Marijuana misinformation putting young people's health at risk, experts say

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse took its cross-Canada marijuana myth-busting tour to Ottawa Monday, saying it's trying to clear up misinformation about the drug's safety for young people.

Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse aims to bring 'clarity' to national dialogue about pot use among youth

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse held a town hall on marijuana's effects on youth at Ben Franklin Place in Ottawa Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse took its cross-Canada marijuana myth-busting tour to Ottawa Monday, aiming to clear up misinformation on the drug's safety for young people.

The five-stop tour follows a 2015 report that looked into the health risks of marijuana for young people. The report uncovered wide-spread confusion among youth, and a general lack of information about the effects of the drug.

"They felt that cannabis makes them better drivers, some young people reported that they felt it helped their focus and attention at school … we also heard from young people that they felt marijuana prevented and even cured cancer," said Amy Porath-Waller, the centre's director of research and policy.

Dr. Amy Porath-Waller with the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse says the organization started work on their report before the federal Liberals promised to legalize marijuana. (CBC)

"So there's a real opportunity here to bring some clarity to this issue about what does the evidence really say about this drug and its health effects?"

Porath-Waller said the research shows early and frequent marijuana use, which she described as daily or nearly-daily use by children younger than 15, can lead to an increased risk of developing psychoses, can affect a child's ability to learn and can lead to marijuana dependency.

Health Canada and the Canadian Pediatric Society say marijuana shouldn't be used by anyone under age 18, while the College of Family Physicians of Canada says it isn't appropriate for anyone younger than 25.

New dynamic coming

Ottawa Public Health helped organize Monday's session. The agency said the target audience was people who work with youth or in health care, who could use the information to adjust their programs and messaging.

Nancy Langdon from Ottawa Public Health says marijuana use by young people can have long-term negative health effects. (CBC)

"I think in the end our goal [is that] the evidence is going to be compelling enough that we're going to really try to move forward on delaying use of cannabis by young people and preventing it as much as possible," said Nancy Langdon, an Ottawa Public Health supervisor.

Langdon said with the federal Liberal government's promise to legalize and regulate marijuana, it could soon mirror alcohol, which young people manage to purchase and consume even though it's illegal for them to do so.

"The issues of access, minimum age, controlled sales, those are all important elements so that when people do have access to the drug they're adults, they can appreciate the effects it's going to have on their lives, they have more responsibilities, less leisure time," she said.

The CCSA has already held town halls in Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver and is planning one for Calgary on March 11.