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Nurses say Ontarians need a $48M cannabis health lesson

The Canadian Nurses Association is asking the province for $48 million over five years for a public education campaign to reduce the harm of recreational cannabis use.

Canadian Nurses Association also asking for funding to train nurses for upcoming legalization

The Canadian Nurses Association wants the Ontario government to pitch in $600,000 to train nurses before marijuana becomes legal later this year and $48 million to teach the public about health risks. (CBC)

The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) is asking the province for $48 million over five years for a public education campaign to reduce the harm of recreational cannabis use. 

Carolyn Pullen, chief of programs and policy with the CNA, told the Ontario standing committee on finance during pre-budget consultations in Ottawa Wednesday that nurses should be a vital part of that campaign.

Pullen said nurses are well-positioned to help develop such a campaign and have enormous opportunity to influence personal health choices.

Under the federal government's Cannabis Act, which hasn't officially become law, possession and consumption of recreational pot would become legal in Canada in July. 

The federal government has committed to keep cannabis out of the hands of minors and set aside $9.6 million in last year's budget for public education about the risks of cannabis use with a focus on young people.

Pullen said the CNA is hoping all provinces contribute so that they can collectively meet the funding levels needed to have an adequate impact on public education. 

Getting nurses up to speed

The CNA is also asking the Ontario government for $600,000 to teach nurses about cannabis. 

​The organization did a survey in 2017 asking nurses about their knowledge of recreational cannabis.

The survey found many have knowledge gaps about cannabis use during pregnancy, health risks associated with the various methods of cannabis consumption, the impact of cannabis on the developing brain, the risk of addiction and mental health. 

"For them to understand and be able to explain those risks … to their clients and their patients is a really important opportunity to seize," Pullen said. 

"But in order to do that, we have to develop the materials for the public and professionals and that is going to require significantly more than what we've already seen governments commit."

Overdose prevention

The association also wants Ontario to make nurses part of its overdose prevention strategy by including them in naloxone programs and increasing the number of nurses in supervised injection sites. 

Pullen said she wants to see nurses across the country empowered to prescribe and distribute naloxone kits.

Nurses are on the front line, she added, and are often the first point of contact for people in the healthcare system. 

"They're perfectly positioned to have this harm reduction tool in their toolkit."