Inside the smoke
However, there is increasing evidence that pot use could be linked to an onset of psychosis. Willinsky says it is important to raise awareness around pot use for those who could be adversely affected.
“It can be difficult to know if there is an emerging illness or if the person is just having a bad trip,” Willinsky said. “Sometimes a person believes it is only a bad trip and then keeps using when there might be an emerging mental illness.”
For the past three years, Willinsky has been leading the Schizophrenia Society’s project Cannabis and Psychosis: Exploring the Link.
The project has used a participatory action-research approach, where individuals who have used pot and also had an episode of mental illness are involved, to investigate the issue from the perspective of youth who have experienced psychosis.
According to the schizophrenia and substance use website, psychosis is a condition that affects the mind. The person can lose touch with reality, have hallucinations, become delusional and paranoid. An episode will vary from person to person.
“Many young people in treatment for psychosis have found that pot use has complicated their recovery,” reported Willinsky.
The goal of the project is to help create awareness, giving people a chance to become more informed about the possibility of inducing an episode of psychosis through pot use.
The Weal talked to 30 students around SAIT and asked them if they had heard of the research linking pot use to psychosis. The Weal also asked if they had tried pot in the past or currently use it. Only three people had heard about the research. Those who admitted to using pot, 24 of the 30, said that they were casual or social users and that they only smoked pot on evenings and weekends when they were with friends.
The most common reason for not smoking pot regularly was because the students didn’t want it to negatively affect their school work.
Some reported getting better grades and having better memories when they smoked pot.
SAIT student Shayla Boeckx said she believes people use pot as a crutch.
“They say they can’t eat, sleep or aren’t motivated so they smoke pot to alleviate that instead of making more healthy choices to address the issue,” Boeckx said.
Jose Landaverde, SAITSA vice-president of student life, suffered from depression and used pot during some of his lowest points.
“I try not to self-medicate but the pot, at the time I used it, helped me out,” said Landaverde. “It slowed my mind down and helped to regulate my appetite.”
Jonathan Stea is the lead researcher on the Calgary Marijuana Study at the University of Calgary, which is researching individuals that have recovered from a marijuana use problem
Stea answered questions via an email interview and wrote that some of the problems being reported through the use of pot are, “mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, lack of motivation and feeling paranoid; interpersonal and relationship concerns; using cannabis [pot] in dangerous or inappropriate situations, such as when driving; physical health concerns; and not being able to stop using cannabis despite intentions to do so.”
Calgary 420 Cannabis Community promotes education regarding pot.
“Much of the research is not peer reviewed and uses words such as ‘may’, ‘possibly’, and ‘could’,” said Keith Fagin, the administrative media contact at Calgary 420. “We should stick to the facts, the evidence and with peer-reviewed studies,” was Fagin’s response to the papers reporting a link between pot and psychosis.
“Prohibition started in Canada in 1923 and doesn’t work,” reported Fagin. “There should be regulation though. We don’t want to see drug dealers out there selling to children. Pot should be sold in stores, creating real jobs, saving tax payer money and freeing up the law enforcement agencies to tackle real crime.”
Support is available for people who feel they have a problem with pot and the earlier intervention is received, the more likely it will be effective.
If you require help, please call SAIT Counselling at 403-284-7023.