Pubdate: Sat, 29 Jul 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Rob Ferguson
Page: A9


Province aims to inform public on the risks associated with the use of

Think of it as Reefer Awareness, not Reefer Madness, an over-the-top
1936 film preaching the evils of marijuana.

With less than a year until the federal government legalizes
recreational marijuana, Ontario is starting work on a public education
campaign to highlight health and other dangers of pot - particularly
to young adults.

Health Minister Eric Hoskins wants the effort to hit the airwaves,
newspapers and social media well before the new pot law kicks in next
July 1 with 19 the likely age of majority in this province.

"There's strong evidence that the brain continues to develop up until
roughly the age of 25 and evidence that cannabis use can negatively
impact that," he says. That means possible memory problems, struggling
with math and reading, general learning difficulties and a higher
likelihood of becoming addicted to marijuana the younger someone
starts, depending on usage levels, research suggests.

"The key to all of this is very strong public education so that
parents and kids understand what the risks are, like with alcohol,"
adds Hoskins, a physician himself. "It's about informed

The Canadian Medical Association and other health-care groups have
been ramping up warnings about the use of cannabis by people under 25
as policies are being developed in Ottawa and provincial capitals.

"Children and youth are especially at risk for marijuana-related
harms, given their brain is undergoing rapid, extensive development,"
the association wrote in its latest brief to the federal government.

"Our understanding of the health effects of marijuana continues to
evolve. Marijuana use is linked to several adverse health outcomes,
including addiction, cardiovascular and pulmonary effects (e.g.,
chronic bronchitis), mental illness and other problems, including
cognitive impairment and reduced educational attainment. There seems
to be an increased risk of chronic psychosis disorders, including
schizophrenia, in persons with a predisposition to such disorders. The
use of high potency products, higher frequency of use and early
initiation are predictors of worse health outcomes."

Pot use in the 15 to 24 age group is double that of the general
population, the CMA noted in an earlier submission to the House of
Commons, warning "awareness of Canadians to the harms of marijuana is
generally low."

Hoskins promised "a substantial public education campaign" to point
out the dangers of pot and is taking a leaf from policy-makers in
Colorado, where marijuana is already legal.

"One of the things that they have pointed out is that they wish, in
retrospect, they had moved on the public education significantly
before it became legal. They didn't and so I'm taking that principle
to heart. We can't wait until July 1," he adds.

Colorado's Department of Public Health & Environment's campaign
includes online tip sheets with advice for youth, parents, pregnant
women and on health impacts in general.

In many cases, the warnings are blunt: "Brain development is not
complete until age 25. For the best chance to reach their full
potential, youth should not use marijuana."

While Hoskins has heard the push from some quarters to make the age of
majority for marijuana higher than 19 for health reasons, he says that
risks leaving a larger black market the federal legislation is
intended to quash. "If it's too high . . . that age group is going to
continue to find it in the illicit market."
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MAP posted-by: Matt