Po­ten­tial health risks of pot still un­clear, CMA chief says

‘Just be­cause it’s le­gal doesn’t mean it’s safe,’ she says, urg­ing more study

Calgary Herald - - CITY + REGION - ZACH LAING [email protected]­media.com Twit­ter.com/zjlaing

With just weeks to go un­til recre­ational cannabis be­comes le­gal, Cana­dian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Dr. Gigi Osler is con­cerned about the coun­try en­ter­ing “un­charted ter­ri­tory.”

Speak­ing dur­ing a break at the an­nual Al­berta Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion an­nual gen­eral meet­ing in Cal­gary on Sat­ur­day, Osler said she is await­ing stud­ies to see the true med­i­cal ef­fects of the largely un­stud­ied psy­choac­tive, in­gestible plant.

“Our main mes­sage con­tin­ues to be that just be­cause it’s le­gal, doesn’t mean it’s safe,” said Osler.

“We are look­ing for­ward to see­ing more re­search to pro­duce some of that in­de­pen­dent, high-qual­ity ev­i­dence that will show the ben­e­fits of med­i­cal cannabis.

“We’re hop­ing that will lead to more com­fort among doc­tors.”

While nu­mer­ous stud­ies have been done on the use of such prod­ucts as al­co­hol and to­bacco, Osler said the same isn’t true for cannabis.

“As we have been think­ing about it, we need to keep in mind and learn from those past ex­pe­ri­ences (with al­co­hol and to­bacco),” Osler said.

“Take to­bacco, for ex­am­ple — in the early days of to­bacco, we didn’t know the long-term health risks, and now we do. We see the con­nec­tions be­tween to­bacco use and lung dis­ease.

“With the le­gal­iza­tion of cannabis, we are en­ter­ing some un­charted ter­ri­tory, where we don’t know all of the in­for­ma­tion we would want to know.

“I think that is what leads to our cau­tious ap­proach to it.”

In July, the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­gary an­nounced a re­search part­ner­ship with Olds-based Sun­dial Grow­ers to con­duct clin­i­cal stud­ies of cannabis for po­ten­tial fu­ture med­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tions. But the re­sults of those tri­als could take years.

While cannabis was pro­hib­ited in Canada in 1923, its ini­tial use as a le­gal medicine came in 2000 when Cal­gar­ian Grant Krieger — a man suf­fer­ing from mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis — won a ju­di­cial rul­ing al­low­ing him to use cannabis for med­i­cal pur­poses. A year later, Health Canada al­lowed le­gal ac­cess to cannabis to peo­ple across the coun­try suf­fer­ing from var­i­ous med­i­cal con­di­tions.

The Cana­dian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion has said that many of its mem­bers are in favour of phas­ing out mar­i­juana’s medic­i­nal use, largely be­cause its recre­ational le­gal­iza­tion means greater ac­cess will make pre­scrib­ing it moot.

De­spite the as­so­ci­a­tion feel­ing the sep­a­rate, reg­u­la­tory frame­work for medic­i­nal use is no longer needed, Osler said she has con­cerns about users self-med­i­cat­ing when pot sales start next month.

“I think that’s where we con­tinue to stress the need of health and safety for Cana­di­ans needs to come first,” Osler said.

At a med­i­cal meet­ing, I heard con­cerns from doc­tors about what’s the safety of cannabis use in preg­nant women? What’s the ef­fect on un­born chil­dren? What about the safety of ed­i­bles in the home?”

With the le­gal­iza­tion of cannabis, we are en­ter­ing some un­charted ter­ri­tory, where we don’t know all of the in­for­ma­tion we would want to know.

CMA pres­i­dent Dr. Gigi Osler says early re­search on al­co­hol and to­bacco didn’t al­ways give the full pic­ture.

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