Since April 2017, I have been considering how cannabis legalization will be implemented in Canada. As a psychiatrist who sees only adolescents, I have been emphasizing the need for a robust public health campaign so that the best information about cannabis is easily available to youth, their parents and the organizations that support them. Over the last month, I have been reviewing what provision has been made for a public health campaign and decided to summarize for you what I have learned.
This article provides a good summary of the investment that the Government of Canada has made in cannabis education and awareness and many elements of this are positive. Most importantly, the government will be investing a total of $46 million over a five-year period for their public health campaign, a considerable investment. This demonstrates that they have listened to the concerns of health professionals about the need for a public health campaign.
It was also encouraging to see that that the campaign would focus on “factual and evidence-based information on the health and safety risks of cannabis use and drug-impaired driving”. It was evident that consideration had been given to using social media and other interactive methods to engage youth directly in the information campaign. When I spoke to my patients about this, they emphasized that the information that they have seen is often from one of two extremes. On the one hand, there are many fear-mongering messages about the risks of cannabis use in youth. At the other extreme are statements claiming that cannabis is a “natural” substance and that there need be no concern at all. Fortunately, most youth are sophisticated enough that neither extreme is credible. It does seem as though the Government of Canada is determined to use a balanced approach in its public education campaign and this is also good news.
To assist in the development of the public health campaign for youth, the government has partnered with Drug Free Kids Canada, an agency that provides both parents and youth with evidence-based information about drugs and drug use in Canada as well as an extensive list of resources to assist when a young person is struggling with a substance use concern or disorder. The Cannabis Talk Kit that Drug Free Kids Canada has developed is quite good and is available free of charge. I will likely review the kit in an upcoming blog once I have had an opportunity to speak with more people about it. Personally, I like it and I suspect other health care professionals, educators, youth and parents will also find it helpful. You can get your own copy here.
All things considered, the main concern that I have about the government’s public health campaign so far is that it’s not as evident in social media and the media as I would like it to be. I am, in fact, worried that many of the cannabis producers seem to have the market cornered on messaging regarding cannabis. I have looked through the websites of Canada’s four largest cannabis producers, all of which currently have a significant medical marijuana business and did not find any information to address patient or physician concerns regarding either adverse effects or side effects of the use of marijuana. Since the largest medical marijuana producers are also likely to be producing cannabis for recreational purposes, I am concerned that the Government of Canada does not seem to be engaging them in their public health initiatives. It seems that medical marijuana producers are not held to the same standard of scrutiny as to the claims that they can make about the “medication” they are providing. This is something the government needs to consider as the public health campaign moves forward.
As a physician, I am used to drug companies providing a robust list of concerns and risks related to their products. As citizens and consumers, we are all familiar with the warnings regarding alcohol use and I hope the cannabis producers will be expected to do the same. It is in this regard that the public health messaging regarding cannabis really is not adequate.