Pubdate: Thu, 13 Apr 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Dr. Gail Beck
Page: A13


Young people's health must be priority of legalization bill, says Dr.
Gail Beck

Every day in the youth program at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health
Centre my colleagues and I see young people whose mental illnesses are
complicated by the use and abuse of cannabis. We provide these young
people and their families with information on the impact of marijuana
on the developing brain, including articles and research papers. We
often are able to convince young people to decrease their marijuana
consumption and, in many cases, to stop using it altogether.

Unfortunately, legislators may not be as aware of the risks of
cannabis on the developing brain as mental health professionals are.

Marijuana use can impair concentration and cause a deterioration in
such cognitive tasks as remembering, problem-solving and
decision-making. These effects will reverse in adults a few weeks
after discontinuing marijuana. In youth younger than 25, however, this
is not the case.

Very often, these difficulties persist, resulting in long-term
functional deterioration. Young people may find their academic
achievement deteriorates, at a time in their lives when they can least
manage this. From the age of 18 until age 25, the age when brain
development is completed, a young person is finishing high school,
beginning post-secondary education, and starting a career. Most of us
call upon all our mental resources during this period and we don't
need cannabis clouding our judgment, either for a few months or in the
long run. Health professionals had hoped the legal age for marijuana
use might be 25, to reduce these impacts.

A second concern is related to mental illnesses, particularly
psychotic illnesses. Research has demonstrated a correlation between
marijuana use and the onset of anxiety disorders, symptoms of
depression and psychotic disorders in youth with a predisposition to
these conditions because of family history. Mental health symptoms
also are a concern in acute, toxic, dose-related episodes of
intoxication. These symptoms include anxiety and depression, but also
paranoia and brief psychotic episodes.

Yet many Canadians of all ages believe marijuana is relatively
harmless. It is for this reason that public health and mental health
professionals have requested a robust education plan accompany the
implementation of marijuana legislation.

Finally, we must remember that, even when they are not intoxicated,
youth, especially young men, are implicated in more motor vehicle
accidents than any other age group. Marijuana intoxication is every
bit as dangerous as any other intoxication and has been linked to an
increased rate of traffic accidents.

Mental health professionals had hoped the federal Liberal government
would keep public health concerns in the forefront as they introduced
marijuana legalization. As a physician and as a parent, I am inclined
to be protective where the evidence merits.

I had hoped this legislation would regulate marijuana to limit access
to safe amounts only, keeping in mind the mental health of young Canadians.

Health professionals now will take our concerns to provincial
governments. Since the cost of negative outcomes will be borne
provincially, perhaps these legislators will be more cautious with age

More importantly, perhaps health professionals will be able to
convince young Canadians and those who care for them of the health
risks of marijuana use, in much the same way as we are able to
convince my patients and their families. That would be the best

Dr. Gail Beck is clinical director of the youth psychiatry program at 
the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre.
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