On November 23, Waterloo Pharmacy welcomed community members to Let’s Talk Pot, a public lecture on recreational marijuana. The federal government has promised that marijuana will be legal by July 2018. In Ontario, the government has proposed that it will be available in 150 stores managed by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.
Professor Michael Beazely kicked off the lecture to the crowd of over 150 people. Beazely discussed the chemical structure of marijuana, differentiating between THC and CBD, two of the active constituents in the cannabis plant. He explained that marijuana bred for recreational use tends to contain high THC levels, whereas marijuana bred for medical use will usually contain higher CBD content.
Beazely was followed by Noreen Jamal, a class of 2014 Waterloo Pharmacy graduate. Jamal is a pharmacist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. She spoke to some of the known health risks of marijuana use like the increased risk of developing cardiovascular or respiratory diseases. Other risks included experiencing psychosis and anxiety or impaired memory, cognition, and motivation.
“Right now, people are going to dispensaries and getting marijuana that isn’t regulated,” she explained. “Once marijuana is legalized, safer use will be possible because the product will be regulated. We may or may not have more people using it, but hopefully their use will be safer.”
The audience then heard from Laurie Nagge, a public health nurse with the Region of Waterloo. Nagge’s presentation focused on harm reduction – ensuring that if someone chooses to use marijuana, that they do so in the safest way possible – and delaying start of marijuana use in young people.
Ontario’s government has proposed 19 as the legal age to purchase marijuana. Nagge explained that people are better off abstaining altogether or delaying until at least their mid-20s. Doing so minimizes the risk of impaired cognitive functioning – a consequence that can occur with prolonged marijuana use, especially in young brains that are still maturing.
“If the prefrontal cortex doesn't develop and doesn't have the ability to make decisions, organize and plan… other parts of the brain have to come in to help out,” says Nagge. “The brain starts working too hard. As a result, adolescents can have difficulty controlling emotions and thinking clearly about situations or consequences.”
The last speaker was Constable Scott Metcalfe, a drug recognition expert with Waterloo Regional Police. Metcalfe explained marijuana use impairs judgement, preventing users from being able to drive safely. He explained how drug impairment is typically assessed when police are investigating driving impairment: eye exams, reaction to light, divided attention tests, and measuring blood pressure and pulse are some methods the police use.
The presentations were followed by discussion. The volume of questions from the audience demonstrated curiosity about the topic: questions ranged from concerns about the logistics of the Ontario government’s proposal that people can grow up to four marijuana plants in their backyard, to wondering about whether or not cannabis high in CBD will be as accessible as cannabis high in THC after legalization.
The event closed after many questions, and audience members were eager to speak with the presenters afterwards. Their curiosity about this topic is well-founded: the government has announced that one of the first of the 150 cannabis stores will be in Kitchener.