Pot, Weed, Ganja, Marijuana Addiction

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Marijuana use leads to other drugs. It's not uncommon for marijuana use to lead to other drugs

This column is written by Dr. Robert Peterson with the help of staff at the Poison Centre at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. These questions are based on calls received at the poison centre

QUESTION: I'm unhappy with the response you gave on the question of marijuana addiction. My son became addicted to marijuana and went on to use other drugs.

ANSWER: The concept of ''addiction'' is not easy to write about in a few paragraphs. Your concern about the marijuana discussion is legitimate, so let me try to clarify just the issue of marijuana addiction. The active substance is marijuana, THC, is not a chemical to which the body forms a strong physical dependency such as the case with a narcotic like heroin. The small amounts of THC in the dried marijuana leaf also reduce the likelihood of a physical dependency developing.

By physical dependency, we are referring to chemical changes in the body such that the dose of the substance needs to be frequently increased to achieve the same drug effect and that if use of the substance is suddenly stopped, the body will undergo withdrawal that can be quite dramatic and unpleasant. This physical addiction occurs with the regular excessive use of alcohol, barbiturates, nicotine, narcotics and some tranquilizers such as Valium. It does not occur to any large degree with the ''recreational'' use of marijuana.

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About the Author
Charles Gant, M.D., Ph.D., is a member of the American Academy of Psychiatrists in Addiction and Alcoholism and lives in Syracuse, New York.

Do not confuse this statement of fact for an endorsement. Marijuana use and possession is illegal and there is no ethical place for it in our society today outside of its few medical uses.

Some people use the term ''habit'' in place of addiction. In medical terms, this is not correct. Cigarette smoking is both a habit and an addiction (to nicotine). Smoking marijuana can become a habit, but is not presently looked upon as an addiction.

It is interesting that you point out that marijuana led to other drug use. This is not uncommon. The personality disorder that leads to the craving for an intoxicated state is frequently the root of the problem. Unless treatment can be provided for such people, they may attempt use of a variety of drugs. The personality problems that led to the use of one illegal drug for escape into an intoxicated state also led to the use of the other drugs.

Parents' perceptions of weed up in smoke: Parents warned that risks of marijuana use are greater than thought

The U.S. drug policy director urged parents Tuesday not to trivialize the dangers of marijuana to their kids.

Many parents and children have outdated perceptions about marijuana, said John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

They believe marijuana is not addictive, that it's less dangerous than cigarettes, or that it has few long-term health consequences.

In reality, more teens enter rehabilitation centres to treat marijuana addiction than alcohol or all illegal drugs combined, Walters said.

"Our effort is to correct the ignorance that is the single biggest obstacle to protecting our kids," he said as he announced an advertising campaign by his office and 17 education, public health, anti-drug and family advocacy groups.

The national effort will include advertisements on television, radio and print media, along with ones that will air in NFL stadiums and inside game programs.

"For too long our nation's teens have been getting the wrong message about marijuana. Youth popular culture has trivialized the real harm of marijuana in kids," Walters said.

A common misperception is that smoking marijuana is less dangerous than smoking a cigarette, said surgeon general Richard Carmona.

But marijuana contains three to five times more tar and carbon monoxide than a comparable amount of tobacco, he said.

It also effects the brain in ways similar to cocaine and heroin.

Carmona said that one out of five eighth graders has tried marijuana -- twice as many who tried it a decade ago.

"Marijuana is not a rite of passage but a dangerous behaviour that could have serious health consequences," Carmona said.

"Parents must realize that what they tell their children about drug use makes a difference."

Doctors raise marijuana alarm ; Long-term effects of medical use unclear, minister told

'I do concede we are breaking new ground. In the meantime, we are responding . . . to people who believe it will help.'

When Health Minister Allan Rock announced his plans to ban "light" or "mild" cigarette labels yesterday, Canadian doctors quickly pointed to the irony, given his recent decision to allow marijuana for medicinal reasons.

Although Rock did not even mention marijuana in his wide-ranging speech at the Canadian Medical Association's annual meeting, physicians later grilled him on his decision to turn pot into a medication.

"I see a big difference between smoking cigarettes regularly," Rock said, "and permitting access to medical marijuana to someone who is dying."

He argued that dispensing a drug to patients in great pain is different from getting the same drug on the street.

But doctors have been alarmed by the federal government's decision to allow marijuana for medical purposes, given little scientific evidence showing its effectiveness. They say they do not even know what dose to dispense or what to tell patients about risks or benefits.

"I do concede we are breaking new ground," Rock said, adding clinical trials are set to begin in Toronto and Montreal. "In the meantime, we are responding on a compassionate basis to people who believe it will help."

However, Dr. Raju Hajela of Kingston, who has treated patients with marijuana addiction, told Rock that by giving the federal government's stamp of approval, the public will believe marijuana is safe.

"I have teenagers at home," said Rock, a father of four. "I've spoken to them about this issue. I have been very clear to them that there's a difference between medical access to marijuana and the fact that it is not an appropriate drug for recreational use."

Still, doctors say they do not want the responsibility of being dispensing agents. They say they do not know the long-term effects and risks of pot and they want to learn about possible drug interactions.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons in Quebec, which licenses doctors, has such strong concerns about the medical use of marijuana that it has ordered its members not to prescribe it at all.

Dr. Rocco Gerace, president of the Ontario college, said no decision has been made on whether to follow suit. Each college has the power to decide how it will proceed.

While doctors opposed the introduction of medicinal marijuana, they praised Rock's decision yesterday to take on the big tobacco companies.

"It's long overdue," said Dr. Ted Boadway, executive director of health policy for the Ontario Medical Association. "The tobacco industry has known for years that light or mild cigarettes deliver just as much toxic material."

Boadway added smokers are often misled that light or mild cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes, when they are not.

Tobacco companies said they were surprised by Rock's sudden announcement, given that initial discussions on labelling began only last week with Health Canada officials.

"We're very disappointed. This was totally unexpected," said Rothmans spokesperson John McDonald.

Imperial Tobacco president and chief executive officer Bob Bexon said in a statement that his company was about to deliver its position to the minister, within a 100-day consultation period that began in late May.

McDonald also took issue with Rock's comments that tobacco companies "lie" to consumers.

"We have never made the claim that lighter or milder are healthier or less risky," he said, adding the labels were first introduced in the 1960s at the government's request.

Almost 7 million Canadians are smokers and as many as 45,000 die each year from tobacco-related diseases. Direct health-care expenses linked to smoking are estimated at $3 billion a year.
'A big lie' that pot (marijuana) can't be addictive

Day after day, Hamish Boyd would come home from his part-time job, flip on the television, and puff on his favourite pipe stuffed with marijuana, falling asleep until the next day.

It hadn't always been that way.

Before marijuana became the focus of Boyd's life, he worked steadily to build an acting career, dreaming of the day he would make a living at it.

"I knew that I had a problem because my life had ground to a halt. I wasn't achieving my dreams. I was just living in my head," says Boyd, 47.

"It's a big lie, that [marijuana] is not addictive. For me it was, and it stopped my life."

Eight months ago, Boyd checked himself into Innervisions, a Coquitlam residential treatment centre. Over the course of seven weeks, he learned to live without marijuana for the first time in about 30 years.

Today he's back at his Vancouver home with his wife, free of the drug and working on his writing and acting career.

Boyd is one of a new breed of drug users who are seeking treatment for marijuana addiction.

Billy Weselowski, executive director of the Innervisions Treatment Centres, says he's seeing an increasing number of so- called potheads who can't kick the habit on their own.

He saw his first marijuana addict about four years ago, and today always has at least one or two out of 40 addicts in residency.

"It took a lot for me not to giggle" the first time a marijuana addict came in, says Weselowski, himself a recovering heroin addict. "But . . . the guy started telling me about how his life was falling apart . . . he couldn't keep a job, he was still stuck on social services, always had problems with relationships, anything he ever got he always traded it off for pot."

Dr. Douglas Coleman, a specialist in addiction medicine and a member of the Addictive Drugs Information Council, says there has been an upswing in the number of marijuana addicts, particularly among young people.

That's because of the drug's social acceptability and because today's marijuana has a much higher concentration of the pleasure- giving THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) than the marijuana of 20 years ago.
Marijuana anything but a safe drug

Should the laws that keep marijuana illegal go up in smoke?

Even a cursory scroll through the Internet will load you down with volumes of opinions, particularly from those who view marijuana as a harmless substance, a sort of '60s joke you don't have to take too seriously, so let's just make it legal.

The simple fact is marijuana isn't harmless. There's overwhelming agreement among medical and scientific experts that the strength and addictive powers of today's "B.C. bud" are more powerful than the 1960's version.

The number of young people receiving treatment for marijuana addiction grows yearly. In face of all the casual attitudes towards marijuana, it's important to let our youth know that marijuana will negatively impact their lives.

Motor vehicle accidents are the No. 1 killer of young people, even when sober. Add in marijuana use, alcohol or other drugs and the combination is deadly.

The pro-legalization movement tries to convince us that marijuana is a harmless social activity and that people should be able to smoke it without fear of the law. Meanwhile, doctors and scientists say smoking it may cause serious health problems. If it's starting to sound like the debate around tobacco, well, there are similarities.

The manner in which marijuana is produced today (residential grow ops) poses unique hazards; the majority of these grow operations are now controlled by organized criminal gangs motivated to make a fast dollar regardless of risk to themselves or neighbors.

Some of the costs to the public associated with marijuana grow operations include fighting fires (due to electrical wiring and heating equipment), thefts of power (electrical by-passes) and an increase in household insurance premiums to cover the high costs of restoring rental properties after they've been trashed by an operation.

Individuals who actively promote legalization say these problems would disappear if marijuana was legalized. That legalization and/ or regulating it somehow would remove it from criminals, cause prices to fall and eliminate the black market.

Well, alcohol and tobacco are legal and regulated. Yet both are sold on the black market by organized gangs, both cost the government more in health costs than the revenue taxes from selling them, and both are more widely abused than marijuana. Would regulating marijuana be any different?

We believe there's a real need to crack down on traffickers and to inform the public.

Helping our kids make good choices starts by giving them real facts, the kind with medical and scientific credibility.

As a parent and officer, I know when you strip away marijuana's thin veneer of social acceptability and replace it with the medical truth, making the right decision about use or legalization is pretty easy.

We all talk about our young people as our most precious resource. If that's the case then it's incumbent on all of us to protect them by giving them the facts. After all, awareness, education and prevention are the key to making healthy choices that last a lifetime.