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Friday FTW: Public health officials want you to smoke pot safely

Megan Harris

Canadian public health officials are taking a stance on marijuana use education, instead of advocating abstinence.

As we all know, marijuana is an illegal drug in Canada, a fact unlikely to change anytime soon. But this week, a team of public health experts seem to be facing reality.

Reality being, of course, that many people in Canada are recreational marijuana users. A Health Canada survey in 2010 showed that 10.7 percent of people over 15, and 25.1 percent of youth aged 15-24 had used cannabis in the past year.

Given these facts, a set of guidelines for marijuana use have been released, endorsed by the Canadian Public Health Association. Previously, the message to Canadians has been prohibition and abstinence. The new guidelines, according to the Toronto Star, address “prevention, education, and reducing risks among users.” The guidelines will be published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

Benedikt Fischer, co-author of the guildelines and chair in applied public health at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, told the Canadian Press that the “lower risk cannabis use guidelines” are modelled after the public health approach to alcohol consumption.

“We’re accepting the fact that this is a drug that’s out there, that people embrace, that people actually enjoy,” Fischer told the Canadian Press. “At the same time, absolutely it’s not a benign drug, it comes with a lot of acute and long-term problems that can be very hazardous and harmful to both individuals and society.”

Some of the risks higlighed in the guidelines, according to the Toronto Star‘s report, include:

Age of use: The younger the user, the greater the risk, especially of mental illness or addiction. While most people don’t springboard to harder drugs, being young increases the odds of that happening. Researchers advise delaying use until at least (age 16) and preferably young adulthood.

Frequency of use: Daily or near daily use is linked to memory loss, cognitive problems, serious health issues and addiction, and should be avoided.

Driving: Anyone using marijuana should wait a minimum of three to four hours after consumption before driving. While public awareness around drinking and driving is huge, few people realize that marijuana impairs cognition and reflexes and acutely increases risks of car accidents.

High-risk groups: This includes pregnant women; older adults with hypertension and certain other health problems; and those with a history of psychotic symptoms themselves or in a family member.”

While these guidelines aim to bring more public awareness to marijuana use, there is some irony in this situation. Days before the release of these guidelines, the federal government introduced the Safe Streets and Communities Act ,which, among other things, has laid down stricter penalties for those convicted of growing marijuana, with jail time ranging from six months to a maximum of 14 years.

Like I said- it’s not looking like marijuana will be legal in Canada anytime soon. But if people are going to use marijuana regardless, then at least public health officials are finally recognizing the situation as it is.

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