Canada To Pave The Way For Cannabis Research
Despite the thousands of studies available on cannabis and its effects on health and illness, the United States faces serious challenges when it comes to legitimate and substantial findings due to the current classification of cannabis as a federally illegal drug.
But this fall, Canada is going to legalize cannabis for recreational use, and many see this as a silver lining in the world of cannabis research. It may even pave the way for significant new research that could help save lives. Prior to legalization, cannabis was a controlled substance in Canada which meant that researchers also had to jump through hoops in order to study it.
Both researchers and scientists had to receive an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to study pot in controlled environments, whether they intended to administer it to a human or animal during a clinical trial. “It’s on par with heroine and crack cocaine,” says Dr. M-J Milloy, a research scientist who works with the BC Center on Substance Abuse in Vancouver. “Only a few scientists have been able to carry out this research due to the restrictive regulations.”
Thankfully, by October 17, things are going to change. Milloy believes that once cannabis becomes legal, clinical research will be easier and cannabis will also be simpler to obtain. “The landscape for cannabis is changing in Canada,” Milloy says. “There are more bodies who are willing and able to fund the research necessary to understand cannabis better.”
Last June 2017, Milloy, together with other scientists, wrote a letter to the Canadian federal government detailing how prohibition has caused a serious problem with research, as well as its impact on legalization. “Substantial knowledge gaps remain related to the potential consequences of legalized cannabis use,” they write, saying that the government needs to allow researchers to “produce, possess, and use cannabis and cannabinoids for research purposes” and “create and support dedicated and distinct funds for medical and non-medical cannabis research.”
Luckily for them, the government has listened.
According to a Globe and Mail report end of June, the federal government has granted $ 1.4 million for academics to conduct several cannabis research projects with the intention of educating Canadians on the impact of cannabis and their new laws which will take effect less than two months from now.
The report discusses the account of Dr. Zach Walsh, a cannabis researcher and clinical psychologist who is working on a long-term study of around 500 students from the University of BC’s Okanagan campus. He is one of the 14 scientists awarded part of the research subsidies, and he intends to analyze the attitudes of young adults toward the drug which may revolutionize archaic beliefs of cannabis.
“Everyone overestimates peer use and tends to think that cannabis is more prevalent, that other students are using cannabis more frequently and in greater quantities than they actually are,” Dr. Walsh says. “We want to see if the norms come more into line with reality now that it’s an open conversation – or a more open conversation.”
MP Bill Blair, who is also the Canadian government’s point person when it comes to cannabis regulation, made the announcement last June at the Toronto Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Each of the projects will be awarded a $ 100,000 grant by the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR).
“We acknowledge the need to expand our knowledge when it comes to the health effects of cannabis, as well as the behavioral, social and economic implications of its legalization and regulation,” Blair says.
He adds that in 2016, the government released a report acknowledging the dearth of quality and thorough research on the effects of cannabis on public health. Blair says that comprehensive research was challenging with prohibition.
The other projects that received funding will research various aspects of cannabis and its effects on Canada including youth who are at high risk for psychosis, the impact of recreational pot in Canada, pregnancy and childhood health outcomes, driving under the influence, impact of cannabis on patients using opioids, and the use of cannabis in the workplace.
It’s a good start, but it will take a lot of work to get to where we want to be, at least scientifically and compare with the studies conducted on pharmaceuticals. “Of the many casualties of criminalization, its impact on suppressing research is one of the worst,” says Vancouver-Kingsway MP Don Davies, whose party has been an advocate of decriminalizing cannabis since the 70’s. “Everybody from every side of the spectrum on this – even for people opposed to legalization – I think you’d find broad agreement that we need much more information on the impacts of cannabis on health, the workplace, to inform different policy approaches.”