Mental health professionals are concerned young Canadians are unaware of the effects cannabis has on the developing brain. As the legalization of cannabis approaches, the Schizophrenia Society of Canada has created a new website to raise awareness on the link between cannabis use and psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.
Dr. Phil Tibbo, President of the Canadian Consortium for Early Intervention in Psychosis says schizophrenia can develop up to six years earlier in young people who consume cannabis regularly. He notes approximately 15% of Canadians, including roughly 30 percent of adolescents and young adults, report using cannabis in the past year, adding research has indicated cannabis use can play a role in early onset of psychotic disorders.
Last November, Health Canada brought together 100 national leaders to develop a public awareness campaign around cannabis. The Schizophrenia Society of Canada was at the forefront.
Chris Summerville, CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, explains the strength of the main mind-altering or psychoactive ingredients found in cannabis today is much more potent than it was decades ago. THC counts have increased from 1.5 percent in 1970 to 28 percent in 2018.
He notes the risk of developing psychosis in youth is amplified by up to twelve times with use of high THC prior to age 15 and is greater for people under 25-years of age.
"When you use THC, it can certainly interfere with the brain," Summerville says, adding anything stronger than 15 percent is too powerful.
"It interferes with your planning and executive skills," he says, adding if the brain is flooded with cannabis it may not develop correctly.
"Most people don't know this relationship because we didn't really talk about it when cannabis was illegal," he says. "How many would let their doctor or family know they were using an illicit drug?"
Now that it's becoming legal, Summerville says it's time to have these conversations. He notes Health Canada will include warnings on cannabis packaging including cannabis can cause psychosis or schizophrenia, and not to use cannabis if pregnant, driving or using machinery.