Everything that you don’t know (yet) on the pot

News 27 January, 2018
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    We still know little about the interactions of cannabis with alcohol.

    Boris Proulx

    Saturday, 27-jan-2018 01:00

    Saturday, 27-jan-2018 01:00

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    OTTAWA | scientists who are studying cannabis believe legalization will accelerate research and lead to the clarification of the many mysteries that continue to exist on its effects. But knowing as much about the alcohol or tobacco, could take decades.

    “One is preparing to put on the market a plant, which is a drug that has not been enough investigated “, is worried about Gabriella Gobbi, a psychiatrist and researcher on the effects of cannabis at McGill University.

    • Read also : A member wants a fund dedicated to the research

    A few months of the legalization of cannabis in Canada, scheduled for July 2018, experts are concerned about gaps in the scientific knowledge of the substance.

    “There is a risk of commoditization, which will install around the cannabis after legalization,” recalls Louis Richer, a researcher at the University of Quebec in Chicoutimi, who is studying the long-term effects of the pot.


    The interaction between cannabis and other drugs, such as alcohol and opioids, its effects on the human body or on the brain development of the fetus are all questions for which science still remains unanswered, says a recent report from a colloquium of scholars organized by the federal government in the fall.

    The objective in Ottawa was to determine the “gaps in research” to guide the science to these “shadow” areas of knowledge on cannabis.

    “What we know about cannabis is very rudimentary. For alcohol and tobacco, there has been a study of people over several decades “, explains François Gagnon, a scientific advisor to the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ).

    It is estimated that the studies on the immediate effects of cannabis could be concluded in a few months, while those on the long-term effects could take up to 20 or 30 years.


    The legalization could make Canada a pioneer in scientific research on this drug, hope the scientists consulted.

    Starting in July, ” we’ll be able to rely on robust data on the effects of legalisation “, hope Didier Jutras-Aswad, a psychiatrist and researcher at the CHUM.

    At the present time, it is precisely the lack of reliable data which makes sure that we know just as little about the harms of cannabis, but also on its potential benefits in medicine.

    Unanswered questions

    What effects on mental health ?

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    Several clues tend to indicate that the consumption of cannabis leads to a decrease in cognitive ability and an increased risk of psychosis or episodes of anxiety. The problem : we still do not know why.

    “We can see that, statistically, people who consume cannabis are more likely to be affected by the psychosis. Now the question is : by what mechanism ? It is far from all the people who use cannabis will develop a psychotic illness, ” says psychiatrist and researcher Didier Jutras-Aswad.

    It states that studies seem to indicate that the risks to mental health decrease with age.

    How cannabis damages the Health ?

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    Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are habits of life that lead to serious consequences on the long-term health, but what is it cannabis ? Mystery.

    “All the studies on cannabis are limited in terms of time,” laments François Gagnon, scientific advisor at the INSPQ.

    He noted that there was “definitely a risk” to the consumption of cannabis in the long term. Especially if it is smoked, a mode of consumption that has long been associated with cancers.

    “We really need to do clinical studies on large populations,” adds the psychiatrist and researcher Gabriella Gobbi.

    A large study implemented in Quebec through a registry of prescriptions of cannabis should, however, help to know more in the next few years.

    How much it takes for cannabis to freeze ?

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    After what amount of cannabis a person becomes intoxicated ? A whiff ? Two ? Half a joint ? Science ignores it.

    “We know that the more one increases the dose, the more the abilities become impaired. But there is no scientific consensus on a threshold, such as the .08 for alcohol, after which it is no longer capable of driving, ” explains François Gagnon, scientific advisor at the INSPQ.

    The big unknown, according to the psychiatrist Didier Jutras-Aswad, is why the effect seems to vary from one person to the other.

    “We need to understand what characteristics of the individual can ensure that the person will have more of an effect. “

    Age, sex, or even the frequency of use seems to vary the effect of a seal, which poses problems for regulating the driving motor.

    What happens if it is mixed with alcohol or opioids ?

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    Doctors warn on mixing alcohol and drugs, but a great mystery surrounds the contra-indications to the use of cannabis.

    The cumulative effects of this drug with alcohol or opioids, for example, have been too little studied according to the psychiatrist and researcher Gabriella Gobbi.

    “When one develops a drug, such as Prozac, the pharmaceutical companies are obliged to study the interactions of this molecule with the alcohol, with other drugs. With the cannabis, nobody did. “

    On this question, it specifies that it does not change anything that the cannabis is a natural plant, since up to 40 % of the medicines found in pharmacy are also made from plants.

    Different genders, different effects ?

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    The science is still unknown why women and men react differently to cannabis.

    In the event of a driving while impaired by this drug is specially scrutinized, this issue could pose a challenge for public authorities.

    “Future research should focus on the differences between men and women in relation to the amount of THC (active component in cannabis) required for the faculties are impaired “, recommends that public Safety Canada.

    This difference between men and women is also of great importance to know the dosages of medical cannabis, note the researchers consulted.

    Unknown risks for pregnant women

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    The exact effects of cannabis on the brain development of the fetus during pregnancy are still unknown, but the substance does indeed risk sustainable on children, warn experts.

    “As for the tobacco, or to alcohol, we are not aware of all the risks on the pregnancy. But in ignorance, it is better to refrain, ” advises Marie Fortier, a nurse in the newborn, which has launched a website specialized on maternal health.

    Research suggests that children exposed to cannabis have more learning disabilities, attention problems, or delays to the school, says Louis Richer, a neuropsychologist and researcher at UQAC.

    On this issue, however, scientists are still cruelly lacking data to determine exactly what are these risks, ” says psychiatrist and researcher Didier Jutras-Aswad.

    “It is difficult to have mothers who will tell us whether they consume cannabis, because it is still illegal. “

    The consumption of cannabis is widespread among pregnant women, alert for her part Marie Fortier, who said he did not want to trivialize this consumption among its customers.

    “A lot of women write to me or call me and ask for advice because they consume cannabis, but do not tell their doctor,” said she.

    (Source : Summary of the research Symposium on cannabis, research division, public Safety Canada)
    The government promises to invest more in the science of pot

    The elected federal responsible for the issue of the legalisation of cannabis assured that his government puts the package in the scientific research, and that it expects even more money to study the issue.

    “We encourage and fund the research where we identified a lack of knowledge,” says Bill Blair.

    The ex-chief of police today, parliamentary secretary to the ministers of Justice and Health announced on Wednesday a funding of 14 research projects, including four in Quebec.

    They are intended precisely to study its effects on driving, pregnancy, youth mental health, aboriginal populations, and the health and safety at work.

    The press release announcing the investment of$ 1.4 M note that there are ” uncertainties about the effects [of cannabis] on the health, society and the economy “.

    According to Bill Blair, the scientific advice of existing demonstrate that its proposed legalization of marijuana will improve public health, the reduction of social problems and the protection of young people.

    For the past fifteen years, the Institute of health research of Canada has spent approximately$ 44 Million in funds on this issue.