Marijuana Price Hikes Don’t Deter Addicts

This entry was posted in Drug Addiction on April 1, 2015 and modified on April 30, 2019

New research from American and Canadian researchers indicates that people addicted to cannabis are largely undeterred by the fluctuations in marijuana cost that can moderate intake in non-addicted users.

Marijuana is far and away America’s most popular illicit/illegal drug. However, many consumers will increase or decrease their intake of the drug if prices fall below a certain point or rise above a certain point. In a study published in July 2015 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from two U.S. institutions and one Canadian institution used a screening tool called a marijuana purchase task to measure frequent marijuana consumers’ willingness to moderate their intake of the drug in response to rising prices. These researchers found that marijuana consumers affected by cannabis addiction have a fairly unique unwillingness to reduce their drug intake when prices rise past a certain threshold.

Marijuana/Cannabis Addiction

Marijuana has an increasingly widespread reputation as a safe or harmless substance, especially when compared to various forms of alcohol. However, marijuana and all other forms of cannabis are clearly identified by researchers and public health agencies as addictive substances capable of triggering significant declines in mental and physical well-being and the ability to maintain a functional day-to-day routine. Cannabis is addictive because it contains THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a mind-altering chemical capable of producing long-term change in the brain’s pleasure center when consumed repeatedly over time. The pleasure center alteration associated with repeated THC exposure sets the stage for the uncontrolled intake that typifies an addiction to any mind-altering substance.

Addiction will ultimately become an issue for nine out of every 100 marijuana consumers, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports. Two subgroups of consumers—teenagers and daily or near-daily users—have much higher addiction risks of 17 percent and 25 percent to 50 percent, respectively. Marijuana addiction is just one potential aspect of cannabis use disorder, an officially recognized and defined mental health condition that includes all forms of cannabis addiction, as well as all forms of non-addicted, dysfunctional cannabis abuse.

Marijuana Purchasing Tasks

Marijuana purchasing tasks are tests designed to determine how much any given marijuana consumer modifies his or her regular pattern of intake in response to fluctuating prices and other demands on typically limited economic resources. Any given task contains a number of questions that assess an individual’s willingness to buy marijuana in a particular set of hypothetical financial/economic circumstances. Current research indicates that doctors and public health officials can use the results of marijuana purchasing tasks to identify people whose unwillingness to modify their buying behaviors in response to economic pressures points to the possible presence of cannabis addiction and an accompanying physical need to keep consuming marijuana irrespective of cost.

Usefulness of Purchasing Tasks

In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from the Brown University School of Public Health, Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Canada’s McMaster University used a project involving 99 marijuana consumers to help gauge the willingness of people addicted to cannabis to modify their drug intake in response to financial/economic considerations. All of the study participants used marijuana often enough to qualify as frequent consumers, and roughly 15 percent of the participants had identified cases of cannabis addiction. All of the participants took a 22-question marijuana purchasing task that asked them to detail the specific situations or considerations that would force them to make steps to alter their normal drug consumption patterns.

The researchers concluded that marijuana consumers’ willingness to pay a premium for the drug is associated with their frequency of intake, as well as with their level of craving for continued marijuana use. Crucially, they also concluded that any given frequent user’s income does not have a significant impact on his or her willingness to pay. Still, compared to frequent users unaffected by addiction, addicted marijuana users have a higher level of demand for the drug and also show a substantially greater disregard for the price of the marijuana they consume.

The study’s authors believe their findings support the usefulness of marijuana purchasing tasks as a method of determining the specific circumstances in which motivated consumers of the drug are willing to modify their buying behaviors. They also believe their findings demonstrate the ability of marijuana purchasing tasks to identify specific users affected by cannabis addiction.

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