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Teens Using Marijuana to Treat Health Problems

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A new study, published in the journal Substance Abuse, Treatment, Prevention and Policy, shows that one-third of teens use marijuana to treat health problems rather than recreationally, when conventional medicine fails, or access to healthcare is limited.

Researchers from University of British Columbia interviewed 63 adolescents who used marijuana. Twenty said they used marijuana to for treatment of behavioral health problems, pain, sleep difficulty, and problems with concentration.

Rather than rely on ineffective prescriptions with unwanted side effects, the teens said they used marijuana, not to get high, but to treat their health problems.

The authors write, 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".

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One teen interviewed admitted that marijuana is “not good for you, but then again, neither is McDonald's and a lot of other things".

The study authors suggest that marijuana provides immediate relief to teens with health problems, unlike prescription medications, taken long-term without relief. Joan Bottorff who worked with the team of researchers says, “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".

According to the study, the teens that used marijuana for treatment of health problems were satisfied with the results. One teen said marijuana helped him calm down, while another teen used marijuana for mild depression. Most of the teens felt that marijuana was their best option for treating health problems, and associated marijuana with a natural and safe substance compared to pharmaceutical alternatives.

No one says marijuana is harmless, or that its use should be condoned as self-medication for health problems, among teens.

The study authors believe that the teens interviewed who use marijuana to treat health problems have important and significant unmet health needs, and they advocated for more education about medicinal use of marijuana. Most of the teens felt they had not received help from their doctor, or were not taken seriously.