UBC research aims to clear the haze on cannabis use in Canada

published on April 19, 2016 in UBC News

As Canada prepares for the expected legalization of cannabis, a new study will examine cannabis use and provide clear guidance for creating regulations and policies.

M-J Milloy, an assistant professor of medicine with the UBC Division of AIDS and a research scientist with the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), is leading the study.

What new information do you hope to learn about Canadians’ marijuana use?

We plan to recruit about 1,500 people in Vancouver aged 15 and up to tell us about their cannabis use in order to get a better sense of the benefits and harms of cannabis.

Past research has focused on people seeking treatment for cannabis dependence and, to my knowledge, no one has done a study to gather data from the full spectrum of people who use cannabis. We’re hoping to survey people who may have problem cannabis use, people who use it medically or non-medically, and people for whom cannabis isn’t a big part of their lives. We hope to gather data that can help inform good public policy.

There are still lots of questions to sort out regarding how cannabis will be distributed and sold. How old should you be to buy it? Should it be sold in pharmacies? Is it safe to drive if you’ve been using cannabis? Unfortunately, there is a shortage of credible data. That is something courts and others have pointed to as a problem.

What do we know right now about the safety of cannabis?

We know it’s much safer than other substances like alcohol. Cannabis doesn’t carry the risk of fatal overdose that exists with some psychoactive substances, such as opioids. However, a certain proportion of users suffer from cannabis use disorders, meaning they have trouble controlling their use of the drug. In states like Colorado and Washington, where cannabis is legal, we have seen some increases in markers of problem cannabis use but we haven’t been able to confirm if there’s a true increase. Our study will try to estimate what proportion of cannabis users might be experiencing dependence and look at which types of cannabis use might be linked with a greater risk of dependence.

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