Pubdate: Wed, 17 Jan 2018
Source: StarPhoenix, The (CN SN)
Copyright: 2018 The StarPhoenix
Author: Erin Petrow
Page: A5


It's not so black and white ... it's this whole grey spectrum based on
many factors.

As the legalization of marijuana approaches, there are still many
questions about how the government plans to regulate the drug.

Michael Szafron, an assistant professor with the U of S School of
Public Health who has been researching risk factors and demographics
of marijuana usage in Canada prior to legalization, spoke Tuesday at a
lecture and panel discussion about some of the lesser known negative
aspects of recreational use.

"For me it's really important that the public knows the benefits and
the risks," he said. "It's not so black and white ... it's this whole
grey spectrum based on many factors."

Szafron talked extensively about the explosive rates at which the
percentage of THC in marijuana has risen since the 1960s and '70s -
from around one to three per cent to 20 to 30 per cent - making the
risk of Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome - or THC poisoning - which is
characterized by vomiting, nausea and severe gastrointestinal
discomfort, much more likely in heavy users.

THC is fat soluble, meaning even without excessive consumption users
still run the risk of THC poisoning, he said.

Szafron suggests the government should consider regulating the amount
of THC the same way they do with tobacco products, though he notes
this would also present the possibility of people continuing to use
illegal dealers to buy products with higher levels of THC than can be
purchased in store.

Another risk in using marijuana, even in what most would consider
moderation, include cognitive impairment and mental health issues like
depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, Szafron said. This
risk increases when the user already has a family history of mental
illness or is taking the drug while the brain is still in its
development stages - which Szafron says occurs until around the early
to mid 20s.

"There is a mounting body of evidence that people who are starting to
use marijuana prior to when they finish cognitively developing will be
at an extremely high risk," he said. "A recent finding shows there is
actually a genetic link ... and has shown the association between if a
user has a family history of mental illness and a non-user has a
family history of mental illness, the result is the user is more
likely to develop mental health problems."

Because there are currently no tests to determine whether or not a
user has the variation on the specific gene that causes this problem,
it's impossible to find out if they would become more likely to
develop these mental health issues, he said.

Szafron said policy development should not simply stop at mirroring
tobacco and alcohol policies and should instead go further to address
these additional risks, which he said could possibly put more strain
on the health care system.

He also stressed that users should weigh these possibilities before
assuming that since it is legal it is also safe.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt