Pubdate: Sat, 24 Jun 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Mike Hager
Page: A16


Dianne McIntosh is continually alarmed by the teens who come into her
Vancouver office telling the psychiatrist that they use cannabis to
treat their mental-health issues because it's a natural - and harmless
- - substance.

"It's a natural product? So is tobacco, so is alcohol, these are all
natural products," Dr. McIntosh said. With the federal Liberal
government saying that cutting down on teen cannabis use is a core
reason it is pushing to legalize the drug next year, Dr. McIntosh and
a panel of three other experts are gathering in Richmond, B.C., on
Sunday to clear the air about the dangers young people face when using
the substance.

Chief among the messages that need to get out, she says, is the fact
that even though a direct link has yet to be proven between using the
drug and mental-health issues, evidence shows the substance can
trigger psychotic episodes and negatively affect youth with a family
history of mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

About 15 per cent of Canadians - including roughly 30 per cent of
adolescents and young adults - report using cannabis in the past year,
according to surveys.

Roughly 1 per cent of the overall population develop schizophrenia,
which affects one's ability to discern reality from fantasy, with
young men typically developing it in their late teens, while young
women often become affected in their early-to-mid 20s, Dr. McIntosh

Research has shown heavy cannabis use plays a "clear role in the early
onset of psychotic disorders," she said, noting schizophrenia can
develop up to six years earlier in young people who consume the
substance regularly.

"Those six years earlier? This is the difference between poverty;
relationships; having children," she said of those teens genetically
predisposed to schizophrenia who start consuming cannabis heavily.

Deborah Conner, executive director for the BC Schizophrenia Society,
which is playing host to the panel at its annual general meeting, said
the non-profit organization and its 3,000 members support restricting
access to recreational marijuana to anyone under 25 years old, which
echoes the position of the Canadian Psychiatric Association.

That is the age when a person's brain is considered to have finished
developing. "If you're 35 [without any mental illness] and you want to
smoke pot, I don't care," Dr. McIntosh said.

Dan Werb, director of the Toronto-based International Centre for
Science in Drug Policy, said young people will continue to use
cannabis regardless of whether or not they are allowed to by law.

He said comparing alcohol and cannabis use among teens is like picking
your poison as to which is worse.

"On the one hand, it's possible cannabis has more deleterious effects
on the developing brain, but that alcohol has more deleterious effects
at the societal level when used among young people," he said.

Cannabis was deemed less dangerous than tobacco in a 2010 study that
ranked 20 legal and illegal drugs based on the dependence, social and
physical harms they caused. The report, published in the British
medical journal The Lancet, ranked tobacco as more harmful than
cannabis, while both were considered far less dangerous to users and
the general public than heroin, cocaine and alcohol.

Under prohibition, young Canadians often find it hard to find reliable
information about cannabis. Psychiatrists and addiction experts expect
legalizing and regulating cannabis to help - not hurt - young people
who suffer from mental illness or use the drug to self-medicate by
opening up an honest public dialogue about the harms of using the drug.

Young Canadians are going to consume drugs, Dr. Werb said, so the goal
should be reducing the more problematic forms of drug use and
incentivizing less harmful substances.

Cannabis should play a role in that fight, he argued.

"Young people are obviously inquisitive and looking to experiment, but
I think most would be most comfortable with less harmful forms of drug
use and that's why cannabis is generally a more known quantity," he
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MAP posted-by: Matt