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The Cannabis Debate and Mental Health

As Canada moves toward legalizing marijuana this summer, the debate rages on about how this will impact the economy and our health.  Like it or not, it’s happening, and I’ve been watching with interest to see how it’s going to play out.

There are many reasons why legalizing pot could be a “win” for Canadians, but it’s still one that requires a solid plan, particularly when we think about the impact on youth mental health.  We can’t and shouldn’t pretend that using marijuana doesn’t have an impact on our brains. This is particularly true when we’re talking about young people, as we know that brain development isn’t really “done” until our mid twenties. We know that young people that use pot are at an increased risk of developing psychosis, and that introducing it to a developing brain can have  an impact on emotional regulation, anxiety and decision-making in the short and long-term.

Some health professionals are worried that not enough is being done to get us ready for the implications of legalizing marijuana, and what that means for young people. This recent article from the Calgary Herald details some of the concerns they have:

“The perception now with legalization is that marijuana is safe, and it’s less toxic than alcohol. But that is not that case at all,” said [Dr. Chris Wilkes], estimating about 37 per cent of Grade 12 students in Alberta have used marijuana, and of that 10 per cent are believed to be using daily or are dependent.

Marijuana use is already happening.  We know that. But some worry that there’s not been enough time to create strategies around what they feel will be an “inevitable” increase in marijuana use, and in turn, the mental and physical health issues that will also become more common in our hospitals, mental health and addictions services. How do we legalize this, but still make sure everyone knows what they’re getting into by using it?

A while ago, Health Canada held public consultations so people could have their say about how cannabis should be made available to the public. Some of the proposed strategies that came from those consultations include making strict regulations on packaging (needs to be child-proof) and marketing (can’t use fluorescent  or metallic colours, must have official marijuana symbol etc.). You can read more about that here.  Many feel that widespread education, age limits and warning labels are also vital.

It will be interesting to see how each Province in Canada tries to strike a balance between this being a new and lucrative business vs. helping young people make good decisions about their health.  

What do you think? Are we ready for this? What ideas do you have about how this might affect youth and their mental health?