As cannabis is legalized across the country on Oct. 17, Global News is answering key questions on what it means for you: What will the roll out look like in each province? What’s the impact on the economy? On your health?
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Marijuana is now legal in Canada, and that could mean more people will be giving it a try.
Whether you’re rolling a joint every morning or baking some cannabis oil into your cookies once a month, the drug has a clear effect on your body. As with alcohol, the concentration, frequency of use, and composition of your chosen pot product can have different impacts on your overall physical — and mental — well being.
As Canadians begin experimenting with different forms of legal weed, here’s everything you need to know about the potential health implications, based on two years of in-depth reporting from Global News.
Let’s start with some of the bad news.
First, public health officials at all levels of government have been quite clear that marijuana remains a mind-altering drug, and that it has the potential to become addictive, impair judgement, and increase the risk of developing psychosis with heavy use. Some heavy pot smokers are even tormented by constant nausea.
Depending on how Canadians choose to consume the drug, there are also fears that it could lead to a renormalization of smoking. There are at least 33 known carcinogens in marijuana smoke and it’s been tied to cancer, respiratory problems and heart disease.
Meanwhile, students who use the drug regularly have been shown to suffer from poor health and tend to get lower grades. Experts have argued that setting the legal age federally at 18 (legal age will be 19 in most provinces) is a mistake, as the adult brain continues to develop until the age of 25 and too much pot may impede that development. (There are some studies, including one out of the University of Pennsylvania, indicating that concerns surrounding marijuana’s physical effects on young people may be overblown.)
One of the main reasons the government said it wanted to legalize marijuana in the first place was to cripple the black market and reduce access for young people.
On the other end of the spectrum, seniors are being told to be cautious if they are particularly frail, as pot impairment can have an affect on cognition and mobility. Children are particularly susceptible to consuming marijuana edibles (which are not legal yet) and these products should always be kept out of reach.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada warns that there is growing evidence on the harms of cannabis use during pregnancy. Risks that may be associated with pot use include low birthweight, preterm labour and stillbirth.
Canadians of all ages must also remain aware that synthetic marijuana, a compound that mimics the effect of THC, may continue circulating on the black market after legalization, and should be avoided.
In spite of the huge, unavoidable warnings that will grace pot packages in Canada, there are a few reasons for optimism when it comes to legal marijuana and public health.
A recent Canadian study looking at road accidents in U.S. states post-legalization found there was no meaningful change in the rate of road accidents. U.S. experience has even shown a drop in alcohol-related road deaths in states that legalized marijuana.
WATCH: How your pot is being produced ahead of legalization
In low doses, pot may help people to cope with chronic pain, anxiety and mental health issues (medical marijuana will still be available as well). Experts suggest keeping THC levels down in your chosen product in general, and eliminating the toxins that come from smoking pot by sticking to vaporizing or ingesting it.
There is even some research indicating that legal weed could help reduce opioid abuse in Canada, partly replacing powerful painkillers like Fentanyl that have made their way onto the street and resulted in thousands of deaths.
Overall, surveys suggest that Canadians would prefer to see millions of dollars in tax revenue from legal marijuana go toward improving overall health care across the country, and not toward more education campaigns specifically about the drug.