Is marijuana addictive?

Yes, says Jeff Bourne.

Bourne is the Executive Director of the U-Turn Drop-In Centre in Carbonear, a non-profit that offers what Bourne calls “a clean, safe space” for anyone struggling with addictions issues.

Last year, U-Turn had an astonishing 6000 unique visits from people in recovery from a variety of addictions. “A drug is a drug,” says Bourne. “My view is, it’s all according to what is does to you mentally. It’s the behaviour that comes with the drug.”

Bourne has seen first-hand the impact that marijuana addiction has had on people’s lives.  “There are people that after a short time of smoking it, they have to smoke it three, four times a day – or even more,” says Bourne.

“By the time they come to a point where they’re physically addicted, when they come to see us, there’s no difference then from someone who is abusing OxyContin daily. The thing with marijuana, it’s more cost effective — it costs a little bit less.”

Ahead of the 2018 legalization of marijuana, Bourne was given opportunities to consult with government on points of policy. From his initial reservations about the impact of legalization, Bourne now looks at the positive side of a government-controlled marijuana source.

“I’m at a point now, from a harm reduction perspective, at least if it’s legalized, you know what you’re buying,” says Bourne.  Through his work in the addiction field, he has heard stories of cocaine and fentanyl-laced marijuana.

As a member of the Recovery Council for Mental Heath and Addictions, Bourne was also consulted by the provincial government on their future action plan for mental health and addictions. At a current provincial health budget spend of 6% for mental health and addictions – far below the national average, according to Bourne – the province is targeting an increase to 11% within five years.

“On the ground level, you don’t really see it in the public eye, but behind the scenes the government is putting a lot of time and effort for both mental health and addictions. It might take another little while before you see this stuff unfolding,” says Bourne.

Despite the promise of increased future spending on addiction and mental health issues, the current gap in support services in rural Newfoundland points to more immediate needs. Hospitals and centralized treatment centre may allow a person to get sober, but follow-up support in smaller communities remains an issue.

“They’re going back to a community and there’s no support, says Bourne.“No NA (NarcoticsAnonymous), no AA meetings. So they’re just back into the same environment. If you’re hanging with a community of people in recovery, chances are you’re going to stay clean and sober.”

Will addiction landscape change with the legalization of marijuana, and will it open the door to other addiction issues for individuals? The ‘gateway’ theory – the idea that marijuana use would lead to harder drug usage – had passed out of addictions theory, but appears to be making a comeback.

A recent article published in the New York Times on Dec. 7th – entitled “A Comeback For The Gateway Drug Theory?” – points to new clinical studies in rats that shows usage of one drug creates a “more permissive” environment in the brain for other. While a long way from human-based experiments, it is reopening a debate many had considered settled.