March 21, 2018
Honourable, Jim Reiter
Minister of Health
Government of Saskatchewan
Dear Minister Reiter,
I am writing on behalf of the Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan to express our concern regarding the upcoming legalization of cannabis in Canada. As a Society we recognize the medical benefit of cannabis, especially in the treatment of pain associated with cancer and the desire to reduce criminal activity related to the sale and distribution of cannabis. Our greatest concern is the largely unknown effects of cannabis on youth, especially those with potential for mental health issues.
Cannabis is the most common illicit drug for Canadian youth and Canadian youth are the top cannabis users in the developed world. In 2016, the World Health Organization compared past 30 day cannabis use among youth aged 15 across 40 countries and found that use by Canadian youth (13%) was the second highest.¹ One in Five teens between 15-19 have used cannabis in the past years. “Statistics Canada 2016”.
Cannabis use is still more prevalent among males than females, although the rate of use among females is on the rise. “Statistics Canada 2016”.
Legalization of Cannabis in Canada is scheduled for a time when most young adults believe the risks are low to non-existent because it is thought to be a ‘natural product.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DlFcMWdsxw&t=47s).
Recent research shows that the human brain continues to mature until the mid-twenties and that cannabis use can have a negative effect on development. Early and regular use can increase the risk of developing primary psychotic illness and other mental health issues in those who are vulnerable and continued use increases the risk. Continued use also decreases the education attainment of youth not prone to mental health issues
A study done by the Canadian Institute of Health information 2006-2011 showed cannabis use by youth with a mental disorder results in more admissions to mental health facilities and longer average length of stays. A 2010 study entitled Cannabis Use and Risk of Psychosis has shown an increase of 390%.²
During the past 20 years, the levels of THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) have dramatically increased. The THC increase has been at the expense of Cannabinoid (CBD) which is thought to have protective properties against increased anxiety, depression and psychosis. This may help explain why more cannabis users present to emergency rooms in recent years.
The research on whether legalization increases the use of cannabis is mixed. Studies in the US where legalization has occurred appear to show a reduction in use by the 14-17 age group but an increase in the 18-24 age group coupled with a reduction in alcohol consumption.
The Schizophrenia Society was created by families and friends of persons with Schizophrenia and other psychosis. Many of our members have sons and daughters whose first episode of illness occurred during the teenage years while they were users of cannabis and believe their continued use has prevented them benefiting from treatment.
As part of our educational program to youth we plan to continue to speak about the effects of cannabis use and its issues concerning youth.
The Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan supports the recommendations contained in the February 17, 2017 Canadian Psychiatric Association’s Position Statement, Implications of Cannabis Legalization on Youth and Young Adults.³ We also agree with the recommendation in the 2016 Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School Policy Statement calling for an increase in education concerning cannabis.³ We would like to reinforce these recommendation and offer some suggestion of what might be done here in Saskatchewan alone or in partnership.
- Recognize that legalization may result in greater consumption resulting in high rates of psychosis and increasing presentations to emergency wards and mental health facilities and plan accordingly.
- Plan and resource a program of public education regarding the use of cannabis by young adults.
- Support local research in the use of cannabis after legalization and including the use of services including mental health.
- Works the other levels of Government to ensure quality control over all cannabis product sold.
- Work with other levels of Government to have accurate labeling of cannabis especially with respect to the quantity of THC.
- Work with other levels of Government to explore ways to balance the levels of THC and CBD in cannabis sold in Saskatchewan.
- Work with other levels of Government to develop pricing policies that encourages lower levels of THC thus allowing for the euphoria effects but reducing the harmful effects of the drug and the risk of psychosis.
Dr. Jamie Eng M.D.
1. Health Behavior in School-aged-Children 2016, World Health Organization 2. Department of Psychosis Studies, King’s College London, Institute of Psychiatry Psychology & Neuroscience, London, UK 3. Canadian Psychiatric Association Implications of Cannabis Legalization on Youth and Young Adults 4. Legalizing & Regulating Cannabis in Saskatchewan, Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.