Marijuana legalization could normalize smoking again, Canadian experts warn

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Health officials are voicing their concerns about legal pot leading to a normalizing of smoking again in a new editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal – Feb 6, 2017

While Canadians may be anticipating the legalization of marijuana, experts worry that the move could usher in the normalization of smoking again.

Health officials worked tirelessly for decades to warn consumers about the risks of smoking. In a new editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, a University of Toronto scientist asks if Canadians, health officials and policy analysts are considering how marijuana legalization could be a step backwards.

There are at least 33 known carcinogens in marijuana smoke and it’s been tied to cancer, respiratory problems and heart disease.

“Smoking of anything is really bad for you, but in the public debate of legalizing marijuana, there is very little addressing of smoking,” Dr. Robert Schwartz told Global News.

He’s executive director of the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit out of the Toronto university’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

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“One of the biggest accomplishments of tobacco control was to de-normalize the act of smoking so there’s a fear that as smoking of marijuana becomes more accepted, the act of smoking on a whole will become more accepted,” he said.

READ MORE: How will legal pot be sold? Three things that might happen, and one that won’t

Hands down, cigarette smoke is worse for your health. It contains hundreds of chemicals compared to marijuana smoke’s 33 known carcinogens.  But it doesn’t excuse people from thinking twice about the smoke they’re inhaling from pot, Schwartz said.

Government officials shouldn’t suggest smoking marijuana in its legislation, he suggested, but they should emphasize the importance of promoting other options such as vaping or edibles.

Still, edibles have faced their fair share of scrutiny — consumers accidentally consume too much, and even worse, the product gets into the hands of children. This could be easily rectified with careful warning labels, training and awareness campaigns, Schwartz said.

READ MORE: Digesting legal weed – the hidden risks of eating marijuana

“We know from research on vaping e-cigarettes that it’s not benign. We don’t want to encourage people to vape however if the choice they have is between smoking marijuana and vaping, vaping would be better, almost certainly from what we know,” he said.

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Schwartz said it’s “pretty incredible” that the government allows smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes and suggests there are “no circumstances” in which marijuana should be smoked for patients. There are side effects at play, too.

So why aren’t there concerns about the risks of inhaling marijuana smoke?

“It hasn’t been on anyone’s radar because it hasn’t been legal,” Schwartz said.

But he hopes his opinion piece will stir up conversation about the issue.

READ MORE: Nine questions Parliament will have to answer before we legalize marijuana

The Cannabis Canada Association, for its part, told Global News that it also doesn’t recommend smoking marijuana.

“There are a variety of other methods that are safer and more effective, including vaporization, ingesting small doses of cannabis oil directly or in capsules, consuming cannabis infused foods, or drinking cannabis tea,” Colette Rivet, spokesperson for the organization, said in an emailed statement.

She said the organization has “no objection to governments extending ‘no smoking’ rules to medical cannabis.”

READ MORE: Make 21 the minimum age to smoke pot, the Canadian Medical Association urges gov’t

The CMA, which represents the country’s doctors, says that Canadians shouldn’t be legally allowed to smoke pot until they’re 21 years old. There should be a minimum age for buying and possessing marijuana that would apply across Canada, according to its recommendations to Ottawa’s marijuana task force.

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In their submission, they point to a string of concerns tied to the health effects of marijuana: addiction, cardiovascular issues, chronic bronchitis, as examples. They even say marijuana usage is linked to an “increased risk” of mental health issues, such as schizophrenia.

Read Schwartz’ full editorial.

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