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Cannabis Addiction in Canada: Is there a Case for Worry?

By: Caine Meyers

Marijuana seems tempting now that it’s legal, but those planning on using it recreationally should read up on the potential dangers of addiction. Last week, history was made in Canada. We became the first wealthy nation in the world to legalize recreational cannabis use. Many citizens praised the government for their bold move in the right direction; citing evidence that legalization of marijuana will help to eliminate the black market and provide recreational users with a safer and more reliable product. Further, Canadians can now take full advantage of the many health implications of marijuana. Granted, all of this is not without its caveats. The Government of Canada has indicated that marijuana use can affect attention, memory, and learning in all users regardless of age and although not physically addictive, individuals can become psychologically addicted to cannabis and/or develop physical dependency.

Despite considerable evidence, some individuals who use marijuana still claim that the drug is not addictive. In fact, Neal, a middle-aged Texan man believed the same thing. As it happens, it took him almost a decade to realize that he was indeed addicted to cannabis. You can read about Neal here. Like Neal, many others use cannabis daily and are under the illusion that it is a choice. However, according to the Canadian government, 1 in 3 people who use cannabis will develop a problem with its use. Further, 9% of all users will develop an addiction to cannabis.

It is indeed true that cannabis use is much safer than opioids and the overall addictive potential is much less, however, cannabis addiction can be serious. It can result in failing to fulfill duties at work, home, and school, and lead some individuals to isolative behaviours (e.g., dropping important social, occupational, and/or recreational activities). Others may experience persistent aggressive behaviour associated with non-use, otherwise known as withdrawal. Further, some users experiencing cannabis addiction may not be able to cut or control their use, and consequently consume the drug periodically throughout the day. Typically, if these behaviours persist over a 12-month period then an individual may be addicted to cannabis. As it happens, individuals who smoke cannabis daily have a 25%-50% greater chance of developing an addiction. If you believe that you or a loved one are experiencing cannabis addiction, there is help and it is treatable.

Legalization of cannabis in Canada is indeed a progressive step in the right direction. However, as responsible users, Canadians must be aware of the risks associated with its use. Like alcohol, the abuse potential of its use is context specific. In fact, a thorough understanding of the risks and benefits associated with cannabis use is necessary. Further, it is important to understand the laws and workplace regulations put in place by policy makers and the government to protect Canadians. Recreational cannabis use can be a catalyst to a more enjoyable evening for some. For others, its medical implications may restore quality to their life. However, if not used responsibly, it may become a burden. Ultimately, if you feel cannabis is hindering your life, please considering seeking help.

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National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers International Security for Traumatic Stress Studies The Canadian Positive Psychology Association The Association for Addiction Professionals