Legal cannabis is coming. Let's make sure we're educated about the risks – The Globe and Mail

Franco Vaccarino is president of the University of Guelph.

Ottawa’s plans for taxing legal cannabis have made headlines since the release of the 2018 federal budget. Less noticed, but no less important, was the news that the federal government will also invest in public education about the risks of cannabis use.

Canada is preparing to pass legislation allowing consumers to buy recreational cannabis. That’s a reasonable initiative. But we need to do it right.

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We need to be sure we understand the complexities and nuances of increased cannabis use in order to protect youth and people with mental health disorders and to implement programs that mitigate potentially harmful effects.

That’s especially true in Canada. Rates of cannabis use in this country are among the highest in the world. A 2013 study found that one in four Canadian youth had used cannabis that year, and as much as 28 per cent of 11- to 15-year-olds reported using it – the highest rate among developed countries.

Cannabis use usually begins in adolescence – just when most psychiatric disorders start to show up. Evidence from the United States shows that cannabis legalization may increase youth access; for instance, in Washington State, its use after legalization rose among students in Grades 8 and 10.

In the wider population, cannabis use is associated with lower motivation, problematic use of other substances and poorer psychiatric outcomes for people with psychosis and mood and anxiety disorders.

Rates of cannabis use disorder (CUD) are 2 to 3 per cent and may be rising. And studies suggest that people with mental health and addictive disorders have higher rates of cannabis use and CUD than the general population.

When it comes to cannabis legalization

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