Therapy in the Age of Legalized Marijuana: A Qualitative Study of Counselors’ Experience in Responding to Patient Marijuana Use

Darlene Walker 1, Casey Mace Firebaugh 2 * , Gina Craft 1, Patrick McKiernan 1, Cynthia Palmisano 3

AM J QUALITATIVE RES, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp. 85-106

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A qualitative phenomenological study, the lived experiences of clinicians who treat clients using marijuana pre- and post-legalization in California are explored. This study was conducted to better understand the misconceptions associated with user attitudes and beliefs about marijuana use and provide clinicians, researchers, and physicians with information on the overall physical and emotional effects of marijuana use. Since legalization, investigating attitude and belief changes was essential to understanding the impact of marijuana's accessibility on user behaviors. Participants (n=10) were licensed mental health care providers working in California who provided treatment for current or recent users of marijuana products over the last year. A 20-question open-ended interview was delivered via Zoom regarding provider experiences with client marijuana use disclosure post-legalization.  A thematic analysis of qualitative data was performed. The results provide clinician insights about post-legalization marijuana attitudes and beliefs about use. Findings revealed differences in reported youth and adult-use behaviors. Reduced stigma and social acceptance of marijuana post-legislation has resulted in clients’ more clearly, openly, and honestly addressing their drug use, specifically, use behaviors associated with marijuana products. There is a need for research to further explore the attitudes and beliefs of users and how often CUD is identified and treated in clinical therapy. This study has provided the perspective of the therapy provider treating individuals who use cannabis. This study provides opportunities for further study on the legalization of marijuana, potency, and accessibility of marijuana as it pertains to the practice of clinical therapy with cannabis users as legalized use continues to increase for recreational and medicinal use.

Keywords: Cannabis Use Disorder, CUD, Clinical Therapy, Qualitative, Mental Health.