Some Teens Take Marijuana for Pain and Anxiety

Not all teenagers smoke marijuana with the goal of getting high. A new study by researchers at the University of B.C. found some teens use marijuana to relieve or manage health problems when other therapies have not worked.

The study, led by UBC Okanagan professor Joan Bottorff, involved in-depth interviews with 63 teenagers who use marijuana. Of those, 20 said they use the drug to manage health problems such as depression, anxiety, difficulty sleeping or pain.

“They were very clear they weren’t smoking to get high, but they were really smoking marijuana because they needed to,” Bottorff said Thursday in an interview. “They talked about how they didn’t smoke too much. They tried to adjust their dosage so they just smoked enough to deal with their symptoms. And the majority usually smoked by themselves.”

Many of the teens had tried conventional treatments for their health problems, but said the medication didn’t work or they didn’t like the side-effects. Those who reported sleeping difficulties said they had talked to a doctor about it, but had not been prescribed any medication because of their age.

“One young woman said she hadn’t slept in four years,” Bottorff said.

One of the young men had been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder –also known as ADHD — but said the medication he’d been given hadn’t worked.

“He decided he didn’t want to take [the ADHD drugs]any more and actually found that marijuana really helped him focus, do his school work, and really be successful in school.”

All of the 63 teens in the study used marijuana regularly, ranging in frequency from every day to twice a month. They were between the ages of 13 and 18 and were from three communities in B.C.

Bottorff said the study illustrates the need for health-care providers to pay special attention to the health needs of adolescents.

“We are not advocating medical marijuana for adolescents,” Bottorff said. “But what we think the study points to is the need to really take the health concerns of adolescents seriously and to really try and do a better job of trying to deal with them.”

She noted that while those in the study turned to marijuana to alleviate their symptoms, kids in other communities might be turning to other substances, such as alcohol, crystal meth, cocaine or other drugs.

“This study showed us that there are some kids out there with difficult health problems that they’re having trouble dealing with, and they’re not getting a lot of help — either from their family members, or from the health-care providers that they see,” Bottorff said.

The study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, was published Thursday in BioMed Central’s open access journal Substance Abuse, Treatment, Prevention and Policy.

– Article from The Vancouver Sun on April 24, 2009.