Realizing there was a lack of in-depth research on marijuana addiction, a Calgary PhD candidate set out to discover how to help a seemingly forgotten group: those who become addicted to cannabis.
Although marijuana has few withdrawal symptoms and most people are able to quit, one in ten regular users develop a dependency on the drug.
Clinical psychology student Jonathan Stea notes that because marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in the world, the minority who become addicted is still a very large group.
Stea recently completed an early analysis on data collected from 126 marijuana users who recovered from past cannabis dependency problems.
He says he decided to conduct the research in order to help develop “realistic” information about the drug, and find out how those who became dependant managed to kick the habit.
“Since cannabis seems to be the most widely used illicit substance in the world, there’s a significant minority of individuals who do develop a disorder with it, and so those particular people deserve good treatments and good information,” he says.
According to Health Canada statistics, 9.1 percent of Canadians over age 15 have used cannabis in the last year.
I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there … the perception does exist that it’s not addictive.
— Marijuana researcher Jonathan Stea
One of the challenges for people who become addicted, Stea notes, is the public perception that cannabis addiction is not a serious dependency.
“It’s a contentious issue. I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there … the perception does exist that it’s not addictive,” he says.
“So we’re trying to help those individuals who may have a cannabis addiction, and they hear a whole bunch of different beliefs out there floating in the media and among friends and family—it can be very confusing for people.”
Co-occurring Mental Health Issues
Participants in the study were 70 percent male, with an average age of 37. They started using cannabis at approximately age 15, and had developed a dependency around age 20. The majority of participants also reported symptoms of other addiction or mental health problems at one point in their life.
“People that seek addiction treatment in general—and not only for cannabis but for alcohol and other addictions—also tend to have another co-occurring mental health difficulty like depression or anxiety,” says Stea.
“So it’s good in that we’re studying a population that we want to help.”
The top reasons participants reported for wanting to quit marijuana use include wanting to make a major lifestyle change; the realization that marijuana was affecting them negatively; and wanting to feel better emotionally (less depressed and anxious).
Addicted users reported that their dependency affected them by interfering with their life in areas such as work, school, or relationships, or exacerbated existing mental or physical health problems. Others reported a general sense of “loss of control” over their lives.
Approximately 40 percent of the study participants sought treatment for their cannabis addiction, while others naturally recovered.
The next portion of Stea’s research will focus on the differences between the users who sought treatment compared to those who recovered on their own. He will also compare those who gave up the drug for good versus those who still use it moderately.
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