The federal government is entering the home stretch of a long journey to legalize cannabis, but according to one expert, Canadians have little idea of what they’re getting themselves into.
Rand Teed has spent more the two decades working to help adults and teens understand and overcome substance abuse. He’s worried the current plan hasn’t given voters, governments or community groups enough time to educate themselves on how cannabis affects the human body, and that has him worried.
“Not even close,” Teed said when asked if voters and politicians have a good understanding of how legalized marijuana will affect their communities. “We haven’t done a good job of really educating people about this drug. We’ve cautioned them about it and had some superficial discussions about it, but there hasn’t really been a strong education piece of ‘this is what it does and this is what it can do.’”
On Friday, Teed was in Prince Albert doing his part to fill in that knowledge gap. A nationally certified addiction councillor, and internationally certified prevention specialist, Teed was on hand to answer questions at an event called ‘Clearing the Smoke: Everything you wanted to know about Marijuana but were afraid to ask.’
Teed’s audience included a mix of community organizers, concerned citizens and local politicians, and he had the same message for all of them.
“Cannabis is a drug that has significant potential to cause trouble if it’s (used) too much or too often,” he explained. “It also has significant potential to disrupt adolescent brain development.”
Ideally, Teed wants to see more public discussion and awareness around the issue, but he’s worried that’s not going to happen. There’s too much ground to cover in too short a time.
However, he said it’s better to start learning later than never start learning at all.
“They need to get educated because there’s all sorts of misbeliefs out there about what cannabis is (and) what it isn’t. There’s significant confusion, just with the term medical marijuana,” Teed said. “Education about cannabinoids and what ones can be helpful and what ones can be impairing can be important, and then the general ‘how much is too much’ kind of discussion.”
When it comes to youth, Teed’s biggest concern is brain development. Any substance use during adolescents, whether cannabis or something else, impairs the development of brain functions that form social emotional memories or prune thinking patterns that just don’t work.
“Kids that start using substances during that developmental period don’t effectively learn how to manage those situations and don’t effectively learn how to eliminate thinking that isn’t useful,” Teed said. “What happens to them is that their brains are phenomenally more active … which sounds like a good thing, but actually isn’t a good think because there brains are working way harder to solve problems that aren’t constructive.”
Teed added that most development is complete by the time teenagers turn 18, but not all of it. The brain, he explained, is still developing into the mid twenties.
Despite his pessimism around the current legalization process, Teed is optimistic that with up-to-date information, governments, residents, schools and community groups will make the right choices.
“Knowledge is power,” he said. “People need to really understand this stuff from credible sources.”
Rand Teed is a board member for the Saskatchewan Addiction Foundation, as well as a member of the National Recovery Advisory Committee for the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.