Many Canadians were cheering this week as online and retail cannabis stores across the country opened for business for the first time.
Many medical experts agree, however, that the legalization of cannabis has opened a door to an unpredictable future associated with the effects of cannabis on health.
Canada’s legalization is “an uncontrolled experiment, in which the profits of cannabis producers and tax revenues are squarely pitched against the health of Canadians,” family physician Dr. Diane Kelshall has written in an editorial for the Canadian Medical Association Journal. “Cannabis legislation fails to protect the Canadian youth. It is toxic to users’ cortical neuronal networks, with both functional and structural changes seen in the brains of youth who use cannabis regularly or even once in their lifetime.”
Under the federal cannabis law, users must be 18 or 19 years old (depending on the province) to buy cannabis. Some provinces and territories have set the minimum age to 19, solely due to the lack of research related to cannabis.
Scientists around the world have agreed that a healthy human brain is not fully developed until age 25. Many experts urge youth and anyone under the age of 25 to wait as long as possible. In hope to avoid problems down the road.
According to a 2014 article by Christopher Bergland in Psychology Today, “Marijuana affects the endocannabinoid system of the user, which is the key area of the brain associated with schizophrenia. The endocannabinoid regulates most of the functions we use on a daily including cognition, sleep patterns, emotions, as well as reward processing. Scientists also believe that, in people who are susceptible and start using marijuana in adolescence, the marijuana can be a major trigger.”
“The minute you decide to smoke cannabis, know you are making a life-changing a decision,” said Amy Hockley, who studies psychology and addiction at the University of British Columbia. “If you are someone who is susceptible to mental illness, understand that you are feeding that illness with fire by using the drug. Cannabis is a trigger for mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and psychosis disorders — the most serious mental illnesses in society. Anyone under the age of 25 must act with a huge degree of caution because they could potentially be playing with fire.”
According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, “Marijuana use in youth is strongly linked to cannabis dependence and other substance use disorders; the initiation and maintenance of tobacco smoking; an increased presence of mental illness, including depression, anxiety and psychosis; impaired neurological development and cognitive decline; and diminished school performance and lifetime achievement.”
Bill C-45 (The Cannabis Act) recommends that the federal task force on cannabis legalization takes a public health approach to minimize possible harms. The federal government, however, has kept the minimum age at 18-19 years old, in spite of thinking about the long and short-term effects on a developing brain.
Last fall, the Canadian Medical Association recommended that the set age be 21, based on science and the developing brain. The association pushed for age 25 but knew that was unrealistic. Without any consideration of research and warning signs, the government approved the ages of 18-19.
“It’s all based on money and the government does not care. They have a target audience and it is anyone under the age of 25,” said Ben Talker, a human rights advocate. “If the government cared about protecting their future adults, the set age to purchase cannabis would be 25. They know the effects scientists for years have brought awareness to cannabis on a young brain and the high possibility to develop a psychosis disorder. ”
Health Canada will be monitoring how cannabis legalization affects use among the general population. Health experts throughout the country are now aware that the world is watching how Canada handles one of our country’s biggest change in drug policies.
See this article on Conestoga College’s new cannabis use policy.