Pubdate: Sat, 12 Mar 2016
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2016 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Bill Kaufmann
Page: A9


Expert panel notes how drug affects brain growth until user reaches

CALGARY - With research showing harmful effects of marijuana on
developing adolescent brains, Ottawa should tread carefully in how it
legalizes the drug, including consideration of a high minimum age for
usage, a panel on substance abuse said Friday.

Two members of a panel speaking in Calgary said updated research about
the ways regular marijuana use negatively affects adolescents in
numerous ways should colour the debate over the cannabis legalization
promised by the new Liberal government.

Knowledge that cannabis affects the developing brain until age 25
should influence any legalization age restrictions, said Dr. Philip
Tibbo, director of the Nova Scotia Early Psychosis program.

"With a drinking age at, say, 18, does that mean we have to have the
same age for cannabis as well?" said Tibbo.

The increasing content of cannabis's active ingredient, THC,
complicates regulating the drug, said Dr. Franco Vaccarino, a chairman
of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, which hosted Friday's discussion.

"What percentage of THC are we talking about?" said Vaccarino.

"Given the increasing amount of knowledge, we owe it to ourselves to
elevate the conversations - there's not one simple thing we're talking
about in legalization."

Vaccarino said a trend in the 1980s to view drug risks seriously led
to lower use of certain substances and a dark public perception of
their use. That has since been reversed, he added.

"In this world of unprecedented access to information, it's ironic
that there's so much misinformaton," said Vaccarino, who noted that,
despite Canada's marijuana prohibition, the country has one of the
highest rates of use among developed countries.

The panel said the latest research debunks numerous myths of
cannabis's harmlessness while highlighting the damage it causes to
adolescent brains during their formative years. Some of those impacts
can be seen in academic results, said Tibbo.

"You can measure that in test scores and even the ability to finish
high school and move to post secondary education," he said. "There are
definite patterns in changes in brain structure ... it's the long-term
effects we're more concerned about."

Marijuana use among Canadians aged 15-24 ranges from 22 per cent to 26
per cent with the highest rates among those in the older age brackets,
states the abuse centre.

In past-year use, 40 per cent of young people admitted misusing
alcohol, while the number for cannabis was 19 per cent and four per
cent for pharmaceuticals.

Social acceptance of marijuana use, particularly among the young, has
reached troubling proportions driven largely by the discussion
surrounding it, said Dr. Kim Corace of the Royal Ottawa Mental Health

"In my discussions with them, they believe marijuana use is already
legal," she said.

Cannabis use is also known to contribute to mental-health disorders in
young people, particularly those already predisposed to them, said
Corace. "Those who do use cannabis are at greater risk of developing
depression, and earlier," she said.
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