Marijuana’s Popularity Among US Adults Continues to Grow. Here’s Why

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Marijuana's popularity among American adults is on the rise — and use of the recreational drug is expected to continue to increase, according to several surveys.

The increase in popularity, along with more permissive attitudes toward marijuana use, may be due in part to its changing legalization status in many parts of the country, experts say. 

Forty-five percent of adults in the U.S. have used marijuana at least once in their lives, according to a Gallup poll released in mid-July — the all-time highest percentage in the 48-year history of Gallup asking Americans this question.

Brain effects

Marijuana's popularity can also be explained by a simpler factor: Many people find the drug enjoyable to use.

When a person gets high, marijuana has the same effect on the release of the brain chemical dopamine as other psychoactive substances, such as cocaine or heroin, said Francesca Filbey, the director of Cognitive Neuroscience Research in Addictive Disorders at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.

THC binds to cannabinoid receptors, which are found all over the brain, Filbey told Live Science. When THC binds to the receptors, it stimulates the increased release of dopamine, which activates the brain's reward system and contributes to marijuana's pleasurable effects, she said. 

But marijuana doesn't only affect areas of the brain involved in feeling good. THC can also attach to receptors in the brain that play a role in modulating other types of behavior, Filbey said. It works like volume control, "turning down" areas of the brain that influence memory, concentration, decision-making, movement and pain perception, she said. 

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