Public Education on the New Cannabis Products

On the eve of the legalization of cannabis edibles, extracts, and topicals, Sixth Estate’s Spotlight hosted a panel of experts to discuss the public education initiatives underway in Canada around these products. Rita Notarandrea, CEO of the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, led the discussion by noting that while these products offer people new ways of consuming cannabis, they also come with new risks and regulatory challenges beyond the dried cannabis that is already on the market.right

Pictured right to left: Dr. Amy Porath, Dr. Jennifer Russell, Dr. Vera Etches and Andrew Beattie

“Canadians need to understand what these health risks are,” said Notarandrea. “Over the past year, federal, provincial and municipal governments have been preparing to address these concerns. They have set out strict regulations and controls around production, labelling, and sales, while trying to maintain a diversity of products to reduce the number of people who are using the illegal market.”

Dr. Amy Porath, director of research with the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, said that one of the key differences between smoking and ingesting cannabis is how quickly it takes to experience the peak effects – within 30 minutes for smoking, and within a couple of hours for ingesting, which can also lead to a more lasting effect. If someone isn’t aware that it can take longer to feel the high from an ingested product, they may consume more before it is felt, which could lead to a more intense experience.

“[Be] educated on how to safely store products, perhaps investing in a lockbox, and keeping them out of sight from children and pets,” suggested Porath.

Porath said that it took thirty years of sustained efforts to educate the public about the dangers of drinking and driving, and that educating people about cannabis use will take time and a sustained effort.

Dr. Amy Porath, CCSA

Dr. Jennifer Russell, Chief Medical Officer of Health for New Brunswick, said that in her province, it was important to target key demographics through social media, and to develop specific messages for youth as opposed to other age groups, based in part on research done in Iceland.

“Education and awareness is one thing, but if you understand the risk factors and protective factors from a community perspective, and the connection to community, to schools, and to family, and resilience, it helps you understand that the upstream prevention pieces are key,” said Russell. “When you increase those protective factors, you can decrease substance use among youth by a significant amount.”

Russell said that messages need to be tailored to particular populations, and those messages have to include how to deal with children and pets that may have consumed these products.

Dr. Vera Etches, Medical Officer of Health with Ottawa Public Healthsaid that similar kinds of tailored messages are provided at the local level, along with added advocacy to ensure that there was a safer environment for residents.

“We’re taking a realistic approach,” said Etches. “Messaging has to resonate with the audience. When we talk about youth, we work with colleges and universities, we do focus groups with youth to find out what’s the way they’re going to best receive information about how to reduce the harms of cannabis use.”

Etches said that they found that humour is the best way, such as a “blunt facts” social media campaign. As well, she said that they work with agencies that work with youth and healthcare providers that work with pregnant women to dispel myths and ensure that measures are being taken to protect their unborn children.

Porath said that if people have questions about consumption and use, they should reach out to healthcare providers in order to access more resources. She added that the CCSA has developed guidebooks to help parents have constructive conversations about cannabis with their children, which work best when there is a safe space for those children to ask their questions in a non-judgmental environment.

Porath also noted that there is a lack of research when it comes to topicals such as creams and lotions, so there isn’t enough information to know whether there will be reactions or if people can overdose by using them.

Ed: For additional information and resources visit the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction

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