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Longmore says public not properly sensitised about dangers of ganja

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

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GOVERNMENT Senator Saphire Longmore has accused the previous government of inadequately sensitising the public about the dangers of cannabis/ganja, when the drug was decriminalised in 2015.

Speaking in the annual Sectoral Debate in the Senate last Friday, Senator Longmore, a psychiatrist, said that when the drug was decriminalised its merits were made known on a daily basis, including its money-earning potential, as well as the uniqueness of the brand. But, she said, no research was done around cannabis use within the society, and the danger to vulnerable groups.

“The public sensitisation re the dangers of cannabis was woefully inadequate. Apart from highlighting the very grave danger to vulnerable groups, it would have been prudent to have done specific research around cannabis use within our society,” she said.

“A study of the pre and post decriminalisation use pattern amongst vulnerable groups would have been very useful now in our consideration of legalisation,” she added.

She noted what she described as “a shocking new study out of the University of Maastricht in The Netherlands”, which has revealed that smoking cannabis can treble the risk of developing a mental illness such as schizophrenia.

“In one of the biggest investigations launched into the long-term effects of the drug, scientists have uncovered dramatic evidence, proving marijuana is dangerous and can cause serious psychotic disorders in people with no history of mental illness,” she said.

“The research appears to confirm anecdotal evidence of the dangers of regular use. It shows that people who smoke cannabis are nearly three times more likely than non-users to develop a psychotic disorder like hallucinations, paranoia, manic depression and even schizophrenia and that risk increases with the amount smoked,” she noted.

She said that The Netherlands has one of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world, because of its relaxed laws. But this is the first major study to examine the long-term dangers to mental health.

She said that there is a recognised possible link of cannabis to neuro-developmental disorders, including autism, cancer causation, heart and other vascular diseases.

“Now on the other side of the coin, I know of its tremendous medicinal value and the massive economic benefit that could be had from legalisation. We see in both California and Colorado (USA) teen marijuana use went down post-legalisation. However, a new analysis of survey data finds that marijuana legalisation was associated with more cannabis consumption among eighth graders and 10th graders in Washington, but not among 12th graders in that state,” she noted.

She referred to information provided by researchers which suggested that legalisation of recreational marijuana use in 2012 reduced stigma and perceptions of risk associated with marijuana use, and argued that “social norms regarding marijuana use may have, in turn, increased marijuana use among adolescents in Washington.”

“They suggest that older students' attitudes were unaffected, because they were already well-formed,” she noted.

“If we are to take the path of 'freeing up the weed', I implore that we do so responsibly, with full recognition of the dangers to vulnerable groups and with effective strategies to educate and prepare our population at large, but especially our children,” she said.

Senator Longmore also explained that prior to its legalisation of cannabis, the Canadian Government took a calculated public health approach to the legalisation and regulation of cannabis, with the aim of: raising awareness of health and safety facts about its use; preventing problematic cannabis use; promoting healthy choices; protecting youth by restricting access to cannabis; preventing drug-impaired driving; strictly regulating the cannabis supply chain; monitoring cannabis use patterns; and, ensuring industry compliance with legislative and regulatory requirements.

She said that early federal efforts related to public education focused on building the evidence base to inform cannabis public education and awareness initiatives, with efforts including: conducting public opinion research to understand Canadians' knowledge, attitudes and behaviour related to cannabis and drug-impaired driving; undertaking market research to inform approaches for campaigns to reach youth, young adults and parents; making note of the pre-adolescent risk; understanding lessons learned from other jurisdictions such as Colorado and Washington State to glean insight on priority audiences, messaging and timing for public education campaigns; and, engaging stakeholders with more than 90 organisations that are active in delivering public education and awareness activities.

“I would also add the awareness that needs to be had re cannabis in other forms of use such as edibles, pastes, ointments and salves,” she added.

Senator Longmore said that with the unknown links to possible illnesses, such as developmental disorders in children and adults, psychotic illnesses, cancer causation, heart and vascular disease before we fully 'free up di weed', Jamaica must ensure the sensitization of vulnerable groups such as pregnant and breast-feeding mothers, young children and adolescents, mentally affected and those genetically at risk, persons living with heart and/or vascular disease, persons predisposed to cancers and the elderly.

“This, indeed, would be taking the weed economy to higher levels in a responsible way,” she said.

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