The argument for legalization of marijuana from a health perspective is very weak, says the president of Doctors of BC.
Dr. Alan Ruddiman says while the harms associated with marijuana are well established, the research science behind the benefits of cannabis doesn’t exist.
So for doctors, Ruddiman says the potential legalization of marijuana leaves the medical community taking a very guarded position.
“From a health concern perspective, we realize the prime minister made legalization part of his election campaign and he was elected, so we are going down this path now as a society,” said Ruddiman.
“So we now have to look to the thoughtfulness of the federal government moving forward and carrying out the broad consultation needed to determine how to roll this out to society.
“The biggest red flag for us right now is this could do more harm than good.”
This week, the federal government is expected to introduce legislation based on a 106-page report titled The Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada.
That report provided some 80 recommendations on how the federal Liberal government should proceed.
Ruddiman says his association stands by the recommendation of the Canadian Medical Association that Canadians under the age of 21 not be allowed to legally smoke or obtain marijuana, and that regulations should be in place to restrict quantity and the potency the the drug.
He says that recommendation speaks to how the human brain isn’t fully developed until a person reaches age 25, and how that might be negatively impeded by regular marijuana use.
“I think the biggest concern for us is the potential exposure of the marijuana drug and chemical to children and youth,” said Ruddiman, who has operated his physician practice in Oliver for the past 21 years.
“When it comes to a developing brain and a developing mind, the research has not been done to tell us what the potential harms or extent of those harms could be if society embraces this as a legalized recreational drug.”
Ruddiman says the debate about regulations and distribution control of marijuana has been experienced before.
“We went through this when prohibition was ended in the 1930s and again when dealing with the risks of smoking. So we are going to go through this exercise one more time and we need the science research to help us better understand the broad range of risks involved.”
What doctors do know, Ruddiman added, is that marijuana use can impair one’s ability to drive a motor vehicle, increase accidents in general, induce poor psychological performances for youth, exacerbate drug addiction and dependency issues, and present health condition problems for pregnant women and people with diabetes, emphysema and cardio vascular diseases.
He says doctors acknowledge that cannabis can be helpful for certain conditions, specifically neuropathic pain and excessive vomiting or nausea for cancer patients, but there is no evidence to say it is medically effective beyond that.
“We have to be careful about anecdotal evidence, that one person’s experience is not science. We call that the value of the placebo effect…and we know as well that smoking itself is a dangerous delivery system.”
Ruddiman said while there is much discussion about the impact of prescription drugs on our personal health care, such drugs must be put through rigorous tests and trials before being approved by Health Canada.
“We know from scientific testing doctors don’t harm or hurt a patient by taking prescribed medication but unfortunately with marijuana we don’t have that same kind of evidence to fall back on,” he said.
Key recommendations from marijuana legalization task force
• Set a national minimum age of purchase of 18, harmonized with the minimum age for buying alcohol.
• Apply comprehensive restrictions to advertising and marketing.
• Require plain packaging and prohibit any product deemed to be “appealing to children.”
• Set a maximum amount for THC (the active ingredient in cannabis)
• Prohibit mixed products such as cannabis-infused alcoholic beverages or cannabis products with tobacco, nicotine or caffeine.
• Introduce public education strategies to inform about cannabis risks.
• Use revenue as a source of funding for administration, education, prevention, research, enforcement and treatment.
• Allow dedicated storefronts located appropriate distances from schools, community centres and parks.
• Permit a direct-to-consumer mail-order system.
• Allow personal cultivation for non-medical purposes with a limit of four plants per residence and a maximum plant height of 100 cm.
• Extend current restrictions on public smoking of tobacco to the smoking of cannabis and to cannabis vamping products.