according to the study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Brooke Arterberry, assistant professor of psychology, says this is a concern given that THC - one of the chemicals that determines potency - has increased significantly, from 3.5 percent in 1994 to 12.3 percent in 2012.

Arterberry and colleagues at the University of Michigan and Brown University found individuals whose first use cannabis at a national average 4.9 percent THC had 1.88 times higher risk for first cannabis use disorder symptom, while those whose first cannabis use was an average 12.3 percent THC were at 4.85 times higher risk. The study is specific to the first symptom and not diagnosis of the disorder, which requires two or more symptoms.

Understanding the relationship between potency and the first symptom may provide opportunity for early intervention and prevention, Arterberry said. Symptoms of the disorder may include craving or strong desire to use cannabis, recurrent use in situations in which it is physically hazardous, or failing to meet obligations at work, home or school because of recurrent use.

"THC has linearly increased over two decades," Arterberry said. "Based on the results, states may want to think about the available potency levels of cannabis products, especially with the changing legal landscape of cannabis."

It is important to note the data - collected through the Michigan Longitudinal Study - is specific to high-risk individuals with a background for any substance use disorder. Arterberry says the results may be different for the general population.

Risk for addiction is just one concern

While there are many similarities between cannabis use and alcohol use disorders, Arterberry says we do not know as much about cannabis as alcohol. For example, alcohol is sold based on volume and there is a specific blood alcohol level for impairment. However, there are no regulations or limits on potency in states where medical or recreational cannabis is legal, Arterberry said, adding that some concentrates have THC levels of up to 80 percent.

With such a range of potency levels available on the market, Arterberry says people may not understand the potential risks associated with high potency products. In addition to the risk of possibly developing symptoms of a cannabis use disorder, there are other potential harms such as increased car crashes due to impairment and emergency room visits.

The problem is researchers do not know what constitutes "safe levels" of THC. Arterberry says until this is established it is difficult to create effective policies. She would like to see future research focus on potency of individual cannabis used, rather than national average potency levels.

"This is the first step toward understanding the influence of potency. While more research is needed, the risk associated with higher potency highlights the need for early intervention and targeted prevention efforts," she said.

Understanding the data

The Michigan Longitudinal Study follows families at elevated risk for substance use disorders. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health, has funded co-author Robert Zucker's work at the University of Michigan Addiction Center since 1987.

The current study used data from in-depth assessments conducted at three-year intervals from ages 12-14 to ages 24-26. The annual assessments from ages 11-26 included questions about cannabis use. Only those participants who started using cannabis between 1994 and 2012 were included in the current study.

Arterberry is also affiliate faculty with the University of Michigan Center for the Study of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking and Health. Hayley Treloar Padovano, Brown University; Katherine Foster, University of Michigan; and Brian Hicks, University of Michigan Addiction Center also contributed to this research.
-end-


Iowa State University

Related Alcohol Articles from Brightsurf:

Alcohol use changed right after COVID-19 lockdown
One in four adults reported a change in alcohol use almost immediately after stay-at-home orders were issued: 14% reported drinking more alcohol and reported higher levels of stress and anxiety than those who did not drink and those whose use stayed the same.

Changes in hospitalizations for alcohol use disorder in US
Changes over nearly two decades in the rate of hospitalizations and in-hospital deaths from alcohol use disorder in the US were examined in this study.

Associations of alcohol consumption, alcohol-induced passing out with risk of dementia
The risk of future dementia associated with overall alcohol consumption and alcohol-induced loss of consciousness in a population of current drinkers was examined in this observational study with more than 131,000 adults.

New alcohol genes uncovered
Do you have what is known as problematic alcohol use?

Does estrogen influence alcohol use disorder?
A new study from researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago shows that high estrogen levels may make alcohol more rewarding to female mice.

Sobering new data on drinking and driving: 15% of US alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities involve alcohol under the legal limit
A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, published by Elsevier, found that motor vehicle crashes involving drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) below the legal limit of 0.08 percent accounted for 15% of alcohol-involved crash deaths in the United States.

Alcohol-induced deaths in US
National vital statistics data from 2000 to 2016 were used to examine how rates of alcohol-induced deaths (defined as those deaths due to alcohol consumption that could be avoided if alcohol weren't involved) have changed in the US and to compare the results by demographic groups including sex, race/ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status and geographic location.

Cuts in alcohol duty linked to 2000 more alcohol-related deaths in England
Government cuts to alcohol taxes have had dramatic consequences for public health, including nearly 2000 more alcohol-related deaths in England since 2012, according to new research from the University of Sheffield's School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR).

Integrated stepped alcohol treatment for people in HIV care improves both HIV & alcohol outcomes
Increasing the intensity of treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) over time improves alcohol-related outcomes among people with HIV, according to new clinical research supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The Lancet:Targets to reduce harmful alcohol use are likely to be missed as global alcohol intake increases
Increasing rates of alcohol use suggest that the world is not on track to achieve targets against harmful alcohol use, according to a study of 189 countries' alcohol intake between 1990-2017 and estimated intake up to 2030, published in The Lancet.

Read More: Alcohol News and Alcohol Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.