Kacie Fann had three children and worked full-time as a realtor when the pandemic hit last year. Like many others, her life was turned upside down and she found herself at a loss as to how to cope.
“I didn’t know how to do it,” Fan said. “I started having severe anxiety attacks because I was overwhelmed by the news and everything else.”
Fann walked away from a career she had spent years building, taught herself how to trade stocks to generate some income, and turned her attention to helping her children, including a two-year-old online school. However, despite these drastic lifestyle changes meant to help reduce everyday stress, Fan says her attacks didn’t subside until she tried something completely new for her.
“A friend told me about CBD,” she said, referring to cannabidiol, a compound found in the hemp plant. “I would say during the first week [of trying it]My nerves began to calm down and I was able to think and come up with a plan for how to do it, and how I was going to manage. “
At first, she was concerned about the stigma associated with cannabis, particularly as a mother of three, but after doing her own research, she said she felt comfortable with the choice. Fann adds that cannabis made a difference to her stress levels and mood more than anything else she had tried, including exercise and meditation.
“It helped greatly in alleviating my anxiety,” she said.
Finn is not alone among Canadians turning to cannabis in some form during the pandemic. According to the post Statistics Canada survey which looked at changes in alcohol, drug and medication consumption habits, 20 percent of Canadians now report using cannabis, compared to 14 percent before COVID-19.
The StatsCan report also found that the top reasons Canadians cited for cannabis use include increased stress, boredom and loneliness.
Yad Singh is the owner of Dolly’s Cannabis dispensary in the Annex neighborhood of Toronto. Earning a degree in nuclear medicine, he became interested in the therapeutic uses of cannabis while researching ways to relieve some of the symptoms a family member had while battling muscle cancer.
These days, he says, his dispensary is helping people relieve some of the stress they’re experiencing as a result of the pandemic’s frequent shutdowns.
“You know, the vast majority of everyone who comes here is definitely affected by COVID and how it affects their mood,” Singh said.
“So whether they show a good face about it, it still affects them and it’s still hard to deal with.”
Singh says he’s seen a marked increase recently in the number of first-timers — people who haven’t tried cannabis before.
“I’ve noticed in the past couple of months that more and more new users are visiting our store. I would say, from our point of view, maybe about 5 to 10 per cent jump in these types of customers,” Singh said.
He adds that people tell him they are trying to deal with the growing fear and anxiety surrounding the pandemic, and they often come to the dispensary after trying other means to regulate their mood. Some also say they try to avoid turning to other substances, such as alcohol.
“I hear from people in casual conversation, they’ll say to me, ‘You know, you can’t drink beer all the time, and I need something to get through this period,'” Singh said.
Researchers at the Toronto Center on Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) have been monitoring the increase in cannabis consumption.
CAMH researchers note the potential health risks associated with repeated dependence on cannabis. Possible long-term effects include severe anxiety, depression, and even psychosis, especially among those with a family history of mental health problems.
CAMH urges younger people and pregnant women to avoid cannabis completely, as well as warning people to wait at least six hours to drive after taking it. It also warns all users to exercise moderation.
“One way to reduce the risk is to reduce the THC content, and to reduce the amount of cannabis that is consumed,” said Dr. Buckley.
Despite these warnings, Singh says he sees people along the anxiety and depression spectrum trying to take cannabis.
One of his dispensary’s new customers, Daniel Guedes de Andrade, is a bespoke student who came to Dolly for relief from extreme anxiety after several visits to the emergency room with a racing heart that shook him.
“When it was really bad, I had a very fast heart rate and felt chest pressure and shortness of breath,” Geddes de Andrade said. “This pandemic has definitely increased my anxiety levels.”
Guedes de Andrade is currently being monitored by a doctor to rule out any heart problems, but he says at times the anxiety was so intense that he was exhausted. He adds that he hasn’t been able to focus on work or calm enough to enjoy much of anything, but since he started vaping CBD, he says that has changed.
“It helped me a lot with my anxiety management and enabled me to relax as well,” he said. “It works within a few seconds and has been very helpful. It’s like, I’m able to be functional and motivated to do my job.”
Fann says she plans to continue using CBD oil. She initially used the oil once a day, but adds that now she needs less of it to handle what she was doing when she first started using it.
“I’m pretty much like maybe one drop a week now, because I got to a place where I could manage everything I had on my plate,” Fan said.
Dr. Buckley says CAMH plans to continue studying people’s use levels, to see if cannabis consumption is declining or staying at the same level after the pandemic.
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