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Considering Cannabis and COVID-19

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Increased stress, boredom, trouble sleeping, worry about loved ones, and a “what’s the point?” attitude are just some of the many reasons Canadians may be using more cannabis while in quarantine.

In fact, at the end of March, CNBC reported surges in cannabis sales across the United States, and similar trends seem to be happening in Canada. Ontario even listed sales of cannabis as an “essential service” not to be shut down during the pandemic.

Cannabis has long been used for its “feel good” properties and, for some, as pain management or appetite stimulation tied to medical issues. With increased anxiety and uncertainty surrounding this pandemic, more Canadians may be turning to cannabis for its calming effect.

Whether you’re a new user or you’ve increased your consumption in recent months, you may be wondering: “How do I know if I have a problem?”

As with many things, moderation is the key – but there are also signs to look out for that may signal a bigger problem. When it comes to substance use disorders, the main thing that distinguishes them from non-problematic use is the level to which it is impacting an individual’s normal functioning.

Let's consider two extreme scenarios and see if you recognize some of yourself in either.

Ben recently lost his job and smokes cannabis to escape the boredom of his daily life. He wakes up in the morning craving a joint and continues to smoke several times throughout the day. Things have been piling up around the condo, but Ben has little motivation to deal with it or complete daily tasks. He hasn’t responded to friends who have reached out, has stopped his home exercise program, and is no longer searching for another job. At this point, he finds he needs more and more cannabis to feel the effects.

Usage has become excessive and is preventing him from moving forward with his life. All this may be a signal that there’s a disorder present and he could benefit from some intervention.

Jenna uses a vaporizer to consume cannabis in the evenings. It helps her relax and unwind from her day while she plays games with her friends online. She maintains strong social connections with friends and family and never misses work.

Cannabis use is not really negatively affecting Jenna’s life; therefore it’s unlikely she would be diagnosed with a disorder. She should keep tabs on her use, and pay attention to signs that it is starting to interfere with her daily functioning, but it’s not affecting her life in a negative way now. (As with any substance use disorder, there are mild, moderate and severe levels of severity.

A few things to consider about cannabis use
If you’re wondering if your use has become a problem, consider the following:

  • What’s the intention behind your use? Are you using cannabis to take the edge off or to escape your current reality?
  • There are other activities (besides consuming cannabis) that can stimulate the endocannabinoid system in humans, such as exercise, singing, dancing and meditation. Have you tried adding those to your routine?
  • THC is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. If you only use CBD (cannabidiol), you will not be at risk of developing a cannabis use disorder because, with CBD, there is no potential for abuse.
  • Smoking cannabis creates toxic byproducts and strong odour, while vaping does not.
  • Cannabis has not been shown to be helpful for depression, and there is little evidence it treats anxiety. Therapy remains the best choice for these issues.

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With increased anxiety and uncertainty surrounding this pandemic, more Canadians may be turning to cannabis for its calming effect.

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Stronger Minds content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to establish a standard of care with a reader, you should always seek the advice of your mental health professional, physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. If you think you may have a medical or mental health emergency, call your doctor, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call emergency services immediately. You should never disregard or delay seeking medical advice relating to treatment or standard of care because of information contained herein. Medical information changes constantly. Therefore the information herein should not be considered current, complete or exhaustive, nor should you rely on such information to recommend a course of treatment for you or any other individual. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.