Our Medical Director weighs in on the AHS cannabis recommendations

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Last week, the media took hold of pieces of the Alberta Health Services (AHS) recommendations for cannabis legalization in Alberta:

Alberta Health Services says the provincial government should consider a minimum age of 21 for consumption of legal cannabis — and potentially raise the minimum age for smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol to match. In its submission to the NDP government’s cannabis secretariat, the provincial health authority also says the government should be in control of distribution and retail of marijuana when it becomes legal next year and calls for bans on public smoking and promotion of cannabis use. [Calgary Herald]

Our Medical Director, Dr. Ife Abiola, B.Sc, MD, has a response to this article:

Regarding the risks of adolescent use, there is numerous studies showing that those who use marijuana containing THC in early adolescence and into adulthood are more likely to report having anxiety and depression as adults.  In 2007, The Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found this to be the case with teens who use cannabis with THC before 15 years and use frequently past 21 years. However, this link doesn’t address that these adolescents may or may not be using cannabis to deal with manifestations of anxiety and depression in the first place. Adolescents with anxiety and depression may have the propensity to use cannabis, use it earlier, for a longer duration and more heavily.

In 2015, The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that the rates of marijuana use among youth remains unchanged before and after legalization. The only thing that changed was the consumption of alcohol and tobacco which decreased. The argument that adolescent use can be harmful is based on legitimate scientific evidence, however to suggest that adolescents will be at an increased risk of use with recreational legalization is pure speculation and contrary to what had been observed and documented in the United States. Furthermore, recreational cannabis legalization will be the biggest hindrance to the black market and its societal ills. Crime, adolescent use and fatal drug overdose decrease significantly in any region these laws are enacted. The Journal of American Medicine found that when provisions for marijuana were made fatal overdose from opioids and prescription drugs decreased by 24.8 per cent.

For some much-needed perspective, alcohol is far more prevalent and accepted in our society than marijuana. Drinking is more likely to cause dependency, impaired driving, health problems and even death. The safety profile for cannabis is preferable in all those contexts and non-existent for fatalities. Our society has addressed teen drinking by attacking the root of the problem: lack of support structures for at risk youth and increasing education. The same things are needed for cannabis. Rather than disproportional fear-mongering, educating adolescents on the risks, the dangers and enforcing regulations to keep children safe may be all that is required. Cannabis is the most accessible recreational drug in Canada. Removing the availability of legal avenues to acquire clean regulated, taxed product will send the 18-20 demographic back into the grasp of the black market which will target them more fiercely than before. This is the same black-market that has no regulations on potency, quality, safety or production.

One positive that comes out of the initial statements, is that a dialogue has been opened up. Law enforcement, medical professionals and all citizens will have a part to play in providing opinions and becoming informed on the nuances of cannabis legalization. The impact of the coming regulations cannot be ignored, but all of the decisions and the reaction to the frameworks we will be given must be based on demonstrable facts and with flexibility in its implementation.


For media inquiries, contact Amber Craig: amber@420clinic.ca

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