New website warns youth about cannabis use risks

A stock photo of marijuana buds. Photo courtesy: Dank Depot

Bianca Bharti, Daily Herald

With the federal government’s legalization of marijuana, an advocacy group is looking to inform Canadian youth about the potential dangers of the substance.

The Schizophrenia Society of Canada launched a website designed to educate the youth about current scientific research regarding cannabis use and psychosis, provide peer perspectives of using, dispel myths and “empower” them to make informed decisions about using the drug.

Approximately 15 per cent of Canadians and 30 per cent of adolescents and young adults reported using cannabis in the past year, according the SSC’s press release.

The younger the user, the more likely they are to develop schizophrenia, said Phil Tibbo, president of the Canadian Consortium for Early Prevention in Psychosis. “Schizophrenia can develop up to six years earlier in young people who consume cannabis regularly.”

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects a person’s ability to discern reality, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It impacts how a person thinks, feels and behaves. People living with schizophrenia can experience hallucinations, delusions, lack of motivation and poor cognitive function among other symptoms.

Effecting one per cent of the country’s population, men tend to develop the disorder in their late-teens while women show signs in their early-to-mid twenties.

Some scientific research shows a connection between cannabis use as a teen and schizophrenia diagnosis.

With THC levels increased in marijuana from 1.5 per cent in 1970 to 28 per cent in 2018, the risk to develop schizophrenia is 12 times higher for kids 15 and under, according to the statement.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that causes the high.

It can inhibit full brain development, as heightened use of cannabis, and therefore cannabinoids, flood the part of the brain that controls emotions and planning.

With the society’s website, the goal is to “provide accurate information that will resonate with youth across Canada.”

Beginning in 2009, SSC ran a “participant-action” research project that collected information on why young Canadians use marijuana, what their experiences were and what information they felt necessary to tell others regarding cannabis use and psychosis.

“This new (website) combines their insights with updated scientific evidence to create

a balanced, non-judgemental and accessible source of information that we hope will be helpful

for youth as they make their own decisions about cannabis use,” said Catherine Willinsky, project manager at SSC.

One of the project participants, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, said she started using marijuana as a replacement for alcohol.

“I grew up in a small town where many kids were drinking in junior high school,” Laura Burke said. “I don’t know for sure whether early marijuana use impacted my development of schizophrenia later, but if I had known the connection, I might have made a different decision.”

She said she thinks this website will help engage youths to make more informed decisions.