The Many Sides of the Cannabis Conversation
On October 17, 2018, Canada legalized cannabis for recreational use. In the medical, public health and health research community this was met with both cautious optimism and deep concern.
The complexity of legalization – from the age of
Four health experts share their views on the ongoing cannabis debate.
A public health approach to cannabis means getting the balance right
By Dr. Christopher Mackie, Medical Officer of Health, Middlesex-London Health Unit
The legalization of cannabis for nonmedical use ended almost 100 years of legal
Using evidence-informed policy and practice, a public health approach to cannabis legalization addresses the health concerns of cannabis while
This is known as the ‘paradox of prohibition.’ While cannabis as a substance carries health risks, criminal prohibition did not prevent use. Prior to legalization, nearly half of Canadians reported to have ever used cannabis and compared to their counterparts in other
Criminal prohibition carried tangible harms – criminal records and associated life-long consequences, including
The potential for success lies in finding the right balance. There is a substantial body of evidence from years of research about alcohol and tobacco that shows overpromotion is linked to increased consumption, earlier initiation and increased harms.
Canada has a chance to get this balance right: protecting the health of the public by promoting lower-risk use for those who choose to use, preventing and delaying use by youth, and providing an adequate supply of a safer, regulated product.
The regulatory framework for cannabis must adapt to
By Steven R. Laviolette,
PhD, Professor, Anatomy & Cell Biology and Psychiatry, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry
Legalization of marijuana can be a positive step in the right direction provided that the regulatory framework from Health Canada is able to adequately adapt to emerging science and take into consideration the
In my lab, we are examining how adolescent exposure to the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), can induce long-term vulnerability to certain mental health conditions. We use a rodent model of the adolescent brain development to model human teen use of cannabis and explore brain pathways known to be disturbed in serious psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction and schizophrenia.
Results from our studies have demonstrated conclusively that the developing adolescent brain is exquisitely sensitive to the effects of THC and that even limited exposure can cause long-lasting brain alterations
Since we know the human brain is experiencing important developmental processes all the way to age 25, there is a lot of concern regarding what age an individual can safely consume cannabis. Of course, this is a complex question because our research suggests that it really depends on the THC potency of the cannabis being used and the relative levels of cannabidiol (CBD), the other major phytochemical in cannabis. In fact, our research has shown that CBD can counteract many of the negative effects of THC on the brain and actually have therapeutic potential in treating disorders like anxiety, addiction and schizophrenia.
The challenges for developing a regulatory framework in Canada involve setting an appropriate age of access for young people, continuing to combat black market cannabis access and regulating the relative amounts of THC and CBD in strains of cannabis that are now commercially available.
Currently, legal ages of access to cannabis differ across provincial lines and only in the coming years will we be able to know conclusively if allowing access at 18 to 19 years of age, particularly to high-potency cannabis strains, may cause any dramatic shifts toward increased mental health problems among vulnerable populations.
“Canada has a chance to get this balance right: protecting the health of the public by promoting lower-risk use for those who choose to use, preventing and delaying use by youth, and providing an adequate supply of a safer, regulated product.” — Dr. Christopher Mackie
Cannabis legalization provides one more tool in aiding patients with chronic illness
By Dr. Michael Verbora, MD'13, Chief Medical Officer, Aleafia Health
The legalization of medical cannabis has provided a regulatory framework for patients to access
Prior to legalized medical cannabis, patients were forced to grow cannabis or designate a grower and there was a lack of quality control. With a regulated framework, physicians can now authorize cannabis products and be aware of the CBD/THC content, and dose with milligram accuracy. This has led to a massive increase in patients seeking cannabis products and to date more than 350,000 Canadians are registered in the medical cannabis system with more than 18,000 physicians having written authorizations.
It has also led to a resurgence in cannabinoid research to help us better understand the risks and benefits of cannabinoid therapy. Having the option to
Given the complexity of medical cannabis, it has also forced many patients to become educated on
The legalization of recreational cannabis serves to reduce public health harms associated with unregulated cannabis products. There remains a majority of the market still accessing illicit products, but the government hopes that with time, consumers will switch to regulated legal access.
Unfortunately, there remains a product shortage of regulated legal cannabis and medical patients did suffer
Glamourizing cannabis smoking will lead to chronic, life-shortening lung disease
By Grace Parraga, BSc'84, MSc'86,
PhD, Professor, Medical Biophysics, Scientist, Robarts Research Institute
I’m not concerned about cannabis legalization, but I am deeply concerned about normalizing and glamourizing cannabis smoking and the fact that for some, legalization makes smoking seem more socially acceptable, sexy and safe.
It is obvious to me that after decades of experience working with the devastating effects of tobacco smoking including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and needless premature deaths, Canadians should be very concerned about the impact of cannabis smoking and second-hand cannabis smoke on early lung development in babies and children and on lung health and resilience to infection in adults and seniors.
I know first-hand from the cannabis and tobacco smokers we study in the lab that the damage smoking causes starts early in the smallest airways and that patients cannot perceive or sense this until
When we breathe in smoke, the burning or
I lose sleep at night concerned about the influence the cannabis industry has on Canadians’ decisions to smoke and I am deeply troubled that tobacco companies suppressed their own research about the damaging effects of smoking. These same companies are now considering purchasing cannabis companies, which opens up the potential for mixed cannabis and nicotine products, which will enhance addiction to smoking and expand sales and revenue.
The debilitating effects of smoking on lung health are undeniable, unnecessary and unconscionable. Researchers like me have a shared public responsibility to speak out and talk about our research, which shows that smoking causes