More cannabis education needed for youth

The results of a new report released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) showed that more than 23,500 young people in Canada, aged 10 to 24 years, were hospitalized due to substance use over the period of 2017-18, prior to cannabis legalization. Moreover, the data show that cannabis was responsible for 40% of these hospitalizations, in contrast to alcohol, which caused 26% of hospitalizations among young people.

According to Dr. Joanna Henderson, director of The Margaret and Wallace McCain Centre for Child, Youth & Family Mental Health at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the study findings show that there is a need for improvement of the healthcare system, “It really speaks to some systemic issues that concern me in terms of the availability of timely access to youth-friendly, substance-related services,” said the researcher.

Upon cannabis legalization in October 2018, the government had planned to invest some of the revenue generated from the excise tax on cannabis into preventative treatment, research and rehabilitation programs. However, Marino Francispillai, program manager at Ottawa Public Health (OPH), told CBC News that communities have not received sufficient funds to address the consequences of cannabis use on young people. “There is a good case for reducing our health-care costs by working upstream and preventing these issues from becoming something that requires hospitalization,” he said. Soon, OPH plans to launch a program developed by the federal government for students in Grade 8, which is one of the few resources the agency says it has received from the federal government since cannabis legalization.

The findings of the CIHI report also highlight that the vast majority of hospitalizations related to cannabis are associated with mental illness.  Specifically, the data show that 69% of young people hospitalized for substance use also needed treatment for mental illness. Among individuals admitted to the hospital for cannabis use, 81% also required mental health care, which is nearly double compared to the rate among adults aged 25 years and older.

Geoff Hynes, a manager with CIHI, said that the data analysis revealed a common link between substance use and mental illness. Moreover, Sinthuja Suntharalingam, CHEO psychiatrist, said cannabis use appears to “bring out” mental illness for some of her patients, while many patients also use it as a form of self-medication for an existing mental health problem, despite evidence that it can worsen depression and anxiety. “It’s great to see this report come out. It just makes us more aware of the problems that we are seeing as clinicians,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Ottawa Hospital is preparing to publish a study on cannabis-related ER visits dating back to 2003. According to Peter Tanuseputro, researcher at the Ottawa Hospital, the early findings of the study are similar to results published by CIHI.

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