What we do know is that cannabis may exacerbate symptoms in people who are vulnerable to, or who are already experiencing mental illness. Frequent use and use of more potent products may pose greater risks.
Finally, I can’t help but think that the panic about cannabis’ potential association with psychosis is less based on evidence, but more so tied to how we actively stigmatize mental illness and blame people for behaviours that are the “causes” of their illness.
On February 6th the University of Calgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy hosted a cannabis townhall event, where a panel of speakers addressed the university community on the evidence and policy issues surrounding cannabis legalization. The event was moderated by Kathy Le from CTV Calgary, and coincidentally Cathy did a very good series in 2015, reporting on Calgary mother Sarah Wilkinson’s struggles to access medical cannabis for her daughter Mia, who has severe epilepsy. Sarah was one of the patient advocates who spoke at our O’Brien Forum on Cannabis and Public Health in May 2017.
Photo Credit: Justin Schellenberg (UC Gauntlet)
It was great to see such a strong turn out for this event and the high level of engagement from the campus community and members of the general public. I only wish we had more time to field audience questions, which is always the case! I was also struck by the fact that every time I do a public event like this I meet people from many different walks of life who want to tell me about their experiences – mainly positive, but also negative – with using cannabis. I am really curious to see how this conversation will broaden and shift among Canadians post-legalization. As I mentioned in my talk, I think we are going to see many more people admitting to using and also speaking out about the social stigma of having charges for cannabis possession.
Although no one really enjoys listening to themselves give a talk (especially when you have the voice of a 12-year-old, as I do), I was happy with the way this one turned out. You can hear the audio from my presentation, “Understanding the public health rationale for legalization in Canada,” as well as all of the other panelists, over on SoundCloud (thanks to Trevor Howell for capturing these recordings). You will also want to check out talks from my UCalgary colleagues Fiona Clement and Matt Hill.
Last year I became involved with a project from the Canadian Public Health Association on, “A Public Health Approach to Cannabis (and Other Substances): Prevention, Health Promotion, Surveillance, and Capacity Building”. With funding from Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program, the focus of this work is to support a public health approach to cannabis and to engage with health, public health and social service communities to enhance their knowledge of, and capacity to address issues related to cannabis and other substance use. In addition to hosting knowledge mobilization activities in communities across the country and carrying out a survey of health and social service providers’ information needs about cannabis, the CPHA is hosting a webinar series on cannabis and public health. The goal of these webinars is to ensure that public health, health and social service providers in Canada are prepared to respond to the needs of people who use cannabis and to provide unbiased and non-judgmental support and advice.
The next webinar is on March 8, “Legalizing cannabis – Clearing the Smoke” from Dr. Elaine Hyshka from the University of Alberta. You can register here.
There is a great deal of current debate about whether or not legalizing cannabis will ‘protect’ public health. In this segment from CBC Radio Calgary’s the Homestretch, I spoke to Rob Brown about the public health approach that is informing Canada’s approach to legalization, what it is, where it differs from ‘medical’ perspectives and why it is the best option for reducing the potential for problematic use or the harms associated with cannabis use.