Pubdate: Wed, 25 May 2016
Source: Terrace Standard (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Terrace Standard
Author: Jackie Lieuwen
Cited: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse:


Medical professionals worry about marijuana's effect on young

Even as the federal Liberal government moves toward legalizing
marijuana, medical professionals hope that tight regulations will
decrease its use and protect young people from what studies have
proven can be significant damage to their brains.

"Regular use of marijuana before the age of 25 has been shown to
negatively affect brain development leading to lower IQ in adulthood,"
says Dr. Raina Fumerton, the Northern Health Authority's Terrace-based
medical health officer for the northwest.

"Marijuana can actually worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety and
can cause paranoia and hallucinations... It has also been shown to
trigger early onset of schizophrenia in those who are vulnerable...
Our recommendation is that people under the age of 25 should not be
using cannabis (also known as marijuana)," she said, adding that she
and most of her medical colleagues in the province agree.

Earlier this year the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA)
released a major report summarizing the current research on marijuana
with over 400 research references.

"Current debates about cannabis use are rife with mere opinion and
misinformation. And, to complicate the matter further, the evidence
related to the possible health risks of cannabis use appears to be
contradictory. How do we weigh the evidence?" the report asks in its
forward before doing exactly that.

The report highlights studies which have looked at brain MRI images as
well as ones about the biological impact of marijuana on the brain and
found that marijuana can actually alter the brain structure, damage
the prefrontal cortex and destroy grey matter. Because of that damage
to what researchers called "the thinking brain," young people using
marijuana will start to rely more on "the emotional brain" to control
their behaviour, which "can lead to increased risk-taking behaviour,
poor decision-making and inferior reasoning ability," the study said.

The researchers go on to say that "current evidence suggests a strong
relationship between cannabis (marijuana) use and psychosis," but they
call for more research into exactly how marijuana-use is connected
with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and behavioural disorders.

Dr. Fumerton said that another health concern about marijuana is that
it is addictive and can easily lead to dependence.

"About one in ten people who try marijuana will become addicted and
dependent and will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop," she
said. The CCSA study confirmed similar statistics, saying that 5-9 per
cent of those who use marijuana will develop dependence.

"This rate increases to about 17 per cent for those who start using
during adolescence," the study said, adding that risk of dependence is
also affected by other factors such as genetics. The researchers of
the CCSA study expressed concern about the public perception of
marijuana/cannabis as relatively harmless compared to other substances.

"Cannabis is not a harmless drug. It can be addictive and the risk
increases the earlier it is used. Early and frequent use also
increases the risk of short-term cognitive impairment and under
performing in school, as well as psychotic symptoms and disorders=C2=85 A
Canadians need to be made more aware of the health risks and harms,"
said the study.

Dr. Fumerton agrees, and says that the key with legalization will be
tight regulations with the goal of decreasing access, something she
calls a harm reduction approach. The other key is to make sure that
regulations are evidence-based, not money driven, and the effects
closely monitored to ensure that the regulations are actually
decreasing harms and access - what she calls the public health framework.

"We need to be constantly researching and looking at the data and
monitoring how this is impacting the health of people in the province
and what the usage patterns are," said Dr. Fumerton.

"We need to know where the policy is or is not working so that we can
make changes along the way. There needs to be that flexibility built
in=C2=85 and starting off being more conservative and more tightly
regulated is a better approach than being more liberal," she said. "I
and we in public health - physicians in B.C. - are very concerned
about those harmful effects (of marijuana), but that said, the reality
is that many people currently use marijuana products."

A 2013 McCreary study found that in B.C., 26 per cent of youth Grades
7 to 12 had tried marijuana. In northwest B.C., that went up to 42 per
cent, and over half of those (60 per cent) had used it in the past

With that in mind, Fumerton hopes that legalizing and tightly
restricting where, how and to whom marijuana is sold will decrease
access to this substance, especially among youth to whom it can be so
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