Marijuana addictions program not a big ‘hit’ in CK

A number of marijuana supporters turned out to London's Victoria Park for 4/20, April 20, 2016. (Photo by Kirk Dickinson)

It appears chronic pot smokers in Chatham-Kent aren’t ready for their last dance with Mary Jane as a program to help kick the habit saw little to no interest locally.

“Breaking Up With Mary Jane” was scheduled to start on Thursday, February 28 but had to be cancelled because not enough people signed up. It was supposed to be a 12-week abstinence cannabis treatment program put on by Chatham-Kent Community Health Centres.

The program’s organizers Cynthia Workman, a registered addictions counsellor and psychotherapist, and Heather Van Kerkhoven, a registered social worker, are trying to figure out how it didn’t get more interest. Workman said it was broadcasted very well on all media platforms.

“The response was very, very low,” Workman said. “We advertised it ourselves amongst our colleagues and the response was still low. It wasn’t even enough to think about running a group. To run a group our minimum I believe is five.”

According to Van Kerkhoven, seven people responded and showed interest but six of them didn’t fit the criteria to attend the treatment program. Both said there seemed to a bit of confusion by some as to what the program was all about.

“Once they found out it was quitting marijuana, it wasn’t something they were interested in,” Workman said.

According to the pair, it isn’t that marijuana addiction isn’t a problem in the municipality, it’s that people don’t view the abuse of it as seriously as other substances. Workman said while marijuana is a very big problem, it isn’t as talked about like the opioid crisis or crystal meth. She added as an addictions counsellor, she has seen first hand the impacts of the drug in a patient’s quality of life, relationships within communities and families — especially among youth.

“It’s not going to catch up to them until they’re older and they will start seeing the mental health repercussions or ask, ‘where’s my life gone over the past few years because I haven’t accomplished what I wanted to accomplish?” Workman said. “It was especially unwise to legalize it for people under 25 because the brain is still developing. When you introduce a foreign substance into the brain chemistry we know changes can occur. It can have long-lasting impacts in terms of mental health and the onset of psychosis.”

She added when substances are legalized, regardless of age limitations, the abuse rate rises. She said alcohol and tobacco are currently the most abused.

“It’s because they are legal and they are readily available,” Worman said. “It takes quite an argument to convince society that [marijuana] is a problem because they say ‘it wouldn’t be legal if it was a problem.’ I think [legalization] wasn’t thought through, but that’s just my opinion”

Workman wanted to be clear the program was only geared towards recreational use and not medicinal. She said the types of users they were trying to target were those where the drug had become such an intrusive part of their life that it was taking away from their quality of life and ability to function without it.

Workman and Van Kerkhoven aren’t giving up on the program just yet, though. The pair will continue to take calls and compile a wait list and once enough people are interested and qualify, they will start the group meetings.

Workman added the legislation is fairly new, so treatment for addiction to marijuana may see a bigger need in the future.

“If people weren’t using it before and they try it and develop issues, perhaps this something that a year or two down the road more people will be interested in,” Workman said. “I think we will see in the next few years quite a spike and people reaching out for help for marijuana abuse.”

Workman and Van Kerkhoven said in the meantime, they will continue to support their clients individually for substance abuse, which they said includes people addicted to marijuana. Workman added local treatment centres are reporting more people going to the facilities with marijuana dependencies.

“We have to remember that the marijuana of grandma and grandpa is not the same that we are using today,” Workman said. “It’s extremely [higher in THC content]. Even people who have used marijuana for years will tell you that this stuff is quite potent compared to what the used back in the 70s.”

Anyone interested in joining the 12-week program can contact the Chatham-Kent Community Health Centres.