VIU cannabis panel

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October 17, 2018 will mark the end of cannabis prohibition in Canada. We gathered folks from the Medical Cannabis Research Institute (MCRI), a nurse practitioner (NP), and a youth councillor (YC) and asked them some questions about cannabis.

Medical cannabis will continued to be regulated by Health Canada and prescribed by medical professionals while recreational cannabis will be available to people over 19, at licensed dispensaries and BC Liquor and Cannabis Distribution Branch dispensaries. Edibles are being removed from dispensaries until they find a child-proof way to regulate the dosing. Following cannabis legalization in Colorado, tourists and children got their hands on the brightly-coloured packages of THC cosmic brownies and ended up in the emergency room.

What are the health benefits of cannabis use?

The panelists agree that what we have seen consistently is the use of cannabis to treat the muscles spasms of muscular dystrophy, increased appetite in chemotherapy patients, and benefits in treating gastrointestinal issues. However, MRCI suggests that THC should be avoided in managing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Our NP suggests indications of the social benefit of cannabis. Despite what happened in the anti-cannabis film, Reefer Madness (1936), the groggy high of cannabis is different from the belligerent effect of the angry drunk. Our NP’s prediction with the legalization of cannabis is that we will see a reduction in reports of spousal abuse.

YC highlights the positive aspects that youth mention when they are asked about their own cannabis use. Youth say it’s fun, they use it to manage their stress and feel accepted by their peers. YC points out that we need to acknowledge that there are positive things youth get from using weed in order to open up the dialogue about responsible use.

What are some of the negatives of using cannabis?

MCRI says they are cautious referring cannabis as treatment of certain ailments. They caution those with schizophrenia, a predisposition of psychosis, and patients with unstable mental states to use strains that are low in THC content.

MCRI recommends patients affected by anxiety and depression to use very specific strains. Treating anxiety with cannabis is one of the more controversial conversations; the personal tales and scientific literature seem to be 50:50 on the use of cannabis alleviating anxiety to worsening it. Patients with lung, liver, or heart issues should also be cautious in using cannabis for treating their ailments.

YC adds that the Ministry of Health has stated that cannabis is not good for the developing brain and people should not be using cannabis until after the age of 25.

NP says that as of now, the medical community has been told to stay away from prescribing cannabis for medical purposes. To no fault of the medical community, cannabis is like any other drug. It is newall of the evidence is mixed, without agreed-upon implications of its benefits or drawbacks. Our panel hopes that with legalization, there will be more money to put towards more and better research on cannabis.

What are some things to consider before trying cannabis?

The bottom line is that cannabis, like any drug, affects everyone differently. The most important thing to remember is set and setting. This means that an individual’s mindset and environment will affect the way they react to a drug—in addition to differences in brain chemistry and background, as NP pointed out. Individual opinions can also be influenced by their personal family background, economic, social, cultural, and health influences. So, if you are considering trying out the newly legal substance for recreational purposes, keep in mind that health and industry are related, and like anything else, people will be trying to sell it to you. Before you chat with your friendly dispensary worker, talk with someone you trust or check out the resources available from the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR), Leafly.com, or the Health Canada FAQ page. If you are looking to use cannabis for medical reasons, treat it like any other medicine and speak with your doctor.

So, what is safe/responsible use?

NP tells us that cannabis blocks the communication between the brainstem and limbic system from the frontal lobe. What this means is that chronic use of cannabis can prevent emotional regulation, mindfulness, meditation, and self-regulation. As YC points out, when youth use cannabis and these functions are blocked, they miss out on the opportunity to develop self-regulation and emotion management skills which are essential to navigate relationship issues later in life. Like responsible alcohol use, responsible cannabis use is not using a substance as an emotional crutch or a way to escape personal issues. Recreational cannabis should be used in a moderate amount for fun.

Some things to remember:
  • Cannabis is not a wonder drug; the medical uses are limited, and experts are unsure of the effectiveness of using cannabis for some medical purposes. If you are considering using cannabis for medical purposes, talk to a doctor.
  • Don’t drive high, don’t drive drunk, don’t drive under the influence of anything.
  • Everyone will be affected differently by cannabis and will have different backgrounds that influence their opinion and choice when or when not to smoke/ingest cannabis. Be respectful of others’ choices, don’t blow smoke rings in their face, and tell your friends if there are weed brownies next to the regular ones.
  • If you are going to try weed for the first time, start with low THC content strains, and go slow, starting with small doses.