(The following is a press release issued by the University of Connecticut following a study on marijuana dependency)

    Nearly half of Americans have tried marijuana in their lifetime according to national surveys. And marijuana is the drug of choice for more than half of the nearly 7 million Americans dependent on or abusing illicit drugs.

   “Marijuana has become the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States,” says Dr. Mark Litt, professor of behavioral sciences at UConn Health. “The use of the drug is growing nationally for both medicinal and recreational use.”

   So far a total of 23 states and the District of Columbia have established medical marijuana programs for a variety of health conditions. Connecticut’s Medical Marijuana Program has nearly 7,700 enrollees who receive prescriptions from their doctors for medicinal marijuana for their debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

   Although still illegal at the federal level, state laws in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana, while the District of Columbia permits adults to grow and possess small amounts of the drug.

   “With this growing trend it would not surprise me if more than half of states moved toward legal adoption in the very near future,” says Litt.

   According to Litt marijuana is addictive for one-third of chronic users. The growing prevalence of marijuana use and its legalization may come with a potential increase in the rate of people who are dependent on the drug.

   “We need to establish a more effective treatment for marijuana dependence very soon with the advent of continued legalization. I expect marijuana dependence to be more prevalent in the next 5 years,” says Litt.

   Litt is principal investigator of the Marijuana Treatment Project at UConn Health, a clinical trial funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Its goal is to identify the best way to help those who have become dependent on marijuana and who wish to quit.

   Often people want to quit using marijuana when they realize they are smoking more than they expected, taking risks to procure the drug, notice that being high starts to interfere with their family, work or social life, or they need to stop for medical, employment, or legal concerns.

   However, Litt says when chronic users of marijuana try to stop it can be difficult since they can develop withdrawal symptoms such as feeling ill, irritable or depressed. “For a chronic user of marijuana it is extremely difficult to stop using this drug on one’s own, and those wishing to quit should really seek professional help,” says Litt. “Also, long-term smoking of marijuana is not good for your physical health.”

   Marijuana has the same health risks as smoking tobacco. These health concerns include an increased risk of lung and other cancers, and other lung issues such as emphysema and chronic-obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Also, marijuana has sometimes been linked to the triggering of psychosis, which is impaired thinking that is not in touch with reality.

   “There are many ways to help people deal with marijuana problems. We are trying to find which one works the best so we are evaluating several different approaches,” says Litt.

   For those interested in joining the free Marijuana Treatment Project to quit using the drug they can call: 860-679-4767 or toll free 866-895-5727 for an initial screening phone interview to see if they are eligible.

   Qualifying chronic marijuana users are scheduled for an in-person evaluation and if eligible are assigned randomly to one of four treatment plans with a therapist. The four treatment plans being tested involve one-on-one therapy sessions testing various combinations of treatment activities, all of which have been shown to be effective. Clinical trial participation lasts between 9 and 12 weeks with up to 6 months of follow-up by phone and in-person to track each participant’s progress. Study participant activities include interview assessments, one-on-one therapy sessions, phone calls, questionnaires, providing urine samples prior to and during treatment, and personal monitoring of their marijuana use, thoughts and feelings several times per day on their cell phone.

   If you or someone you know think they are dependent on marijuana and interested in joining the free Marijuana Treatment Project to quit, call: 860-679-4767 or toll free 866-895-5727.