Treatment for cannabis addiction common, says addiction and mental health director
With cannabis legalization on the horizon, Alberta Health Services is trying to grapple with how and where people can use the substance — but also how they can help people quit if they want to stop using it.
“It does worry me,” said AHS executive director for addiction and mental health, Mark Snaterse.
“When we look at some parts of the world that have done this (legalization), they have found that in many instances, recreational users of marijuana will often become daily or regular users of marijuana.”
He’s a veteran in the world of addictions, having been involved for 26 years and in his current role as director for nine. He has reason to be concerned, while most people who come to use his department’s services are addicted to myriad substances, many are addicted to marijuana.
“When we look at everybody coming into our services for all different kinds of substance use, the top two are alcohol and marijuana,” he said.
According to data Snaterse provided from all of Alberta in 2016-2017, only one per cent of people who accessed addiction services came solely using marijuana.
With legalization looming, many experts are dealing with how and where Canadians will be able to smoke pot. But other people are worried about how to help those who want to quit. (Darryl Dick/ The Canadian Press)
However, of people taking multiple substances, 52 per cent of them included marijuana in their list of substances they were taking. Of those people, 25 per cent identified that marijuana was a problem they wanted to be treated for.
Therefore, of the approximately 13,500 people that accessed addiction services and listed marijuana as a substance they used in 2016 and 2017, around 3,300 acknowledged marijuana was a problem for them.
Snaterse also said mental illness is commonly exacerbated by marijuana use.
“A lot of the people we care for have a persistent and chronic mental illness,” he said. “There certainly is a strong link between people’s ability to remain well and their use of substances such as marijuana.”
His department offers addictions counselling and one-on-one support for people dealing with dependency to marijuana. The treatment style is very individualistic, Snaterse said.
Some will be in residential treatment, where they spend a certain amount of time. Some just need to have conversations with counsellors and others might have to be outpatients dealing with things more independently.
Alberta Health Services holds media availability on May 31, which was World No Tobacco Day, to promote their resources for people wanting to quit using tobacco, e-cigarettes and cannabis (Kieran Leavitt / StarMetro Edmonton)
Snaterse said they deal with marijuana withdrawal as well, saying people can experience high anxiety or other emotional symptoms.
No substitute exists for people wanting to ween themselves off cannabis, he said.
May 31 marks World No Tobacco Day and folks all over the globe gathered in protest to tobacco products.
In Edmonton, Chris Sikora, medical officer for health with Alberta Health Services, spoke to the cessation of smoking but also said they’re also grappling with legalization of cannabis and what it means for them.
At the Kaye Edmonton Clinic Thursday, AHS promoted their resources for quitting smoking available to those struggling, but have updated their policy to include quitting the use of cannabis.
People dealing with substance abuse can access addiction counselling, outpatient support, residential support or peer support through AHS. Typically people will go for a consultation to see what the best course of treatment is. This applies to tobacco, e-cigarette and cannabis use as well.
AHS also updated their policies to ban cannabis use on all of their properties, with Sikora saying although cannabis will be legal to consume, it shouldn’t mean creating an unsafe environment where people are cared for.
“What isn’t right… is exposing others to those substances in an unnecessary manner that increases risk the risk of harm to other individuals,” said Sikora.