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
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.