Pubdate: Fri, 21 Apr 2017
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Gail Beck
Page: 20


Every day in the youth program at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health
Centre, my colleagues and I see young people whose illnesses are
complicated by the use and abuse of cannabis or a dependence on this
drug. We provide these youths and their families with information on
the effect of pot on the developing brain. We are often able to
convince young people to decrease their marijuana consumption or, in
many cases, to stop using it.

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

There are three categories of concern with respect to cannabis use by
youth and their health. First, psychiatrists and other mental health
professionals are concerned about the impact of marijuana on brain
development. Second, there is a correlation between marijuana use and
the onset of psychotic illnesses. Finally, there may be particular
risks related to adolescents who are driving under the influence of

There is good evidence that marijuana use can have an effect on the
developing brain, which can continue into a person's mid-20s. Health
professionals had hoped that the legal age for marijuana use might be
25, to reduce these impacts. Most of us realize that 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 under 25, however, this isn't the case.

These difficulties often result in long-term functional deterioration.
Young people may even find their academic achievement deteriorates at
a time in their lives when they can least manage this. From the age of
18 until 25, 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.

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

In our youth psychiatry program, we educate our patients and their
families about this research. We have found that this is necessary
since so many Canadians believe that marijuana is relatively harmless
compared with other substances or alcohol. It's for this reason that
public health and mental health professionals have requested that a
robust education plan accompany the implementation of marijuana

Finally, we must remember that even when they're not intoxicated,
youth - especially young men - are implicated in more motor-vehicle
accidents than any other age group. Marijuana intoxication is as
dangerous as other intoxication and has been linked to an increased
rate of traffic accidents. This link was demonstrated in an increased
rate of motor vehicle accidents in Colorado since the legalization of
marijuana there.

Mental health professionals had hoped that the federal government
would keep public health concerns in the forefront as they introduced
marijuana legalization. As a physician and parent, I am inclined to be
protective where the evidence merits it. But I am also realistic. I
know that young Canadians use twice as much marijuana as their
counterparts in other similar countries. I had hoped that this
legislation would regulate marijuana, so that there could be access to
safe amounts only, keeping in mind the mental health of young Canadians.

Having had an opportunity to consider the federal plan to legalize
marijuana, health professionals will now 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 restrictions.

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

Dr. Gail Beck is clinical director of the youth psychiatry program at 
the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. This piece first appeared in the 
Ottawa Citizen.
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