A new study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found that marijuana use in the United States has been steadily increasing over the past few years as more and more people begin to treat cannabis as less dangerous than they did before.

While it is still unclear what exactly caused the increase in cannabis use, researchers from the NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) said the data they were able to collect were consistent with those found in other similar studies.

The team believes the trend may have something to do with the recent change in the public's perception on marijuana use, with an increasing number of states legalizing the psychoactive drug for medical and recreational purposes.

Dr. Wilson M. Compton, a researcher at NIDA and one of the authors of the study, said that it is important to understand the patterns in people's marijuana use and their dependence on the drug.

This would help policy makers draft the necessary laws related to marijuana as well as doctors who plan to use the drug to treat their patients.

Increasing Marijuana Use Among Adult Americans

For the study, Compton and his colleagues examined data collected from more than 500,000 adult Americans who took part in a national survey from 2002 to 2014.

The participants were asked whether or not they use marijuana, and if so, how often they take the drug. They were also asked if they have developed a disorder related to their marijuana use.

The researchers then asked about the participants' views regarding marijuana and its legalization for medical use. The study was completed even before Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington legalized the use of the drug for recreational purposes.

Compton and his team discovered that marijuana use among the study participants noticeably increased from 10.4 percent in 2002 to 13.3 percent in 2014. This figure translates to a jump from roughly 21.9 million marijuana users in 2002 to 31.9 million in 2014 when compared to the population of the United States.

The researchers also found that the number of first-time marijuana users rose from about 823,000 adult Americans in 2002 to about 1.4 million in 2014.

Meanwhile, the number of people who use the drug on a daily or almost-daily basis also more than doubled, ballooning to 8.4 million in 2014 from the 3.9 million recorded in 2002.

The increase in marijuana use in the country coincided with a decrease in the number of Americans who view smoking cannabis once or even twice a week as dangerous to their health.

In 2002, half of the people who were surveyed expressed concerns about using marijuana. This later dropped to 33 percent when the survey was conducted again in 2014.

The researchers said the increasing trend in marijuana use and the decreasing perception of health risks regarding it started in 2007.

The findings show that the prevalence of cannabis use or dependence on the drug among adult Americans generally remained stable at 1.5 percent from 2002 to 2014. The number of people with cannabis-related disorders, on the other hand, dropped from 15 percent to 11 percent throughout the same period.

Male marijuana users who were younger, had low education, did not have a full-time job, were depressed and used tobacco were found to be more likely to suffer from dependence on the drug.

The researchers believe that the results of the study are important to help doctors find out more about marijuana use.

This would allow them to determine whether their patient's cannabis use could interact with the condition that they may be treating or with the medical treatment that they plan to use.

The findings of the National Institute on Drug Abuse study are featured in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry.

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