Cannabis use disorders (CUDs) have been the focus of much research in recent years. One of the reasons for this is because several states have legalized cannabis use for medicinal purposes. Individuals experiencing chronic pain are often candidates for this type of treatment. Other conditions that have been treated with cannabis are posttraumatic stress (PTSD) and anxiety. Veterans are more vulnerable to these psychological problems than most individuals and therefore, may be at increased risk for CUD. Although some studies have shown negative impacts of CUD, such as dependency, increased anxiety or depression, bronchitis, and even panic, other studies have demonstrated positive effects. In a recent study conducted by Marcel O. Bonn-Miller, CUD use among veterans was analyzed to determine if rates of CUD were increasing.
Bonn-Miller, of the National Center of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Center for Health Care Evaluation at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California examined data from a 7-year study and found that among veterans, the rates of CUD had increased more than 115% from 2002 to 2009. He categorized the veterans into three groups, those with a CUD only, those with alcohol use problems only, and those with other drug issues exclusive of cannabis or alcohol. Although the rates of CUD increased dramatically in the 7-year study, they were still lower than the rates of CUD in the general population.
The results of this study can be interpreted in several ways. First, Bonn-Miller explains that VA efforts to screen individuals for CUD and other addictions have increased dramatically in recent years. This could be one explanation for the sharp increase in CUD diagnoses among veterans. Even though treatment efforts have increased in VA facilities throughout the nation, they have not increased at the same rate as CUDs. Bonn-Miller believes that the social acceptance of cannabis use could cloud veterans’ perception of dependency and thus cause them to refrain from seeking help. He believes recent legalization influenced these results as well. Bonn-Miller added, “Our ﬁndings raise the possibility that legalization of cannabis for medical purposes increases the likelihood of development of CUD among those using cannabis.” Further research is needed to fully understand why treatment rates among veterans are decreasing as substance use diagnoses are increasing.
Bonn-Miller, M. O., Harris, A. H. S., Trafton, J. A. (2012). Prevalence of cannabis use disorder diagnoses among veterans in 2002, 2008, and 2009. Psychological Services. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027622
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