In the rush to legalize marijuana in Canada, medical experts are warning about weed’s alarming side, particularly for younger users

MACLEANS | Joe Castaldo | January 15, 2018

Sean Savoie first smoked marijuana around the age of 14 when, behind a gas station, a friend handed him a pop can fashioned into a bong. He doesn’t remember if he got high or even enjoyed the experience, but he did start smoking two or three times a week. Marijuana became a way for Savoie to create an identity for himself during those tumultuous high school years, and a way to make friends. His parents disapproved and urged him to quit, but he never abandoned the habit for long. Eventually, his parents stopped trying, contenting themselves with the fact that at least their son wasn’t using harder drugs. “That kind of told me that it’s okay,” says Savoie, who lives in Winnipeg. “So I started using every day.”

By the time he was in university, Savoie was smoking multiple times a day. He’d spark up as soon as he rolled out of bed, as well as before hanging out with friends, before a video game session, before family dinners and before sleep. No matter what he was about to do, Savoie wanted to be high for it. It never occurred to him that he might have a problem. “It was like, ‘You can’t get addicted to weed. It’s the harmless drug,’ ” he recalls.

But after five years of heavy use, Savoie noticed his short-term memory was starting to fray. He avoided talking to people. Worse, festering feelings of anxiety and depression were growing. He tried to mask them with weed, deepening his dependency. He upended his life, quitting his job and breaking up with his girlfriend, trying to find the source of his depression. Nothing worked. “Maybe it’s the drug use,” he recalls thinking, “because I’m constantly relying on it.” (Research shows a link between cannabis use and depression, but causality isn’t clear.) By that time, Savoie was using dabs, a highly concentrated form of marijuana, and he was still grappling with depression. After a minor argument with his sister at the family cabin, Savoie fled and barrelled back to the city in tears. He called a friend to take him to a mental health clinic. Savoie, who had been prescribed antidepressants a couple of weeks earlier, spent two hours with a doctor and was told what he already suspected: he had a dependency on marijuana that was affecting his mental health, and he had to quit.