Marijuana’s negative impact on teenage brains should influence its legalization, say experts

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March 11, 2016

By Bill Kaufman, Calgary Herald

With research showing harmful effects of marijuana on developing adolescent brains, Ottawa should tread carefully in how it legalizes the drug, including consideration of a high minimum age for usage, a panel on substance abuse said Friday. 

Two members of a panel speaking in Calgary said updated research about the ways regular marijuana use negatively affects adolescents in numerous ways should colour the debate over the cannabis legalization promised by the new Liberal government.

Knowledge that cannabis affects the developing brain until age 25 should influence any legalization age restrictions, said Dr. Philip Tibbo, director of the Nova Scotia Early Psychosis program.

“With a drinking age at, say, 18, does that mean we have to have the same age for cannabis as well?” said Tibbo.

The increasing content of cannabis’s active ingredient, THC, complicates regulating the drug, said Dr. Franco Vaccarino, a chairman of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, which hosted Friday’s discussion.

Cannabis and youth study

“What percentage of THC are we talking about?” said Vaccarino.

“Given the increasing amount of knowledge, we owe it to ourselves to elevate the conversations — there’s not one simple thing we’re talking about in legalization.”

Vaccarino said a trend in the 1980s to view drug risks seriously led to lower use of certain substances and a dark public perception of their use. That has since been reversed, he added.

“In this world of unprecedented access to information, it’s ironic that there’s so much misinformaton,” said Vaccarino, who noted that, despite Canada’s marijuana prohibition, the country has one of the highest rates of use among developed countries.

The panel said the latest research debunks numerous myths of cannabis’s harmlessness while highlighting the damage it causes to adolescent brains during their formative years.

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