'Blazing a new trail': Olympic gold medalist turned cannabis activist welcomes legalization
But U of C prof says we don’t know enough about effects on young brains, calls for research funding
A Canadian snowboarder who was temporarily stripped of his Olympic gold medal for having trace amounts of marijuana in his system is now in the medical cannabis business and says the product — set to be legalized next year — could be the new wine.
"It was a quick shift," Ross Rebagliati told CBC News.
"Even the most entrenched cannabis activist would never have imagined 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, that we would see recreational cannabis coming down the pipeline."
Rebagliati won a gold medal in the 1998 Winter Olympics but was disqualified when trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) showed up in a post-race blood test. The medal was eventually returned because marijuana was not on the list of banned substances at the time.
"It's been a wild ride. It seems like it was fast and for the most part it has been. I did have to wait around for a little bit for culture and society and the laws to catch up so that I could launch Ross' Gold. I saw the same parallel with snowboarding. It wasn't accepted, then it was, then it got really big. I definitely see the same thing happening here."
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That was 19 years ago and Rebagliati now runs a medical cannabis branding business in Kelowna.
A researcher at the University of Calgary, however, says there's a surprising gap in studies which look at the effects of weed on young brains.
"At this point and time, it is pretty limited," Matthew Hill told CBC Calgary News at 6.
Hill is an assistant professor at the University of Calgary's Hotchkiss Brain Institute.
"There has not been a lot of good research, unfortunately," he said.
While studies have pointed to benefits in treating chronic pain, nausea related to chemotherapy and multiple sclerosis, Hill says how it affects the developing minds of young people is still a question mark.
"There are a lot of other variables to track with this," he explained.
"Kids that smoke a lot of cannabis when they are teenagers are also not eating well, they are drinking, smoking, engaging in a lot of other high-risk activities, so teasing out the explicit affects of cannabis versus other areas is not really that clear at this point in time."
He says targeted clinical trials have been rare due to cost, red tape and a lack of profit motive for large pharmaceutical companies.
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This research gap, Hill said, is troubling given the federal government is on track to legalize recreational marijuana use by July 2018.
If the cart must come before the horse, Hill and others are urging the government to use tax revenue to fund better research.
Business owner Rebagliati says, in the meantime, cannabis continues to grow and find its place.
"Cannabis is already being called the new wine," Rebagliati said.
"Pairing with wine, pairing it with food, putting it in a nice setting like a vineyard, I think is where the future of cannabis is, and honestly, where it has always been, it's just allowed to come out the shadows now."
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With files from Dave Dormer, The Homestretch, CBC Calgary News at 6