Pubdate: Thu, 06 Jul 2017
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Andy Riga
Page: A6


Fears legalization may 'normalize' use of marijuana

Teenagers who go from occasional pot smoking to weekly or daily use
are two-and-a-half times more likely to have recurrent psychotic-like
experiences, a new Montreal study says.

And with legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada less than a
year away, the study's senior author says governments are ill-prepared
for the fact that adolescents will interpret the policy change as
proof it's OK to smoke pot.

"Our data show that transitioning to daily or weekly use of cannabis
very significantly increases adolescents' risk of having more
exaggerated and more frequent psychotic-like experiences," Patricia
Conrod, a professor at the Universite de Montreal's psychiatry
department, said in an interview.

Psychotic-like experiences are defined as "experiences of perceptual
aberration, ideas with unusual content and feelings of

The study, published Wednesday in the Journal of Child Psychology and
Psychiatry, is based on responses over four years from 4,000
adolescents at 31 Montreal area high schools.

Teens who regularly use cannabis "report higher levels of depression
and anxiety symptoms and they become more disinhibited" - less able to
control an impulse, to slow reactions down, and to think things
through before reacting, Conrod said.

"It's the combination of these things that appear to be contributing
to the acceleration of psychotic-like experiences and potentially can
contribute to a much more significant problem later on."

The study's lead author was Josiane Bourque, a Universite de Montreal
doctoral student.

The legalization of recreational pot on July 1, 2018, is expected to
"normalize the use marijuana," Conrod said.

Studies have shown that U.S. states that "go through the process of
legalizing do have young people who are more likely to normalize it
and to use it."

Canada "can't keep putting people in federal jails because of cannabis
use," but it must be prepared to "put into place healthcare policies
that will protect the most vulnerable people," such as teenagers.

"And it's not clear to me at all that provincial or the federal
government have a well-structured, organized and resourced prevention
strategy that is going to protect these people."

Conrad said, "'just say no' programs do not work - that's very clearly
demonstrated in the scientific literature.

"What you need to do is transfer skills to children. They need skills
on how to manage psychological risk factors and to confidently choose
not to use. It's not through information, it's not through scare
tactics - it really is skill building."

Two strategies are proven to work.

One is universal, school-based programs that "help young people
develop skills to confidently resist using and choose not to use," she

The other is a more targeted approach that benefits teens "with
certain personality risk factors for substance misuse."

In workshops by school psychologists or teachers in group settings,
at-risk teens can be taught skills to help them better manage their
anxiety and depression, for example.

"Without talking about drugs or alcohol very much you're able to help
delay the onset of their use because they don't have that internal
need to use," Conrod said.
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