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Photo by Louie Villanueva

Canadian government endorses marijuana use guidelines

By Jennifer Khil, July 26 2017 —

According to guidelines endorsed by the Canadian government, you should not smoke weed every day.

Federal health minister Jane Philpott is supporting the “Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines” (LRCUG) published in June in the American Journal of Public Health. The guidelines were funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and outline 10 recommendations for the use of non-medical — or recreational — marijuana.

The LRCUG’s recommendations include limiting marijuana intake to once a week, abstaining from use among special-risk populations, such as pregnant women, and avoiding driving while under the influence. It also recommends consuming weed through methods other than smoking, such as through vaporizers or edibles.

Health Canada is endorsing the LRCUG as a part of the Liberal’s push to legalize recreational marijuana. By endorsing usage guidelines ahead of legalization, Phillpott hopes to counter the potential health risks of increased public access to cannabis.

“From a scientific perspective, Health Canada considers the guidelines to be important, evidence-based information to help cannabis users reduce the health and safety risks associated with cannabis use,” reads Philpott’s statement. “Our Government introduced legislation to legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access to cannabis. We are proposing a public health approach to minimize the harms associated with cannabis use. The proposed Cannabis Act focuses on protecting the health of Canadians, particularly youth.”

Fiona Clement is a researcher at the University of Calgary’s Institute of Public Health who specializes in public policy. Clement worked on a series of reports for the Alberta government on how the province should handle changing marijuana legislation and said she supports the LRCUG.

“I would put these guidelines in the same category as public health messaging that has been around for decades around drinking and the consumption of alcohol,” Clement said. “I do think it’s very important to have documents like this that balance the risks with the reality that cannabis use is already quite widespread — and as we move toward legalization, use will become less stigmatized and [cannabis] more easily accessible.”

The LRCUG notes that cannabis use is “common, especially among adolescents and young adults” and that there are “well-documented risks from cannabis use to both immediate and long-term health.”

“They benchmark cannabis use at about 11 per cent of the Canadian population, according to a self-reported survey conducted annually by Statistics Canada,” Clement said. “You would expect that use is a little under-reported because currently it is still an illegal substance to use and a bit stigmatized.”

Clement said that since people will use marijuana regardless, usage guidelines are more useful than abstinence-only messaging.

“It’s important to note that one of the first recommendations is that abstinence is the only way to avoid all harm exposure — and that’s true of a lot of things, though not really realistic,” she said. “So then we say if you’re going to choose to use and to ingest or smoke cannabis, what are the things you need to think about to ensure your societal safety and the safety of those around you, as well as your individual safety?”

The evidence brief on the LRCUG published by Health Canada includes three “fast facts” about cannabis, one of which states that “Canada has among the highest cannabis use rates in the world.” The recommendations also address issues such as frequency and intensity of use, choice of cannabis products and age of initial use.

“As with many substances, the younger you start, the earlier the risk of individualized damage to yourself,” Clement said. “Cannabis can have an impact on your brain as well as things like educational attainment, and the more you use, the higher your risks of exposure are.”

The federal government is aiming to legalize recreational marijuana use by July 1, 2018.

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