Table of Contents
- Cannabis legal use should be paused
There was a noticeable increase in cannabis consumption immediately after the implementation of the Cannabis Act, 2018. There are many ill effects attributable to the consumption of cannabis such as impaired driving, delivery of unhealthy babies, psychotic disorders, second-hand smoking and addiction due to genetically engineered species. The Act had provided a holistic view of controlling production and distribution. However, as on date, there is no published and verifiable material to present a complete picture of harms and risks emanating from the consumption of cannabis. Absence of tools and resources for roadside testing for impaired drivers, lack of health-related provisions in the federal law and absence of cannabis-specific health provisions in provincial laws make a strong case for pausing the Cannabis Act, till such measures are put in place.
Cannabis legal use should be paused
It was the centuries-old practice of using Cannabis for a variety of purposes such as for recreation as well as medicine. A large proportion of the Canadian population amounting to 18% reported to using cannabis in the first quarter of this year which includes more than half a million new users (Statistics Canada, 2019). It is a particularly interesting point to note that increased usage immediately followed after the implementation of the Cannabis Act, 2018. The act has provisions for controlling the production and distribution logistics of cannabis and to eliminate illegal supply chains in the country. As of now, there is no single, verifiable and unbiased published source to know the harms and risks emanating from the consumption of cannabis. There can be several ill-effects attributable to cannabis consumption. Some of such well-known risks are impaired driving, complications in pregnant women, psychotic disorders and the hereditary hierarchy of addiction.
An interesting point to note that the users themselves can identify impaired driving after cannabis consumption. As of now, there are neither well established legal provisions nor the tools for in-field testing for impaired driving. Also, there are neither provincial guidelines nor any noticeable awareness programmes related to cannabis-using pregnant women. Cannabis plant possesses properties of both good (CBD) and harmful (THC) substances for human consumption. The noticeable increase of THC content nowadays in recreational products mostly due to genetically engineered methods can lead to addiction.
The absence of easily understandable literature about the harmful effects of cannabis consumption makes things more difficult for the common man. Legal use of cannabis should be paused till the implementation of health-related provisions in the law, inclusion of adequate provisions and their implementation measures related to genetically modified production of cannabis and making available of resources to law enforcement officers for in-field testing for impaired driving post cannabis consumption.
Some people, especially youth, tend to drive immediately after consuming cannabis, just like as they do after alcohol consumption. Given the high percentage of high school students in this category, there is a need for knowing the risks related to this. The odds ratio for a motor vehicle collision is 22% higher in the cannabis-related driving than that of no alcohol or alcohol consumption within the prescribed limits. It is higher than the ratio for alcohol-related motor vehicle collision statistics (Capler, Bilsker, Pelt, & MacPherson, 2017). Though some users, as part of the self-declared status as cannabis users, may perceive it does not increase the risk of road accidents, in comparison with driving after alcohol consumption. It is, however, should be noted that there is no evidence available in support of this argument. The official statistics mention that 15% of people drove within 2 hours of use during the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. More than half a million workers reported using cannabis before heading to work or while on the job. Almost half of Canadians believe that one should wait at least 3 hours to drive after using cannabis (Statistics Canada, 2019). The risk of impaired driving after cannabis use is not just getting involved in a road accident but many other horrific events including avoidable loss of innocent lives and loss to property.
While detection of the presence of blood alcohol in drivers by law enforcement agencies can be done on the roadside, as part of preventive checks, there is no such single tool or resource to test cannabis users. However, the acceptable testing method is to have a blood sample and test for the THC concentration in a lab, which can’t happen on the spot and is time-consuming. Even the roadside observational impairment testing such as walk and turn, standing on a single leg and involuntary jerking of eyes, etc. (Capler, et al. 2017) may not be successful if the person has developed high drug tolerance over a period. Also, the observational methods can fail due to many other factors such as prolonged fasting, recovery after a major illness and stressful day, etc. While the acceptable level of alcohol in the blood is clearly defined in the legislation, the same is not available to date for cannabis. While the Cannabis act, 2018 is silent on this aspect, the province of Ontario did not specify any limits so far (Government of Ontario, 2019). It is desired that the province(s) should take initiative to introduce sufficient legal measures to address the issue of impaired driving resulting from cannabis consumption, as they are responsible for law enforcement. It would be wise to pause the legal use of cannabis till the legal provisions are clearly defined and the enforcement officials have all the resources available for roadside testing. While the post-cannabis consumption impaired driving has its harmful effect, another harmful effect of cannabis consumption by pregnant women is also a cause for concern.
Cannabis use during pregnancy is high among young women, especially from lower socio-economic status backgrounds (Corsi, Hsu, Weiss, Fell, & Walker, 2018). The harmful effects of cannabis use during pregnancy include anaemia to the mother, lower birth weight and requirement of being placed in the neonatal intensive care unit at the time of birth for the child (Memedovich, et.al 2018). There is also a high probability of a psychotic disorder as cannabis contains THC, which can interfere with the endogenous endocannabinoid system of the brain responsible for both prenatal and postnatal development (Chadwick, Miller, & Hurd, 2013). This effectively arranges for an alteration of gene structure paving the way for a hereditary lineup of addictive and susceptible cannabis usage generations down the line. This will result in large scale pressure on the health system in the long run. Cannabis sativa, the plant from which the Cannabis is made of, possess the chemicals that can produce both good and bad effects. The two major contents of that plant are THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol), both are Phyto-cannabinoid contents. While THC is responsible for producing euphoric effects and CBD is neuroprotective with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties (Manzanares, Blessing, Steenkamp, & Mamar, 2015). Based on this, it can be interpreted that Cannabis can be used for dual purposes.
As per a report released by Public health Ontario, there is very limited evidence on the impact of cannabis use in preconception, pregnancy and breastfeeding on neonatal, behavioural and neurocognitive outcomes in early life (Ontario, 2018). Again, while federal law is silent on these issues, there is no provincial law mandating any measure to do with cannabis use specifically except for a few guidelines and recommendations for routine screening and counseling. Again, the onus is on the province(s) to take initiative to bring in required measures as they are in charge of health matters. Some minor steps such as mandatory free health checkups and medicines for vulnerable pregnant women, distributing easily understandable literature and making required legal changes, etc. will assist in producing healthy future generations on an ongoing basis. The legal use of cannabis should be paused until the implementation of such sufficient measures. While the lack of sufficient provisions is detrimental to the health of cannabis consuming young women, there many other major health problems that can be attributable to the consumption of cannabis.
There are many other unanswered questions about other health-related problems arising due to cannabis use. Some of them include adverse effect on Cardiovascular system (Thomas, Kloner, & Rezkalla, 2014), cognitive disabilities, testicular cancer, psychosis, stroke, lung hyperinflation, infectious disease transmission (Memedovich, et al. 2018), major depressive disorder (MDD), schizophrenia (Chadwick, et al. 2013) and increased level of THC due to second / third level smoking (Holitzki, et al. 2017). Cannabis sativa contains not only THC and CBD but also has molecules of CBN (cannabinol), CBG (cannabigerol), THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin) and CBC (cannabicromene) and more than 100 molecules of terpenes (Andre, Hausman, & Guerriero, 2016). Existing research seems to be focussed much on THC and CBD and there is little or no focus on the effects of the remaining molecules. There is very little information available in the public domain about the genetically engineered cannabis plants, which can be used for mass production of cannabis with a high proportion of THC content than that of CBD, leading the way to addiction on a larger scale.
Today’s adolescents consume cannabis plants grown with high THC (Chadwick, et al. 2013). This leads to various health complications as stated earlier. There are provisions in the federal law for preventing unauthorized production and also the unauthorized alteration of chemical or physical properties using an organic solvent (Government of Canada, 2018). However, it is possible to alter the chemical or physical properties through any other method/(s) not mentioned in the statute. Though the act provides for penalties related to cultivation, it does not specifically say about anything related to health issues or the establishment of a monitoring mechanism. Both the federal government and the provinces are equally responsible for bringing in the required legal measures to address the issue of availability of unaltered cannabis for recreational consumption. Because of this, the legal use of cannabis should be paused until adequate measures are put in place to ensure the production and distribution of unaltered natural products.
The impaired driving, health issues in pregnant women and lack of sufficient controlling mechanisms related to genetically engineered cannabis are the points we discussed in this paper. Lack of specialized tools for roadside testing of impaired drivers hampers the efforts of law enforcement officers in preventing road accidents. While there are a large proportion of young pregnant women use cannabis resulting in the birth of unhealthy babies, specific and targeted medical assistance programmes still do not exist. The psychotic effects of using altered gene plant products in recreational cannabis are still in the research stage. The provincial Governments being responsible for matters related to enforcement and health are required to make proactive steps to address the issues raised here. In conclusion, it is in the best interest of the Canadians to pause the legalized use of cannabis until these issues are addressed in a scientific and measurable manner.
- Andre, C. M., Hausman, J.-F., & Guerriero, G. (2016, 02 04). Cannabis sativa: The Plant of the Thousand and One Molecules. Frontiers in Plant Science, 7, 19. doi:10.3389/fpls.2016.00019
- Capler, R., Bilsker, D., Pelt, K. V., & MacPherson, D. (2017). Cannabis use and Driving. Burnaby: Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.
- Chadwick, B., Miller, M. L., & Hurd, Y. L. (2013, 10 14). Cannabis Use during Adolescent Development: Susceptibility to Psychiatric Illness. Front Pyschiatry, 129(4). doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00129
- Corsi, D. J., Hsu, H., Weiss, D., Fell, D. B., & Walker, M. (2018, 11 01). Trends and correlates of cannabis use in pregnancy. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 110(1). doi:10.17269/s41997-018-0148-0
- Government of Canada. (2018, 10 17). Cannabis Act. C. 16, SC 2018. Ottawa, ON, Canada: Government of Canada.
- Government of Ontario. (2019, 07 15). Cannabis and driving. Retrieved 10 30, 2019, from Ontario.ca: https://www.ontario.ca/page/cannabis-and-driving
- Holitzki, H., Dowsett, L., Spackman, E., Noseworthy, T., & Clement, F. (2017). Health effects of exposure to second- and third-hand. cmajopen, 1. doi:10.9778/cmajo.20170112
- Manzanares, J., Blessing, E. M., Steenkamp, M. M., & Mamar, C. R. (2015, 09 04). Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics, 12(4), 825-836. doi:10.1007/s13311-015-0387-1
- Memedovich, K., Dowsett,, L., Spackman, E., Noseworthy, T., & Clement, F. (2018, 08 16). The adverse health effects and harms related to marijuana use: an overview review. cmajopen, 6(3), 8. doi:10.9778/cmajo.20180023
- Ontario, P. H. (2018). Health Effects of Cannabis Exposure in Pregnancy. Toronto: Government of Ontario. Retrieved 10 08, 2019, from https://www.publichealthontario.ca/-/media/documents/eb-cannabis-pregnancy-breastfeeding.pdf?la=en
- Statistics Canada. (2019). National Cannabis Survey, Q1 2019. Ottawa: Government of Canada. doi:May 02, 2019
- Thomas, G., Kloner, R. A., & Rezkalla, S. (2014, 01 14). Adverse Cardiovascular, Cerebrovascular, and Peripheral Vascular Effects of Marijuana Inhalation. The American Journal of Cardiology, 113(1), 187-190. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjcard.2013.09.042
- Volkow, N., Swanson, J., Evins, A., DeLisi, L., Meier, M., Gonzalez, R., . . . Baler, R. (2016, 03). Effects of Cannabis Use on Human Behavior, Including Cognition, Motivation, and Psychosis: A Review. Pubmed.gov, 73(3). doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.3278
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