Turnbridge, a nationally recognized addiction and mental healthcare treatment provider based in New Haven, launches a billboard campaign to raise awareness about marijuana addiction and the availability of treatment.
On January 23, Weedmaps—a website that helps people find medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries and order marijuana online—posted a billboard on I-91 in New Haven with the headline “Weed is legal in 60 miles.” The ad apparently references the availability of legal marijuana across the Massachusetts border. Local news outlets ran stories about the billboard along with cautionary advice from Connecticut law enforcement officials. Recreational marijuana use is illegal in Connecticut, and people are warned not to transport marijuana across state lines or drive while high.
The Turnbridge billboard on I-91—a short distance from the Weedmaps billboard—features the message “Addiction treatment is closer.” Turnbridge hopes that drivers will make the connection between the availability of marijuana and the availability of effective treatment if marijuana use becomes problematic.
Turnbridge has been treating people for substance use and mental health disorders for more than 15 years. Many of its clients and their family members have experienced negative consequences of marijuana misuse and dependency and treating marijuana use disorder is common in the program.
One of the longest continuous attitudinal health studies in America indicates that attitudes about marijuana have been changing in recent years — a trend that coincides with states legalizing the drug. Many close to the issue believe that messages used to support legalization lead people to conclude that marijuana is less dangerous than they previously thought. Proponents of legalization suggest that marijuana offers relief from certain mental health conditions, that it may be a safer alternative to opioid pain medications, and that it does not lead to other drug or alcohol use. For many people, however, regularly using today’s high-potency marijuana exacerbates the symptoms of existing mental health conditions, creates lethargy, and leads to addiction.
“People are now exposed to a lot of questionable information about marijuana and its asserted benefits,” says Diana Clark, a noted addiction expert and Turnbridge outreach specialist. “As healthcare providers on the frontlines of the addiction crisis, we observe how marijuana use can lead to negative consequences and—in some cases—marijuana addiction. One side effect of marijuana legalization is that young people are getting mixed messages. On the one hand, they hear that marijuana is not harmful and may even yield medical benefits,” says Clark. “On the other hand, they find that marijuana can intensify their anxiety or depression, that they lose interest in life goals they once considered important, and that they are unable to stop using marijuana despite their attempts to do so. We need to remind the public that using cannabis and other substances is often an attempt to self-medicate emotional pain that is the real reason driving the substance use.”