Roll Joints, Not Dice: How Medical Marijuana Can Help Gambling Addicts
In the group of rats that had poor decision-making skills, cannabinoids increased their choices of slots with a higher probability of reward. In the group that already made good choices, the study showed that there was no effect either positive or negative.
Marijuana is a panacea of positive effects, there is no doubt. No other medicine, natural or synthetic, can accurately boast successful treatment of as many illnesses and conditions. Not one. Now it looks as if cannabis can tack on another gold star in the treatment of… Gambling Addiction.
Marijuana And decisions
While the Reefer Madness propaganda loved to tout such ills as promiscuity and homicidal mania, modern data suggests that cannabis users are more than capable of making rational and healthy decisions. Cannabis use has been characterized by safe, cautious, and courteous driving in moderation, a much-needed attribute in today’s road rage society. It encourages empathy and introspection.
For these practical reasons as well as more scientific ones, studies are being conducted on how treatment with marijuana might curb compulsive gambling addiction.
A study titled Effects of Various Cannabinoid Ligands on Choice Behavior in a Rat Model of Gambling performed a choice-making test on rats similar to the Iowa Gambling Task. This test is used to identify compulsive gambling traits in humans.
First, the rats performed the test sober. It involved four holes through which food was given, with each hole having a different probability of having food. The holes with a high probability of food gave smaller portions; while the lower probability holes gave a bigger reward.
Most rats, and most humans in the same situation, would choose the holes with the most steady stream of prizes. Those classified with a high-risk, high-reward seeking disposition were said to have a gambling disorder.
Once the rats had been well-familiarized with the system and divided according to the consistent choices the made, the study administered synthetic cannabinoids (easier to acquire for the test than actual THC or whole cannabis) to the groups.
The results? In the group of rats that had poor decision-making skills, cannabinoids increased their choices of slots with a higher probability of reward. In the group that already made good choices, the study showed that there was no effect either positive or negative. Most rats in the study took slightly longer to make decisions on the medication.
The study of gambling disorders
According to the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, there are two types of compulsive gamblers.
The first type is gamblers who are driven by urge. This group gives in when the desire becomes too strong to control. They comprise those who, like binge drinkers, will try to abstain until they cannot contain themselves.
The second type of gambler is the one with a lack of inhibition. This type succumbs to gambling with little restraint, acting on the smallest desires without thought of consequences. They comprise those gamblers similar to compulsive alcoholics who fall off the wagon almost subconsciously, not even fighting the urge.
“By understanding these different subtypes, we are able to target the core biology of the illness with individualized treatment,” said Jon Grant, MD, JD, MPH, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota and ACNP member. “When we look at pathological gambling as an addiction and try to understand the sense of urges and inhibitions, we are able to target the treatment with medication more effectively.”
The road to health
Gambling addiction affects an estimated 1-2% of the population of the US and Canada, which equals approximately 3.6 to 7.2 million people. That is more people than the entire state of Minnesota. The disorder can affect all aspects of a person’s life, from bills and housing to family relationships, health, and career. If cannabis can help even a third of these people, it is our moral obligation to further the study of this application.
Substance abuse treatment facilities in legal marijuana states have begun advocating the benefits seen as hard drug addicts have successfully weaned from heroin, morphine, cocaine, oxycontin, and other dangerous drugs by using marijuana. Perhaps it can affect addictions of a behavioral nature as well as a physical one. These promising results could lead to research on other addictions, such as sexual, obsessive-compulsive, and anger management issues.
Do you or someone you know suffer from a gambling addiction? Have you noticed a decrease in urges or frequency of gambling when using marijuana? Do you use marijuana to successfully treat another negative behavior? Share your success with us on social media or in the comments section below.