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What Does Cannabis Legalization Mean for Illinois Drug Use?

Recovery Centers of America

Authored by Recovery Centers of America

The legalization of cannabis in Illinois has created a lot of questions about what it might mean for drug use in the state. With the gradual decriminalization and eventual full-scale legalization of cannabis, many wonder if this will lead to an increase in recreational marijuana use, as well as other illicit drugs. There are also concerns about the drug being a gateway drug, and that it may lead to people using other more dangerous substances like heroin or cocaine.

Furthermore, with legal marijuana dispensaries sprouting across major cities, it is essential to consider how this increase in access might influence drug use in Illinois. This article will explore some of the data available on drug use trends in Illinois pre- and post-cannabis legalization and what it can tell us about potential addiction risks.

Risk of Using Other Drugs

There is still a debate that cannabis is a gateway drug. But there’s limited evidence indicating that consuming cannabis increases the risk of abusing other drugs. According to the CDC, those who use cannabis have a higher lifetime risk of going on to misuse other drugs. The lifetime risk of developing cannabis dependence or addiction is about 10%.

In 2021, researchers did a systematic review and meta-analysis of six studies involving 102,461 participants. They noted an increased risk of opioid use and abuse among those who use marijuana. But the authors of the study advise that the evidence quality is overall low. As such, it isn’t possible to conclude that marijuana is a gateway drug.

The Effects of Legalization of Recreational Marijuana in Illinois

The State of Illinois legalized the recreational use of marijuana (or Mary Jane as it’s popularly known) in 2019. The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act was adopted on January 1, 2020, and was the first of its kind in the country. Unlike other states that took to the ballot, the Illinois law was established through state legislation.

The law permits adults ages 21 and older to buy marijuana legally for recreational use. The law has notable implications for public health, with an effort toward the prevention of marijuana abuse and effective treatment programs for those struggling with cannabis use disorder.

It’s now three years since the legalization, and it’s about the right time to analyze its impacts on the state’s drug use.

An analysis of trends in the prevalence of marijuana use in Illinois and other states that legalized marijuana found an uptick in use. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) data shared by CATO Institute, use in states where marijuana is legal is higher than in the US overall. However, this difference mostly pre-dates legalization.

Before legalization, marijuana use in the 11 states averaged 15% compared to the national rate of 11.6%. Illinois was the only state with a lower rate of 11.4%.

Most states, including Illinois, experienced a modest increase in the years leading up to legalization. And while there are limited data on use post-legalization, the increasing rates of use prevalence seem to cut across legalizing states.

Teen high

The biggest concern surrounding the legalization of cannabis mainly lies with its potential impacts on youth. Many fear that the expanded access might increase use among adolescents, with adverse effects on brain development, academic outcomes, and other behaviors. But the CDC points out that more research is needed to understand these effects.

There are also concerns about whether the legalization of marijuana in Illinois affected opioid, cocaine, and alcohol use. Critics argue that legalization encourages the use of these drugs. However, state-level estimates in the past year show no clear link between the legalization of cannabis and opioid or cocaine use.

Some states saw an increase or decrease in drug use, but others, including Illinois, Maine, and Washington, had use rates consistent with national trends. In 2021, there were 3013 opioid fatalities in Illinois compared to 2944 in 2020, 2219 in 2019, and 2167 in 2018.

Conversely, the legalization of medical marijuana has been linked to reduced opioid use by cancer patients. This is according to a study from the American Medical Association that conducted a cross-sectional review of 34 states. The study evaluated insurance claims of 38,189 patients with a recent cancer diagnosis and found that state-level legalization implemented between 2012 and 2017 was associated with a 5.5% to 19.2% reduction in the opioid dispensing rate.

But the authors cited that further research still needs to be done on the topic. This is crucial, especially since another study found that the pharmaceutical industry suffered billions in losses after states legalized marijuana. Apparently, medical marijuana patients are finding alternatives.

Cannabis treatment

Can Marijuana Addiction Be Treated?

Many who develop cannabis use disorder can quit without joining a full-blown rehab center because marijuana isn’t as harsh on the body and brain as other “harder” drugs. But psychological addiction can be powerful – like gambling or sexual addiction. So, if you’ve tried to quit marijuana unsuccessfully, it might be a good idea to seek professional help. Holistic and personalized treatment plans can help you achieve sobriety and regain control of your life by reducing withdrawal symptoms.

Most effective marijuana treatment programs often combine a series of treatments to address all the aspects surrounding the addiction. These often include:

Marijuana detox and withdrawal

While the withdrawal effects of marijuana aren’t as severe as other drugs, they can still be uncomfortable. They include irritability, weight loss, anxiety, depression, insomnia, cravings, restlessness, agitation, extreme fatigue, reduced appetite, and mood swings. Detox can help flush out marijuana concentrates from your body and make withdrawal more comfortable.

Treatments and Therapies

Behavioral therapies like Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational incentives can help treat cannabis use disorder. Behavioral health interventions like CBT help users to recognize their triggers and learn how to avoid them. They also focus on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors related to marijuana use.

Support Groups

Support groups like Marijuana Anonymous can be a helpful resource for those trying to overcome drug addiction. It’s an important part of recovery, as it allows users to connect with people who are in the same situation as them and get support and advice from peers.

Recovery Centers of America offers comprehensive inpatient and outpatient treatment for marijuana addiction. Call us today to learn how we can help you get off marijuana.

Authored by

Recovery Centers of America

Recovery Centers of America



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