When legal therapies let them down, some teens turn to cannabis. A new study, published in BioMed Central's open access journal Substance Abuse, Treatment, Prevention and Policy suggests that around a third of teens who smoke cannabis on a regular basis use it as a medication, rather than as a means of getting high.
Joan Bottorff worked with a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, to conduct in-depth interviews with 63 cannabis-using adolescents. Of these, 20 claimed that they used cannabis to relieve or manage health problems. Bottorff said, "Marijuana is perceived by some teens to be the only available alternative for those experiencing difficult health problems when legitimate medical treatments have failed or when they lack access to appropriate health care".
The most common complaints recorded were emotional problems (including depression, anxiety and stress), sleep difficulties, problems with concentration and physical pain. The teens' experiences with the medical system were uniformly negative. The authors said, "Youth who reported they had been prescribed drugs such as Ritalin, Prozac or sleeping pills, stopped using them because they did not like how these drugs made them feel or found them ineffective. For these kids, the purpose of smoking marijuana was not specifically about getting high or stoned".
The authors emphasize that the unmet medical needs of these teens are of key importance in these findings. In contrast to the unpleasant side effects of prescribed medications and long, ineffective legal therapies, cannabis provided these adolescents with immediate relief for a variety of health concerns. Of course, cannabis isn't completely harmless, but as one of the respondents noted, "It's not good for you, but then again, neither is McDonald's and a lot of other things".
- Joan L Bottorff, Joy L Johnson, Barbara M Moffat and Tasmin Mulvogue. Relief oriented use of marijuana by teens. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 2009; (in press) [link]
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