Pot can harm youth: agency

Panel to be­gin tour in Hal­i­fax

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ATLANTIC - BY KEITH DOUCETTE

As the fed­eral govern­ment pon­ders how to carry out a prom­ise to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana, the arms-length agency that stud­ies ad­dic­tion is em­bark­ing on a four-city tour to spread warn­ings about the ef­fects of the drug on young peo­ple.

The Cana­dian Cen­tre on Sub­stance Abuse opens the tour in Hal­i­fax on Fri­day with a panel of three ex­perts who con­trib­uted to a re­port re­leased in June that ad­dressed the is­sue of cannabis use in ado­les­cence.

Dr. Amy Po­rath-Waller, the cen­tre's di­rec­tor of re­search and pol­icy, char­ac­ter­izes the tim­ing of the ses­sions as a bit of “serendip­ity” given the Lib­eral govern­ment's De­cem­ber throne speech in which it pledged to “le­gal­ize, reg­u­late and re­strict ac­cess to mar­i­juana.”

“It's great tim­ing as the dis­cus­sions are on­go­ing be­cause we know the fo­cus has been keep­ing cannabis out of the hands of young peo­ple,” said Po­rath-Waller.

She said the aim of the tour is to start a con­ver­sa­tion on how to pro­tect those un­der 25, re­gard­less of which di­rec­tion the govern­ment de­cides to take with the drug.

Po­rath-Waller said re­search in­di­cates the risks are greater for younger peo­ple who use mar­i­juana be­cause their brains are still in de­vel­op­ment.

“We know that it im­pairs cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing and there are ar­eas of the brain that are in­volved in think­ing, pay­ing at­ten­tion, mem­ory and de­ci­sion mak­ing that are im­pacted by the use of this drug,” she said.

And while there are gaps in the re­search, Po­rath-Waller said there is ev­i­dence of emerg­ing trends such as the risk of ad­dic­tion.

She said the re­search has found that one in six, or about 17 per cent of peo­ple who start us­ing mar­i­juana in ado­les­cence will de­velop an ad­dic­tion.

She added that re­searchers are also fairly con­fi­dent that there is an in­creased risk of psy­chosis for those who are vul­ner­a­ble.

Po­rath-Waller said the idea of the panel pre­sen­ta­tions is to en­gage those deal­ing with youth in­clud­ing doc­tors, teach­ers, guid­ance coun­sel­lors and par­ents.

“Th­ese events are re­ally meant to lift the ev­i­dence off the pages of the re­port and get it into the hands of those who are work­ing with young peo­ple . . . so they can make in­formed de­ci­sions,” she said.

Po­rath-Waller said there will also be an ef­fort to de­con­struct myths around the drug such as the be­lief by some that it cures can­cer or im­proves their per­for­mance in school.

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