Cannabis research needed

As our country moves forward with decriminalizing and legalizing cannabis use for medical and recreational purposes, there are a few important issues we must continue to consider and advance at the same time.

First – as cannabis becomes legally available for medicinal use, we need to greatly improve our body of evidence and knowledge about the conditions for which it may have therapeutic value.

To this end, a group of doctors, patients, charitable organizations and researchers called the Medical Cannabis Research Roundtable is urging the federal government to invest $25 million over the next five years into research.

This group says funding is needed to increase the basic science around medical cannabis – how it affects disease progression, it physiological function and how it is processed by the body. In addition, more clinical studies are needed to examine its safety and effectiveness for various conditions as well as dosing and method of administration.

More studies are also required into the administrative side of legalizing medical cannabis. We need to examine how to ensure equitable access to products, how to manage and market it and to raise awareness amongst health care providers and the public.

As part of this research initiative, the Arthritis Society has announced a Medical Cannabis Strategic Operating Grant with an annual commitment of at least $120,000 toward research.

While it is important to increase our knowledge and understanding of the potential for therapeutic effects of cannabis, it is also important to remember that legalization does not automatically mean this product is safe or healthy to use.

While occasional recreational use of cannabis doesn’t appear to have long-term negative effects on healthy adults, evidence continues to point to negative impacts on adolescents who use the substance.

Teens who regularly use cannabis are more likely to show lack of motivation, reduced academic performance and lower educational attainment. Cannabis use in adolescence can also have negative effects on IQ.

Research into the body’s internal cannabinoid system shows it is important in brain development and maturation especially in adolescence and early adulthood. Introducing external cannabinoids could have immediate and long-term effects.

We also know cannabis has some negative connections with a number of psychiatric conditions including mood and anxiety disorders, other substance use disorders and psychotic disorders. Studies continue to show that marijuana use (particularly heavy use in adolescence) is an independent risk factor for schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. Research also shows marijuana use seems to hasten or trigger psychosis among those who develop a disorder and using it early in psychotic disorders is associated with a number of poorer outcomes.

Indeed, there is much to consider as our country moves forward with the legalization of marijuana. Along with figuring out how to market and tax the product, where to sell it and to whom, we must also ensure we develop sound medical practices related to its prescription and use.  And as it becomes more widely accessible, we also need to raise awareness about its safety and other health impacts it may have.



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