San Diego

‘Uncharted Territory': Health Expert Talks Legal Pot & Cannabis Use Dependence

In less than six months, legal sales of recreational marijuana are expected to roll out across the state of California

In just six months, California will officially license businesses to sell marijuana for recreational use.

That provides a limited window of time for health providers to prepare.

“We really don't know what to expect yet,” said Kristin Steele Psy.D. “This is uncharted territory.”

Steele spoke with NBC 7 Monday about Sharp McDonald Center, a local facility that deals with addiction including what she called “cannabis use disorder.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports in 2015 about 4 million people in the United States met the diagnostic criteria for the disorder.

“In decades prior, it wasn’t really thought that someone could actually become dependent on marijuana,” Steele said. “What we’ve seen is that can actually occur.”

She described someone with a problem as one who spends a lot of time getting and using marijuana. The person may be facing consequences because of the use of marijuana.

She described chronic pain, anxiety and lack of sleep as possible symptoms.

Insurance companies sometimes need to be convinced to cover treatment for marijuana dependency.

“It really was a school of thought that people didn’t need formal treatment if they wanted to stop using marijuana,” Steele said.

Some people question the concept of marijuana dependence.

The website MedicalJane suggests high doses of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) could trigger anxiety in some patients but points out that more study needs to be done to prove a connection.

Also, the use of cannabis has been shown to help those dependent on other stronger narcotics, according to the website.

Steele said that it’s common to compare smoking marijuana to having a beer at the end of the day. What’s not known is why some people grow dependent on marijuana and others don’t.

“If someone is using marijuana every day they have a 20 percent chance of becoming addicted to it,” Steele said.

California voters passed Proposition 64 in November 2016, allowing those over age 21 to legally use marijuana, and the sale of the drug to be taxed.

Previously, marijuana was legal only for medicinal purposes and with a doctor's authorization.

San Diego is working to put measures in place to license local pot dispensaries to sell marijuana without a medical prescription by January 2018. 

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