British Columbia

Increased access to cannabis is changing the face of research, says UBCO prof

Th business of cannabis has come a long way in a short time, and, with increased access to the drug due to legalization, researchers are looking forward to more opportunities to study it in order to provide better information to the public.

'We’re being able to do a much deeper dive into cannabis and human behaviour'

Dr. Zach Walsh says legalization will allow researchers to dive deeper into the effects of cannabis. (UBC/ The Therapeutic, Recreational, and Problematic Substance Use lab)

Th business of cannabis has come a long way in a short time, and with increased access to the drug due to legalization, researchers are looking forward to more opportunities to study it in order to provide better information to the public.

Dr. Zach Walsh has built his career studying the effects of cannabis as an associate professor of psychology at UBCO for the past 10 years and is excited about the new opportunities for research legalization will bring.

When he first began his work, he said, they were just trying to get a lay of the land, finding out who was using cannabis and why.

"Now, we're starting to be able to ask some more direct, pointed questions and find out in more detail what some of the consequences are because attitudes ... and access to cannabis have changed," Walsh told Radio West's Sarah Penton.

"We're being able to do a much deeper dive into cannabis and human behaviour."

Cannabis on campus

Walsh's lab —The Therapeutic, Recreational, and Problematic Substance Use — evaluates the use of both cannabis and psychedelics for medical and recreational purposes in relation to their effects on mental health and addictions.

His ongoing projects include studies on cannabis for post-traumatic stress-disorder, developing a framework for standardizing medical cannabis dispensaries and investigating cannabis use trajectories among university students.

Walsh is interested to see whether cannabis use will increase or change in relation to other substances commonly used by students.

"My hope is that we're going to see some substitution, that our students will be using cannabis instead of alcohol and maybe some of the problems that accompany binge drinking … might actually be reduced," he said.

Broad interest in results

The interest in cannabis has become widespread, and he said people who don't use are curious about the effects of the substance and its use.

He said B.C.'s forward looking stance in terms of policy and science has allowed him to conduct his research without the stigma he may have faced elsewhere.

He predicts many will be surprised by the lack of change post-legalization and doesn't expect to see an increase in use.

"They're just going to be using it in a safer, less stigmatized context," he said.

"I think we'll be saying, 'Hey do you remember when cannabis was illegal?' and then we'll laugh."

With files from Radio West

To hear the full interview listen to media below:

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