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January 2011



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First Published Monday, 27 April 2009

Cannibis Plant

Graeme Baldwin

When legal therapies let them down, some teens turn to cannabis. A new study, published in the 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 and a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia conducted 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.

The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Bottorff JL, Johnson JL, Moffat BM, Mulvogue T. Relief oriented use of marijuana by teens. Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy. 2009; [Full text (PDF)]


While cannabis may appear to relieve anxiety and depression, regular use often makes both worse.

One Response to “Study: Third of Teen Cannabis Users Self-Medicating Health Problems”

  1. Beanie Babies Says:

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