“The science is clear” on the dangers of marijuana, claims a new government ad campaign. But it’s a murky message because when it comes to the medicinal benefits of the drug, the same government also maintains there isn’t enough scientific study.
The controversial new anti-drug crusade aims to encourage parents to talk to teenagers about the effects of marijuana on their brains and how it “can damage a teen for life.”
In the Health Canada campaign — the same department charged with overseeing the country’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry — the government’s opposition to marijuana is unequivocal: “The science is clear. Marijuana use equals health risks.”
The problem is that while the government’s anti-marijuana position may be clear, the science behind its stance is anything but. Because marijuana is illegal, few randomized, controlled trials — the gold standard in the scientific community — have been conducted on its harms and benefits.
The commercial warns that marijuana can impair concentration and even cause hallucinations in some cases. The ad also suggests that marijuana is 300 to 400 per cent stronger than it was 30 years ago, but does not cite the origins of this information. Instead, it directs viewers to a government website for more information.
Health Canada also goes so far as to point out that marijuana is not an approved drug or medicine in Canada. The reason the government refuses to approve the drug? Not enough science.
The government says it cannot endorse the use of the drug because its effects have not been tested in clinical trials the way pharmaceuticals have.
The lack of clinical trials on the efficacy and side effects of marijuana has been a major sticking point for many doctors. They’re used to prescribing pharmaceuticals with dosages that have been determined by clinical studies.
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For years now, the Canadian medical establishment and Health Canada have not accepted marijuana as a legitimate form of medication, despite reports from patients who say it’s an effective alternative to opiates for pain relief, and research from other countries that backs up that finding.
But the same problems in scientific study also apply in research surrounding marijuana’s harmful effects.
They are a form of anecdotal information Health Canada has dismissed when it comes to surveys that support the benefits of marijuana.
Teenagers are the most prolific users of pot and several studies have suggested that they are particularly susceptible to negative effects because their brains are still developing. Not all studies have shown the drug definitely causes harm, but many have suggested a number of detrimental effects including a loss of memory and IQ.
Some researchers believe there are inconsistencies in the studies because they are largely self-reported and not conducted using the scientific method.
The government campaign made headlines earlier this summer when it was first revealed Health Canada would spend $5 million on the ads. The main groups representing Canadian doctors distanced themselves from the campaign after it appeared to become “a political football.”
Some critics believe the ads are politically motivated “pot shots” at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who has spoken about his past marijuana use. The Tories have used that admission in attack ads against him.
A Supreme Court ruling in 2000 gave Canadian patients access to medical marijuana, putting Health Canada in the awkward position of distributing a substance it officially does not condone.
In April, Health Canada transferred to doctors much of the responsibility for deciding which patients can access medical marijuana, a move that did not sit well with the Canadian Medical Association.