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With Legal Cannabis a Near-Reality in Canada, Researchers Urge the Public to Consider Consequences for Young People

petri dish cannabis leaf

Canada’s Senate has passed a long-anticipated bill to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana, handing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a major victory toward making a core promise of his 2015 campaign a reality. With legal cannabis likely to be available nationwide by the end of this year, Nova Scotia researcher Dr. Kara Thompson urges caution, in light of some potentially troubling data on youth marijuana use.

Researchers used data provided by the Victoria Healthy Youth Survey, which spent a decade observing a specific group of several hundred Victoria teens, periodically asking them for self-evaluations including questions regarding their drug use, life accomplishments, and overall well-being. Thompson believes the results would be similar in Nova Scotia since the two locations have similar rates of cannabis use among teens. She says this particular study is useful because it followed the 662-member Grade 7 through Grade 12 cohort for such an extended period of time, offering key insights into how their habits changed over the years.

At such a vital age, when early work, education, and lifestyle habits are formed, any detrimental effect of drug use may spell trouble for a young person’s life prospects over the long term. According to Thompson, along with Dr. Bonnie Leadbetter from the University of Victoria, the researches were startled to learn that 10 percent of teens were found to be “chronic users” of marijuana, meaning they use the substance at least once per week and do not reduce their usage as they grow older. Thompson says these “high-risk users” are significantly more likely than their non-using peers to turn to other substances during adolescence, including alcohol, and are much more likely to suffer from severe anxiety, depression, and behavioral disorders. They also have a much higher chance of performing poorly in the workplace, earning less income, and falling further into debt as compared to those who abstain.

With Bill C-45 clear of the Senate and likely to become law this year, Thompson urges both citizens and their elected officials to understand the potential consequences for young people, especially among chronic users. “We kind of have a social and moral obligation to prevent harm to vulnerable populations,” says Thompson. “Part of that is warning messages,” like those found on consumer products such as cigarettes and prescription medicines. To Dr. Thompson, it is not too much to ask to “expect to see the same for cannabis.”

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