Kitchener-Waterloo

'Steep learning curve' for pharmacists when pot becomes legal, Waterloo prof says

After years of prohibition, Canadian pharmacists say the legalization of marijuana on Oct. 17 comes with it's share of unknowns, both for society and for those in medical professions.

Pharmacy professor says there are still a lot of unknowns about marijuana and its use

School of Pharmacy professor Mike Beazely says there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to the effects of marijuana use, both recreational and medicinal. (CBC)

After years of prohibition, Canadian pharmacists say the legalization of marijuana on Wednesday comes with its share of unknowns, both for society and for those in medical professions. 

"I think we're going to have a steep learning curve," said Mike Beazely, associate professor at the University of Waterloo's School of Pharmacy. "But I think we're going to learn a lot in the next few years."

The School of Pharmacy has created a series of infographics and videos, explaining what is known about the effects — short and long term — of marijuana use. 

But Beazely said there's still "quite a lot that we don't know" when it comes to use of the drug, both in medical and recreational situations.

Impact on unborn children and infants

Beazely said there is some evidence that suggests smoking marijuana lowers birth rates and that exposure to cannabinoids — the naturally occurring chemical compound found in the cannabis plant — can have "neurobehavioural consequences" on an unborn child.

He said we know cannabanoids can be traced in breast milk, but don't know those chemical compounds impact the health of a breast milk feeding infant.

Long-term effects on adults 

Beazely said chronic smoking of marijuana will have a negative impact on a person's lungs. 

He also said more and more evidence indicates using marijuana as an adolescent will result in negative outcomes later in life. 

But he added more research needs to be done on the long-term impact of cannabis use on adult health. 

It's medical usefulness

Beazely said we have some pretty good evidence that cannabanoids are useful in a few specific medical conditions, like nausea associated with chemotherapy and chronic nerve pain. 

Beyond that, he said that "when it comes to some other conditions — some other types of pain — there's some hints of evidence, but when you compare that to the kind of evidence we have for some of the typical pharmaceuticals, it's not as strong."

It's performance in medical trials

Beazely said one of the reasons why we don't have strong evidence for the usefulness of marijuana is that the drug has not gone through the same rigorous trials that other medications have gone through. 

As a result, he said the evidence we do have for marijuana and its medical usefulness is on a "smaller scale."

An infographic produced by the University of Waterloo's School of Pharmacy. (University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy)

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