Side Event: Public Health Responses to the Non-Medical Use of Cannabis

Organized by UNODC/RAB.

Vladimir Poznyak, World Health Organization: We know that cannabis can cause intoxication of different severities. No doubt that regular cannabis use can result in dependence. CB receptors are not concentrated in the stem of our brain. Health is not only presence of absence of a disease, but the complete physical, mental, and social well-being. Difficult to say that cannabis use is a primary cause, not just an associated factor, in health outcomes. Road traffic injuries associated with cannabis use are a cause of death. Higher prevalence of use in high income countries. Public health risks of cannabis use include impaired functioning in acute cannabis intoxication, cannabis dependence, and prenatal cannabis exposure. Impact of cannabis use on health conditions, psychosocial functioning, and the use of other psychoactive substances. Recent trends in public health risks include multiplication and diversity of products, increased potency, shift from plants to concentrates, new modes of administration, marketing techniques, increased availability, and decreased perception of risks.

Caitlin Hughes, Flinders University: Will discuss the public health policy options and regulations to minimize public health risks. United States and Canadian models for recreational cannabis focus on getting rid of the black market, taxes, and stopping criminalization of users and sellers. Addressing some public health risks has been limited. Inadequate consideration of product innovation and behaviour of the cannabis industry. Products being sold are evolving. Flower is the most common product, but has started to level off and seeing a growth in extracts and concentrates. This trend did not emerge under the medicinal cannabis laws. Average potency of oils and concentrates is much higher than flower. Much of research is based on lower THC cannabis. We need science to catch up to effects of using high potency products. Recommend limiting potency of allowable cannabis products. Recommend keeping prices high. Recommend regulating licensees and restricting advertising and promotions. Recommend requiring unbranded packaging. Recommend requiring substantial portion of revenues be used for prevention.

Questions & Answers:

  • Thoughts on World Health Organization’s cannabis rescheduling recommendations?
    • Not taking any positions on this topic.
  • If price and potency are restricted in the legal market, won’t this simply continue in the illegal market?
    • Balance is needed between displacing illegal market and increasing accessibility or introducing higher risk products.

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