|Toke of the Town|
You may have heard the sarcastic saying that “95% of statistics are made up on the spot”. It is beginning to look like that may be the case for the decades-old study on addiction rates by the National Institute on Drug Abuse(NIDA) that both pro- and anti-cannabis supporters cite when they say that roughly 9% of marijuana users will become addicted.
The same NIDA study, released in a trade journal named Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology in 1994, actually places pot near the bottom of the list, if that 9-10% figure is to be believed. Marijuana advocates can point to the study and show that addiction rates, according to the study, are much higher in substances like heroin (23-25%), cocaine (15-20%), or even tobacco (20-30%) and alcohol (15%), but progressive thinkers on the topic feel that even 9% is way off on weed, and that the number is truly much lower.
So-called expert, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, has used the 9% figure on several occasions, most notably during his media tour and subsequent pro-pot documentary simply titled “WEED” that aired on CNN in August. As a part of that marijuana mea culpa last fall, Dr. Gupta wrote on CNN.com, “We now know that while estimates vary, marijuana leads to dependence in around 9 to 10% of its adult users.”
But as Sunil Kumar Aggarwal, an Associate Member of the New York Academy of Medicine, asks in his recent article on The Huffington Post, “Do we really ‘now know’ this?”
The NIDA study was released 20 years ago, and is based on data collected around the same time that The Lost Boys was hitting theaters, but besides that, the methods used to collect the data, and the criterion used at the time to judge that data have been shown to be incredibly flawed.
Seven antiquated and ridiculous criteria were used to determine if a group of 8,098 subjects between the ages of 15-54 had become addicted to reefer during the experiment. If, at any time, a subject met just three of the seven listed below, they were deemed to be a cannabis addict, a 9%er.
(1) it was taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended
(2) they had persistent desire or one or more unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control use
(3) a great deal of time was spent in activities necessary to get the substance, taking the substance, or recovering from its effects
(4) experienced frequent intoxication or withdrawal symptoms when expected to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home
(5) important social, occupational, or recreational activities given up or reduced because of use
(6) continued use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent social, psychological, or physical problem that is caused or exacerbated by use
(7) marked tolerance: need for markedly increased amounts
Each point in and of itself is totally vague, the only real specifics on the list are symptoms of an already failing War on Drugs – 20 years ago! All of this so-called research was done years before states across the nation passed any sort of medical marijuana laws, and all weed consumption was illegal which surely made getting weed (#3) take longer, or could impact your job (#5), and so forth.
In a blatant reveal of bias, a 1987 survey that fuels that NIDA study states right in its opening paragraphs that alcohol is a “nonpathological psychoactive substance”, and goes on to say that “social drinking frequently causes loquacity, euphoria, and slurred speech; but this should not be considered Intoxication unless maladaptive behavior, such as fighting, impaired judgment, or impaired social or occupational functioning, results”. So, are we to assume then that those 15% who the study claims will get addicted to booze are all slurring, unemployed, and violent?
It is these gaps in logic, along with the highly interpretive criteria used to judge all drugs equally across the board, that have some prominent doctors and specialists casting doubts onto the increasingly irrelevant NIDA study.
Dr. Drew Pinsky, an addiction medicine specialist and TV personality, agrees with Aggarwal’s questioning of the 9% addiction number being tied to weed, and says that cannabis dependence is “very uncommon”. Regarding the stat in question, Dr. Drew states bluntly, “They said 1 in 11; it’s nowhere near that.”
So when you hear someone say that 9% of people who try weed become addicted, even if they are saying it in defense of marijuana, you can let them know that that statistic, along with whoever made it up, is too high.