Government needs to protect youth, teens when it comes to legalizing pot: Canadian Paediatric Society

The sale of recreational marijuana needs to be restricted in order to protect children and to discourage use by teens, the Canadian Paediatric Society is urging, as the federal government prepares to move forward with plans to legalize the industry.

In a position statement released Thursday, the medical group said the goal of its recommendations is to minimize harm for those most vulnerable.

“A very big issue, because of the rates of cannabis use in our adolescents, is for [parents] to have conversations with their older children and teens about the risks of marijuana on the developing brain,” said Dr. Christina Grant, statement co-author and a member of the society’s adolescent health committee.

The society points to a 2010 report by the World Health Organization that suggests about 30 per cent of Canadian youth have tried cannabis at least once by age 15 — highest among 43 countries and regions in Europe and North America.

Medical Marijuana Competition

The CPS is recommending a minimum age of 18 or 19 when it comes to the purchase of legal marijuana, though the group would like to see limits on THC imposed up to the age of 25. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

The CPS position statement describes the potentially harmful effects of cannabis use among adolescents, including damage to critical brain development, risk of psychiatric illness, potential for addiction and poor performance in school.

Most researchers agree that prohibiting cannabis use until the mid-20s would protect adolescents during a period of critical brain development.

To strike a middle ground, CPS recommends prohibiting the sale of cannabis to age 18 or 19, depending on the province or territory, to align with the age of majority for regulated alcohol and tobacco sales.

Increased potency

The society also recommends that the government consider limiting the concentration of THC — the main psychoactive component that provides pot’s high — in cannabis that 18- to 25-year-old can legally purchase.

“We also think it’s important for parents to tell their teenagers that they care about them, that they want them to have up-to-date information on cannabis and the risks in terms of mental health,” Grant said. “There are lots of myths.”

One myth surrounds how common it was for teens to smoke pot in the 1960s and ’70s. But Grant said the potency of today’s cannabis is three to four times greater now than it was then.

About one in six teens that regularly use marijuana can develop a cannabis-use disorder that may significantly interfere with their day-to-day functioning, Grant said. This can include things like going to school, having challenges with family and a loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed.

Edible issues

The CPS is also calling for a public education campaign — one that would include messages from young people — to reinforce that cannabis is not safe for children and youth.

In Washington and Colorado, two U.S. states where marijuana has been legalized, Grant noted that accidental ingestion of edible cannabis products by children is an issue.

Research suggests there’s been about a 30 per cent increase in the number of young children being brought to emergency departments after accidentally ingesting pot-infused edibles, which can affect their breathing.

Brennan Linsley/Associated Press

In Washington and Colorado, research suggests there’s been a 30 per cent increase in the number of young children coming to ER departments after accidentally ingesting pot-infused edibles. (The Associated Press)

In its position statement, the CPS also calls on the federal and provincial/territorial governments to:

  • Enact and rigorously enforce regulations on the cannabis industry to limit the availability and marketing of cannabis to minors.
  • Extend and align existing anti-tobacco legislation at all government levels to include cannabis (i.e., prohibiting smoking in public venues or smoking in cars where a child is present).
  • Invest in the development and implementation of programs for routine roadside detection of cannabinoids and determine suitable consequences for youth found to be under the influence.
  • Increase funding for the research, prevention and treatment of substance use in adolescents and young adults.
  • Increase funding for mental health promotion and for treating mental illness in this age group.
  • Consult with Indigenous communities on adapting legislation, preventative measures and interventions to meet local conditions and cultural requirements.
  • Actively monitor the impact of changes to cannabis legislation on youth.

The Canadian Paediatric Society released a separate position statement about medical marijuana use in children and teens last February.

Watch CBC’s Marketplace at 8 p.m. on Friday for more on cannabis in Canada.

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