Researchers have come up with Canada's first guidelines for the safer use of the marijuana, arguing for a public health response to blunt widespread use of the illegal narcotic.
"Given the prevalence and age distribution of cannabis use in Canada, a public health approach to cannabis use is overdue," said Benedikt Fischer, who led a peer-reviewed study to develop the protocols.
More than one in ten Canadian adults and about one in three young people aged 16-25 reported using cannabis during the past year, according to the research.
Despite the prevalence and health risks associated with cannabis use, the study points out that Canada has not yet taken a public health approach to address its harms, as it has with alcohol, tobacco, and even injection drug use.
"Misinformation about cannabis can be dangerous," Fischer said.
For example, surveys show that many young cannabis users believe that it is safe to drive after smoking marijuana when in fact data shows it has led to a number of traffic fatalities.
"This resembles the situation forty years ago, when the majority of Canadians still believed it was safe to drink and drive," Fischer said.
The "Lower Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines," which have been endorsed by the Canadian Public Health Association, are similar to alcohol consumption guidelines introduced in the 1990s.
They recommend abstinence from cannabis use during pregnancy, for example, and that anyone using cannabis should not drive for three to four hours after consumption.
As well, the researchers warned in the set of guidelines that using cannabis from a young age has been associated with mental illness and dependence, and that frequent use may lead to cognitive and memory performance problems.
Fischer is a scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research/Public Health Agency of Canada chair in applied public health at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
The study is to be published in the upcoming September/October issue of the Canadian Journal of Public Health.