Cannabis conflict

Study featuring OUWB student as lead author looks at ‘friction’ over marijuana in Chaldean community

An image of the students in front of their research poster

Bianca Elias, M2, and Oakland University graduate public health student, Angelina Selou, were part of the team behind the study. (Photo by Andrew Dietderich)


icon of a calendarApril 27, 2023

icon of a pencilBy Andrew Dietderich

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A second-year medical student from Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine is lead author on what is believed to be a first-of-a-kind study on attitudes toward marijuana among Chaldean Americans.

The study, “Attitudes Towards Marijuana Among Chaldean Americans,” was first presented at the Oakland University Graduate Research Conference on March 10.

Bianca Elias, M2, was part of the team that studied that found Chaldean Americans are generally more supportive of the legalization of medical marijuana and opposed to recreational marijuana.

The study also addresses the attitudes and beliefs leading to what is described as “friction between the church and Chaldean people.” Specifically, between those who seek to take economic advantage of Michigan’s marijuana laws and those who remain opposed to the drug.

“As aspiring physicians, it's important for medical students to take the lead in studying what their community is consuming to better understand the potential impact on their patients,” says Elias.

“By gaining insight into these consumption and attitude patterns, medical students can determine how best to approach patients and address potentially controversial or sensitive topics during physician-patient interactions,” she adds.

“This is why we believe it makes sense for medical students to lead such a study.” 

A ‘moral issue’

Chaldeans generally are people from northern Iraq, who speak Aramaic or Chaldean, and tend to identify as Catholic.

About 160,000 Chaldeans live in southeast Michigan, making it the largest community outside of Iraq.

Michigan voters legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2018. (Marijuana remains classified as a Schedule 1 substance under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970.)

According to the study, many Chaldeans took advantage of the economic opportunity presented by the legalization of marijuana in Michigan — including opening dispensaries to sell the drug.

Concurrently, however, officials at Chaldean churches have denounced the use of recreational drugs.   

In a Chaldean News article called “A Growing Concern,” Most Reverend Francis Y. Kalabat, Bishop of the Chaldean Diocese of St. Thomas the Apostle, said “he emphatically believes that the current unrestricted recreational distribution is unhealthy and immoral, creating an epidemic that is sweeping through the community.”

“There is nothing intrinsically wrong with marijuana,” said Kalabat, according to Chaldean News. “But when it is being used for non-medicinal purposes, its brain-altering properties do more harm than good, and it becomes escapism. That’s a moral issue that needs to be addressed.”

That belief, coupled with the fact that some Chaldeans want to take advantage of Michigan’s marijuana laws, is causing conflict within the community.

“It’s created such a friction in our community that we really wanted to look at how people felt about it,” she added.

Methodology and results

The study team consisted of three medical students (Elias, along with Anthony Cholagh and Anthony Mansour, both from Michigan State University), and an Oakland University graduate public health student, Angelina Selou. The team was advised by Flora Dallo, Ph.D., professor and associate dean in the School of Health Sciences at Oakland University.

“(Marijuana) is a very spoken-about topic so we wanted to put some numbers to it,” says Selou. “Everyone thinks they know how everyone else feels…let’s put some statistics together and see what people actually feel.”

As a result, the team developed a 10-minute survey.

Inclusion criteria consisted of those who self-identified as Chaldean and were over the age of 18. Data was collected between March 20 and April 20, 2022.

The survey was distributed via Chaldean Facebook pages and dispersed through snowball and convenience sampling. The final sample size consisted of 637 respondents.

Results found that 49.2% support legalization of medicinal marijuana, while 23.5% support legalizing recreational marijuana.

Further, 16.6% somewhat or strongly oppose legalization of medicinal marijuana, while 54.3% somewhat or strongly oppose legalization of recreational marijuana.

“We can clearly see that for medicinal marijuana, most people strongly or somewhat support legalization,” says Elias. “But when we look at recreational, we can see that totally flips and most people are strong or somewhat opposed to legalization. We see a similar trend with morality.”

Almost 86% of survey respondents said that medicinal marijuana is morally acceptable. Conversely, almost 60% reported feeling that recreational marijuana is morally wrong.

Per the study, reasons for the possible explanation of the results include:

  • A stigma that surrounds recreational use in the Chaldean community.
  • Religiosity influencing attitudes toward marijuana.
  • Physician trust from Chaldeans for medicinal marijuana as a treatment option.

The study does have its limitations: the survey was completed only by Chaldean individuals who speak English and have access to the internet; missing data reduced the sample size from 963 to 637; and the researchers drew from a convenience sample.

Still, the study authors believe the work is a good first step in better understanding.

“Since the likelihood of encountering Chaldean patients is high for medical students in the metro Detroit area, it is crucial for them to read research related to this population to gain further insights into their patients,” says Elias.

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