No signs of rise in addiction rates post-pot legalization

More access to cannabis has helped those battling illnesses

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By Lesia Pogorelo

Cannabis legalization has helped more people than it has hurt, providing relief from a variety of mental and physical ailments, experts say.

And they say there is no indication of increased substance abuse issues since pot was legalized in Canada in October 2018.

Michael-John Milloy, the University of B.C.’s first Canopy Growth Professor of Cannabis Science, said in an interview that someone is more likely to become addicted to cannabis if they start using it when very young.

“10 per cent of people who ever use cannabis, will develop cannabis use disorder”

Legalization has made cannabis more accessible to people with a variety of illnesses from children with a very rare pediatric seizure disorder to those undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer.

It’s also been approved for use for people who are living with multiple sclerosis who develop pain.

Like many other substances, starting with coffee, obviously people can develop a substance use disorder with cannabis, Milloy said in an interview.

“I think the best estimates are that over their lifetime, approximately five to 10 per cent of people who ever use cannabis, will develop cannabis use disorder, or what you might call cannabis addiction,” said Milloy.

Christie Dakin, a registered therapeutic counsellor with 15 years of experience, said that since cannabis was legalized, more people have found themselves using it too much. However, they have identified the problem and are working towards reducing their habit.

“It’s like any medication, even Advil or Tylenol, like in order to feel better again, you think `I got to pop another pill,’” Dakin said. “Even that mentality can be a problem – like that you have to constantly pop the pill to solve the problem.”

Cannabis won’t solve problems

Despite some overuse, Dakin said cannabis can be better that alcohol because it doesn’t impact a person’s ability to function unlike other substances.

“Just thinking about depression, anxiety, it probably helps to improve and help with anxiety,” said Dakin. “Again, as long as you’re not having too much.”

She said cannabis by itself is not bad. It may not solve people’s problems, but it can help provide relief from a variety of issues.

Milloy said that punishing people who abuse drugs won’t help them quit.

“People do not stop using drugs either because they’re threatened with jail or because they’re arrested and sent to jail. It just doesn’t happen,” Milloy said. “Unfortunately, there are also a lot of negative consequences that can come from… becoming a criminal or being made to become a criminal.”

Milloy supports removing all criminal penalties for substance use, and providing a safe and regulated supply. The record number of overdose deaths that have happened in B.C. since 2016 are in part due to the fact that some drugs are criminalized.

“Now, I also support us and supported the legalization of cannabis,” Milloy said.

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