I have never used marijuana. For most of my life, the act of having and using marijuana was something that happened in the shadows. For most of my life, having and using marijuana were illegal. Not illegal like parking near a fire hydrant or speeding, but illegal in a way that might have caused me to have a criminal record or lose my medical license. Many people, especially teenagers for whom marijuana use is still not legal, do not realize this.
Many of my patients have used marijuana. Often, it has made their depression worse or caused symptoms of psychosis such as auditory hallucinations or paranoia. There is plenty of evidence that it would be best for them to stop using marijuana, but it is not always easy to convince young people of this.
Last week, I wrote about the difficult task of preparing a glossary of words related to marijuana. The task was difficult for me because of the emotions it caused. Because these words related to marijuana refer to an activity that has been illegal for most of my life, writing about them feels as wrong to me as if I am discussing hitting someone or stealing. Because these actions and their outcome can cause serious mental health problems, I am more anxious when I am using this language related to marijuana.
When I speak to my young patients, or their parents, about the need for youth to reduce and stop their marijuana use, I have found that I need to know more that the science of cannabis. I need to know these words I am gathering for the glossary. I need to know the language of marijuana. I need to know these words, no matter how worried or sad or uneasy they make me feel. I need to know the most dangerous of these words, even the ones that are related to substances and actions that are still illegal, even though marijuana is legal in Canada and many American states. I need to be able to use these words without flinching, even though they terrify me.
As I continue to write out this list of words, I am thinking of the parents who will read them. I imagine a mother looking at the meaning of “juice joint” and I see the horror dawning on her face when she realizes that her son, who left home this morning with his gym bag and team shirt ready for a game after school, is using a combination of marijuana and crack. He gave her a quick hug as he left and called, “I love you, Mom.”
This mother will look up and she’ll notice the picture of a smiling toddler on her desk and wonder, “How did this happen? When did this happen?”