SSO’s take on the legalization of Cannabis

Jan  30 2019

Given the potential mental health side effects of cannabis use on people with schizophrenia and psychotic disorders as well as others who may be vulnerable, SSO has developed a position to highlight key concerns and recommendations for its legalisation and regulation. To inform our position and to better understand the implications associated with the proposed legislation, we surveyed our members, as well individuals living with mental illness, their families and caregivers, health care providers and community frontline workers. Many respondents welcomed legalization as a move away from a punitive approach to drug policy, and towards a more health focused one, which emphasises prevention, treatment and harm reduction. 
While hopeful that the legalization of cannabis will ultimately result in harm reduction related to criminalization, respondents were clear that effective regulations and their strict enforcements are critical to alleviating potential short and long-term health and social harms.
We heard from people whose families have experienced the adverse effects of cannabis use on mental health and were distressed that a substance that is not benign will likely become more accessible through legalization.  There were also concerns among some respondents that legalization will normalize the use of cannabis and therefore undermine the potential harms, particularly for youth.
What is clear from all of this is an approach that balances both health and safety, while reducing harms related to criminalization is warranted. Public education is a key cornerstone for this approach. As such, SSO values a preventative framework for legalisation and regulation that promotes education and prevention, including:
  • - targeted strategies around mental health in general and schizophrenia and psychosis in particular;
  • an evidence based health policy approach which aims to reduce health, social and criminal justice related harms;
  • - increase investments in mental health and addiction services; and,
  • - supports further research on the effects of cannabis use on mental health.
Young people need to know that smoking marijuana can come with risks, particularly for those who have a history of serious mental illness in their families. Several studies have shown that marijuana use doubles the risk of developing psychosis among young people, especially in those who began using marijuana on weekly or daily basis during their teenage years.
Other factors can increase this risk:
•    the presence of a genetic predisposition or a family history of schizophrenia;
•    the age of first use- the younger one starts the greater the risk;
•    the frequency of use and;
•    the potency of the marijuana used.

The potency of marijuana sold on the streets today is much higher than it was 15 years ago and has higher concentrations of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Young people are now being exposed to much higher doses of THC than their brains can handle, sometimes leading to psychosis, addiction, and even changes in memory and concentration. Where there is a family history of schizophrenia, there is even greater susceptibility to these unwanted effects. Continued marijuana use can lead to a relapse, re-hospitalization, and a weaker recovery.
Article on Smoking pot puts youth at higher risk of psychosis: St. Joe’s expert