Pubdate: Wed, 19 Oct 2005
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2005 The Ottawa Citizen
Author: Peter Williams


Re: Study suggests marijuana good for you, Oct. 14.

If readers just skimmed this headline, they might have concluded that 
marijuana is not harmful, or that its benefits outweigh its harms.

The recent trend of greater numbers of youths smoking marijuana rather than 
cigarettes may well be an indication that, as a society, we have been 
successful in communicating the harms of smoking cigarettes, but have been 
less clear about marijuana.

As with any substance, there may be short-term benefits. For people who 
suffer from a mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression, using 
substances can help to alleviate the symptoms and take on the role of 
"self-medication." In a sense, the person becomes his or her own 
pharmacist. The problem with this, however, is that over the long term a 
person can very quickly become dependent on the substance and require 
increasing amounts to get the same effects. There is also a great deal of 
evidence that chronic, heavy use of marijuana can cause physical, 
psychological and social harms.

Physically, such heavy use can cause respiratory damage, problems with 
physical co-ordination, hormone-, immune- and cardiovascular-system 
defects, and impaired fetal development during pregnancy. Psychologically, 
marijuana can interfere with an adolescent's social development, affecting 
motivation and coping skills. Socially, marijuana can increase the risk of 
automobile collisions and workplace accidents through impaired cognitive 
and behavioural skills.

Instead of encouraging the use of marijuana, we need to address some of the 
underlying reasons why youths use such substances. These include stress, 
anxiety, depression and boredom. We also need to communicate a clear 
message that outlines both the harms and benefits, so youths can make 
informed decisions.

And rather than throwing people who use marijuana in jail, we need to 
support the proposed legislative changes in Bill C-17 to take possession of 
small amounts for personal use out of the criminal justice system and make 
it a health issue as it should be.

Peter Williams,


Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
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