Cannabis legislation fails to protect Canada’s youth
Diane Kelsall, MD MEd, Editor-in-Chief [interim], CMAJ
With tabling of Bill C-45, the federal government has moved one step closer to fulfilling its election promise to legalize the use of cannabis in Canada, despite concerns over the many health risks associated with its use. The purported purpose of the act is to protect public health and safety,1 yet some of the act’s provisions appear starkly at odds with this objective, particularly for Canada’s youth.
Simply put, cannabis should not be used by young people. It is toxic to their cortical neuronal networks, with both functional and structural changes seen in the brains of youth who use cannabis regularly.2 The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has stated unequivocally that “cannabis is not a benign substance and its health harms increase with intensity of use.”3 Although adults are also susceptible to the harmful effects of cannabis, the developing brain is especially sensitive. The Canadian Paediatric Society cautions that marijuana use in youth is strongly linked to “cannabis dependence and other substance use disorders; the initiation and maintenance of tobacco smoking; an increased presence of mental illness, including depression, anxiety and psychosis; impaired neurological development and cognitive decline; and diminished school performance and lifetime achievement.”2 The lifetime risk of dependence on marijuana is about 9%; however, this increases to almost 17% in those who start using as teenagers.4