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Frequently Asked Questions

Here is a list of answers to your frequently asked questions. If your question and answer are not here, feel free to contact us at info@farcanada.org.

Is Families for Addiction Recovery (FAR) a Canadian registered charity?

Yes, FAR is a Canadian registered charity.
Charitable Registration # 77093 5724 RR0001

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Is FAR involved in public policy?

Yes, FAR is a voice for families for better regulation of the tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceutical and cannabis industries and for the consideration of the regulation of the illicit market. FAR also advocates for the elimination of stigma which means the decriminalization of the possession of all drugs for personal use, and publicly-funded, timely, compassionate, evidence-based treatment of substance use disorder (SUD).

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Is FAR in favour of the legalization of marijuana?

Provided that the governments take a public health approach, as opposed to a commercialization approach, FAR is in favour of the legalization of marijuana. We appeared before the Task Force on the Legalization and Regulation of Marijuana and our Submission to the Task Force can be found here. Our submission emphasizes:

  • the need to ramp up capacity to treat those with substance use disorder (SUD) (including physician education regarding SUD);
  • the need for dedicated funding for treatment (meaning a portion of the profits must be used for treatment);
  • a minimum legal purchase age of 21 years; and
  • a government run monopoly distribution model which is significantly different from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).

FAR agrees with this Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) blog post by a mother whose child became addicted to marijuana.

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Is marijuana addictive?

Yes. Estimates of the rates of addiction for marijuana are approximately 5%-9% for an adult and 17% for an adolescent. Compared to other substances, marijuana is not as addicting. It is estimated that 32% of tobacco users will become addicted, 23% of heroin users, 17% of cocaine users, and 15% of alcohol users.

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Many people believe marijuana is a gateway drug. Is it?

Dr. Carl Hart answers this question in an interview:

“It all depends what is meant by “gateway drug”. What people often mean is that marijuana leads to hard drugs. That is not true. It is true that the vast majority of people who use heroin and cocaine, for example, used marijuana before they used these hard drugs. But, then you look at the fact that the vast majority of marijuana smokers don’t go on to use those drugs. So, it’s not a gateway drug. It’s illogical to make that sort of statement. It would be like saying that “the last three presidents of United States used marijuana before they became president. Therefore, marijuana is a gateway drug to the white-house.”

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Are synthetic cannabinoids (Spice, K2) safer than marijuana?

No, they are far more dangerous. People tend to use synthetic cannabinoids instead of marijuana because they believe that they are legal and that there is no risk of a criminal record, or to avoid a positive drug test. However, synthetic cannabinoids are illegal in Canada. The risks associated with synthetic cannabinoids are significantly greater than the risks associated with marijuana use and include seizures, irregular heartbeat, panic attacks, agitation, hallucinations and, in a few cases, death. If you are going to use one or the other, use marijuana. For more information on synthetic cannabinoids click here.

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Is alcohol a drug and is it safer than marijuana?

Alcohol is a drug and it is not safer than marijuana. Alcohol has become normalized in our society and according to a study of the relative harms of 20 of the most commonly used drugs, alcohol causes the greatest amount of harm once you combine harm to self and harm to others. Marijuana (cannabis) ranks eighth on the list. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 5.9% of all deaths worldwide in 2012 were attributable to alcohol consumption.

Wood E, McKinnon M, Strang R, Kendall PR. Improving community health and safety in Canada through evidence-based policies on illegal drugs. Open Medicine. 2012;6(1):e35-e40.

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Does marijuana affect your ability to drive?

Yes. Driving within a couple of hours of using marijuana nearly doubles your crash risk.

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What is addiction?

The word addiction is derived from the Latin term for “enslaved by” or “bound to”. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a U.S. federal government drug abuse and addiction research institute, defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. Addiction occurs when a person cannot control the impulse to use drugs even when there are negative consequences—the defining characteristic of addiction. NIDA and others consider addiction a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works, especially in the brain’s natural inhibition and reward centers.

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Are there guidelines to minimize the risks of alcohol use?

Yes. See Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines for adults.

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Are there guidelines to minimize the risks of marijuana use?

Yes. See Canada’s Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines.

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When I talk to my kid I seem to be in a war zone. Where can I learn better communication skills?

Good communication is a cornerstone of good relationships. Good communication involves active listening. This basic guide is a good refresher on better communication skills for everyone at all times. It becomes particularly important when relationships become strained as they do when a loved one is in active addiction.

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How do I talk to my kids about drugs?

Here are links to websites that discuss how to talk to your kids about drugs:

Health Canada: How to Talk with Your Teen about Drugs – Communication Tips for Parents

Parent Action on Drugs: Stats Facts and Talking Points about Alcohol and Other Drugs

Drug Free Kids Canada: Cannabis Talk Kit – Know How to Talk with Your Teen and Make It a Conversation not a Confrontation.

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What should I tell my kids about addiction/drugs?

See the Section on this website on What to Tell Your Kids About Drugs.

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Is there effective treatment for subtance use disorder (SUD)?

Yes, although it is often difficult to access, particularly on a timely basis. The two main components of effective treatment are therapy and medication. The components of effective treatment are discussed here and the medications available, depending on the drug involved, are discussed here.

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How long does withdrawal last?

It depends on the drug. Here are average periods of withdrawal for various drugs:

Drug Withdrawal Period
Alcohol 5-7 days
Cannabis Up to two weeks
Cocaine 2-3 days
Opioids 1-4 weeks
Amphetamines/Methamphetamines 2-10 days
Tobacco 2 days – 2 weeks
Benzodiazepines 10-14 days

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Why can't they just stop using?

For the brain, the difference between normal rewards and drug rewards can be described as the difference between someone whispering into your ear and someone shouting into a microphone. Just as we turn down the volume on a radio that is too loud, the brain adjusts to the overwhelming surges in dopamine (and other neurotransmitters) by producing less dopamine or by reducing the number of receptors that can receive signals. As a result, dopamine’s impact on the reward circuit of the brain of someone struggling with addiction can become abnormally low, and that person’s ability to experience any pleasure is reduced. This medical condition is called “anhedonia”. It is also present in people with depression.

This is why a person who is struggling with addiction eventually feels flat, lifeless, and depressed, and is unable to enjoy things that were previously pleasurable. The person needs to keep taking drugs in an attempt to bring his or her dopamine function back up to normal so they feel normal – which only makes the problem worse, like a vicious cycle. Also, the person will often need to take larger amounts of the drug to produce the familiar dopamine high – an effect known as tolerance.

Addicted Brain Response

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How long will cravings last?

Stopping drug use doesn’t immediately return the brain to normal. Some drugs have toxic effects that can kill neurons—and most of these cells will not be replaced. While changes to connections between neurons in the brain may not be permanent, some last for months. Some research suggests the changes may even last for years. This is called post addiction withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

Long-lasting brain changes can make it challenging for individuals struggling with addiction to stay drug-free. They often experience intense cravings for years, which can lead to relapse. However, the brain has neuroplasticity. That means it can repair itself, over time.

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Can long term heavy marijuana use cause vomitting?

Yes. There is a medical condition called Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome. The nausea and vomiting can be relieved with hot showers or baths. Symptoms stop within days of ending marijuana use.

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What do I need to know about the opioid overdose crisis?

North America is in the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic. It has never been more dangerous to use illegal drugs. Both persons struggling with addiction and recreational users of illegal drugs are at risk. Toxic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil, both synthetic opioids which are much more powerful than morphine, are being mixed in to other drugs. Persons who use street drugs do not know if what they are purchasing is the drug that they believe it to be or the potency of it. Ottawa Public Health has prepared information for parents on what they need to know about opioids.

If you or anyone you know may be using illegal drugs or prescription opioids (oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl), be aware of the signs of an overdose and have a naloxone kit. See the Opioid Overdose and Naloxone section of this website. For ways to reduce the harms of using these and other drugs see the What to Tell Your Kids About Drugs section of this website.

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How do I help a loved one in active addiction?

First, you need to help yourself, then you will have the energy and resilience required to support your loved one. This is a tough pill to swallow, especially for parents, yet it is true. It is the same concept as putting on your own oxygen mask first. For more information see the sections of this website on Supporting Yourself and Supporting Your Loved One  under Family Support.

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Where do I get help for myself as a family member of someone struggling with addiction?

See the Family Support Groups  section of this website. If you are a parent you can also consider our Parent to Parent Peer Support.

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Where do I get help for my loved one?

See the Getting Help section of this website under Treatment.

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