New guidelines may reduce risk of legal marijuana in youth

Bongs or water pipes are generally preferable to avoid smoking marijuana although they increase other risks, the authors of new guidelines say. (Jason Redmond/Reuters)

Last October, recreational marijuana became legal in Canada. But concerns remain about the impact on the health of young people in particular. Experts say a new set of guidelines published recently in the American Journal of Public Health might help lower the risk.

Researchers from Canada, the Netherlands and Australia looked at studies that focused on adverse health effects from recreational use of marijuana and came up with recommendations on how to lower the risk. They deliberately excluded studies involving patients on medical marijuana.

The researchers concluded that abstinence is most effective way to avoid health problems. Failing that, the researchers found that daily or near-daily use of marijuana is a strong predictor of mental health problems, heart problems, motor vehicle collisions, and thoughts of suicide. They also found evidence that frequent use is linked to changes in the brain and can impair cognitive abilities like memory and executive function. They said the surest way to avoid these effects is to limit use of cannabis to once a week.

The researchers also concluded that the type of marijuana consumed can affect the risk. In general, marijuana products have shown a steady increase in the levels of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.  In the past, marijuana may have contained five or 10 per cent THC. Now, it’s more like 20 to 25 per cent. High THC levels increase the risk of mental health problems and dependence. A study in the United Kingdom found that high levels of THC tripled the risk of psychosis disorder and marijuana-induced psychosis in young people with no psychiatric history. High THC content has been associated with more marked effects on memory.

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