Pubdate: Wed, 29 Mar 2017
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Carmela Fragomeni
Page: A3


New law will require strategy to deal with use of pot and its effects
on student life, learning

There is reason to be concerned about legalizing marijuana when it
comes to youth, a McMaster University health forum heard.

Psychologist and cannabis-use researcher Franco Vaccarino told
Tuesday's Cannabis on Campus forum that young people need special
attention because their brains don't fully develop until age of 25.

Vaccarino, a principal editor of "The Effects of Cannabis Use during
Adolescence" report in 2015, said brains undergo dramatic changes
during adolescence and youth are vulnerable to drug use.

With high drug use, there is an increased risk for mental illness
later in life, he said.

Vaccarino, who is also president of the University of Guelph, prefaced
his remarks by stating that much of what he had to say related to
early and frequent marijuana use and that "there are significant
differences between frequent and infrequent use."

Still, Canada has the highest number of young users of marijuana in
the world, although their alcohol consumption is far higher, he said,
adding one in 20 Canadian youth met the criteria for cannabis abuse in
recent studies.

"Early and regular cannabis use leads to earlier onset of psychotic
symptoms and it is a major risk factor for developing schizophrenia,"
he said.

"I understand that various factors have to be brought to bear on
(legalizing marijuana) policy and that health is just one aspect.

But wherever we land, we need to prepare the terrain

Panel member Michael DeVillaer, a Mac professor and cannabis law
researcher, spoke on the misconceptions about "decriminalization" and
"legalization," and how they're different.

He said young people are particularly vulnerable to getting a criminal
record for possession in the next two years it will likely take to
legalize marijuana after the federal government introduces legislation
this summer.

Having a criminal record can be damaging and have a significant impact
on people's lives, DeVillaer said. He estimated a potential 50,000
young Canadians could get a criminal record the next two years for
something that will soon be legal.

"One solution proposed is to decriminalize it now," he said. "In the
next two years, people are in peril, even with the occasional use -
and all cannabis users need to keep that in mind."

In discussing how Mac can deal with legalization, incoming dean of
sciences Maureen MacDonald said: "All of this is far out of my comfort
zone. … Mental health is an area many faculty are very uncomfortable
with, and now to add this layer adds a new complexity."

She too wondered how legalization will affect student

"This year, there was a dramatic increase in anxiety among students. …
I don't know where this is coming from, but when we add substance
abuse, it's going to be more difficult."

Dr. Catharine Munn - who leads a Mac team that works to build
resilience in students - agreed the university needs to prepare for
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt