Teens using cannabis for self-medication

An ethnographic study published today by researchers at the University of British Columbia suggests that around a third of teenagers who smoke cannabis are doing so primarily as a means of relieving medical problems such as depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, lack of concentration and physical pain.

The work by Joan Bottorff and her colleagues is based on a sample of only 63 adolescent cannabis users, but interviews conducted by the researchers are described as in-depth and based on participant observation. The results are very interesting.

“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,” says Bottorff.

While I can understand if not support the teenagers’ negative view of conventional medicine, I find it surprising that they see in cannabis a solution to their health problems, whether major or minor. For one thing, some of the conditions listed above could be relieved in the short term by alcohol, which is cheaper and more easily available than the fragrant weed.

Alcohol is a more dangerous drug than cannabis when it comes to physical effects on the human body. But if the subjects of the Canadian study are recognisant of such things, as it appears they are, based a reading of interview extracts published in the research paper, they should also be aware that the benefits of cannabis cannot be sustained with habitual use.

Further reading: “Relief-oriented use of marijuana by teens”, Bottorff et al., Substance abuse treatment, prevention, and policy (2009)