Skip to main content
Local News

Cannabis for Health and Recreation: How Is Science Involved?

By February 19, 2019No Comments
On October 17, 2018, the Cannabis Act came into effect, making recreational cannabis legally accessible across Canada. Despite this, there are still challenges in ensuring access to a consistent product across Canada, including in British Columbia, and questions remain about the physiological effects of long-term cannabis use.
​One of the major concerns is over the quality of cannabis reaching the public. Cannabis strains grown under different conditions may exert different physiological effects, even if they are marketed under the same strain. This can have serious consequences for people who rely on medical or recreational cannabis for consistent effects. As the number of licensed growers increases, these changes may become more widespread, especially as different cannabis strains continue to change genetically. To help address this, Vancouver company BlockStrain has attempted to create a digital filing system for different strains. The system would store information about the genetic and chemical properties of each strain to ensure a consistent product for customers. This effort builds on the work of researchers at the University of British Columbia and Anandia Labs, who recently identified cannabis genes linked to specific flavours.

Law enforcement officers and employers face a different set of challenges. Cannabis use is restricted while driving and in workplaces in British Columbia, yet there is currently no reliable method for rapidly assessing whether a person is under the influence of cannabis.  Borrowing from technology used for analyzing alcohol in wine and natural gas leakage in pipelines, Prof. Mina Hoorfar, a researcher at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, has developed a breathalyzer for THC, the component of cannabis that produces the ‘high’ of cannabis. Efforts to bring this device to market are ongoing, however, it may be years before the device is available for widespread use. Once it does reach the market, such a device might also be useful for clinicians who need to rapidly diagnose cannabis overdoses. This is already challenging as the symptoms of cannabis overdose can overlap with those of many other medical problems.

Although medical cannabis was legalized over a decade ago, the medical and health impacts of cannabis as a treatment are still not fully known. A national clinical trial to assess the impact of cannabis on cancer-related symptoms is not expected to be complete until 2020, while studies to assess the impact of cannabis use on opioid addiction have only recently been completed. Even with this incomplete picture, Health Canada regulations governing the use of medical cannabis have changed multiple times over the decade, from the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations in 2001 to the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations in 2016. Canada’s experiences with these regulations, and the existing industry for medical cannabis, helped guide the development of the Cannabis Act, but as we learn more about the science behind cannabis, will we need to make amendments to the Act?

To learn more about the successes and challenges of cannabis policy, join The Science & Policy Integration Network on Friday, March 1, from 7 – 9 PM at the Liu Institute for Global Issues, UBC, for a ‘living library’ where you can rotate through conversations with local experts in healthcare, research, industry, law, and education. Speakers include Dr. Pippa Hawley (BC Cancer), Dr. M-J Milloy (BSSCU), Andrew Gordon (Kiaro), and Terry Roycroft (MCRCI). Learn more on our event page.

By Stefanie Novakowski