PROTECTING the mental health of Canadians, and young Canadians in particular, should be a key component of the federal government’s Cannabis Act, says the Canadian Psychiatric Association (CPA).

The CPA underscores the need for caution in allowing access to cannabis for those under age 25 in its recent position statement, Implications of Cannabis Legalization on Youth and Young Adults. Early and regular cannabis use can affect aspects of cognition, such as memory, attention, intelligence, and the ability to process thoughts and experiences.

It increases the risk of developing a primary psychotic disorder in those who are vulnerable, and may also increase risk for other mental health issues such as depression.

Cannabis with high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content can result in significantly worse mental health and cognitive outcomes, including worsening of panic disorder and other anxiety disorders.

“Research shows that the human brain continues to develop until around the age of 25, and based on the evidence, psychiatrists are concerned that regular use of cannabis prior to that age may negatively affect the brain’s healthy maturation process,” says CPA President Dr. Renuka Prasad. “For these reasons, the CPA believes that Canadians should not have legal access to marijuana until age 21, and that legislation should restrict the quantity and potency of the drug until they are 25.”

The CPA calls for: (1) public education targeting youth and young adults about the effects early cannabis use can have on brain development; (2) further research to better understand the impact of cannabis and its legalization on mental health; (3) expanded support for prevention, early identification and cannabis cessation treatments within the framework of mental health and addictions; and (4) prudent consideration of advertising and marketing guidelines with clear markings of THC and cannabidiol content, as well as consistent public health warning messaging.

“Now that the legislation has been tabled, we must place the mental health of Canadians at the forefront of the public policy conversation,” says Prasad. “The CPA looks forward to working with the federal government and others on critical components of the legislation related to harm reduction, public education and research.”

Read CPA’s position statement, Implications of Cannabis Legalization on Youth and Young Adults, at www.cpa-apc.org/wp-content/uploads/Cannabis-Academy-Position-Statement-ENG-FINAL-no-footers-web.pdf.