by Jon Weeldreyer, Limited Licensed Psychologist, CAADC
As an addiction counselor since the mid 1980’s, I’ve seen many changes in how the American public views marijuana. These patients fall into two general groups: 1) those externally motivated, forced to come to counseling, and 2) those internally motivated who realize they have a problem.
Those forced into treatment, by courts, schools or family members, are usually frustrated being in my office. They defend their cannabis use with passion. They often see marijuana as natural, harmless, and a benefit for a host of discomforts.
Those seeking help on their own have become mentally or physically dependent on the drug and are unable to stop with willpower alone. They see it has caused legal, financial, medical and social problems in their lives. They have the love/hate, obsessive-compulsive relationship that all addicts have.
Both of these reactions have the same cause. Marijuana is a powerful mind altering drug. Simply put, many people tend to feel very good, physically or emotionally, when they use marijuana. That equation is all it takes for some to develop a harmful relationship. People often stop linking their using from the problems it is causing.
Still, it might be the case that in some circumstances, marijuana could have beneficial properties. Opiates are one of the most addictive drugs available, yet who among us would want to face a broken bone without serious pain killers? Some of the compounds in cannabis may be helpful with a narrow range of serious disorders. I have patients who have great relief by using cannabis.
Since 1996, we have seen 18 of our 50 states, including Michigan, pass laws to decriminalize marijuana for medical use. We now have 16 years of experience and data with this experiment. Many are beginning to re-think these laws.
An article by Dr. Kevin A. Sabet, University of Florida, examined Los Angeles’ recent “Buyer’s Remorse” as the city council unanimously agreed to close all 900 locations selling marijuana for “medical purposes.” What had been intended to be a compassionate medical response to persons with cancer and AIDS had turned into a shady business practice involving storefronts, staffed with bouncers and “on-call doctors” who facilitated the process. Dr. Sabet cites a recent study finding the average California marijuana card holder as a “32-year-old white male with no life threatening illness.”
The societal impact of current medical marijuana laws is becoming measurable. Teens are sensitive to the media. The prevailing media message is that tobacco is very bad, while marijuana is portrayed as a harmless “medication” with the supposed support of the health care industry.
In 2011, for the first time, high school seniors reported smoking more marijuana than tobacco – 23% to 19 %. In Colorado, a study of teens in treatment found that 74% had used marijuana diverted from legal medical prescriptions.
Dr. Dina Miller and Dr. Annette Hanson are Baltimore, Md., psychiatrists who state marijuana “should undergo the same study, scrutiny and prescription monitoring as every other prescribed medication. What other medication do we authorize for a year, with no stipulation as to frequency, dose or certainty that there has been a positive response without side effects?”
Addiction counselors, pharmaceutical manufacturers as well as others in many branches of society must find a way to evaluate the medical potential of marijuana for possible benefit, while not enabling people down a road of medical, social, legal and addictive harm.
Jon Weeldreyer is a limited licensed psychologist and certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor at the Pine Rest Kalamazoo Clinic, which he also manages. He chose his topic to provide education as National Recovery month begins in September. Pine Rest offers a continuum of addiction services; for more information visit www.pinerest.org or call
Pine Rest will hold a special event on September 13 as an opportunity to educate and raise funds for Pine Rest Addiction Services. To learn more go to: http://www.pinerest.org/foundation.
This article first appeared on MLive August 28, 2012.