We got 420 questions about pot, but smoking and driving ain’t one

New research indicates that while Canadians understand the potential health risks of cannabis better than our U.S. counterparts, there’s still some confusion.

Emma Jones 4 minute read April 20, 2022
Seamless pattern with marijuana leaf. Vintage black vector engraving illustration

Cannabinoids, like THC, found in pot can influence the way neurons in the brain interact with each other. GETTY

While pot and cannabis-containing products have become part of life for many in Canada, new research indicates that both Canadians and Americans are having some trouble recognizing the negative health effects of routine consumption.

The study, published in Health Education research at the end of March, evaluated the responses of 72 459 Canadians and Americans aged 16 to 65 from two separate surveys: one from in 2018 (pre-legalization in Canada) and the other sent out one year post-legalization.

Canadians were pretty good at identifying that it can be dangerous to drive or operate heavy machinery after using marijuana (81 per cent), that it can be harmful to use marijuana when pregnant or breast feeding (71 per cent), that marijuana can be addictive (62 per cent), and that teenagers are at a greater risk of harm from using marijuana than adults (60 per cent).

However, there were several areas of confusion for respondents.

Can pot help cure or prevent cancer?

This question, by far, had Canadians the most divided, with 12 per cent of respondents saying yes, pot can help cure or prevent cancer, 24 per cent saying “maybe,” 34 per cent saying “no” and 30 per cent saying they “don’t know.”

While pot is often prescribed to assist with pain and anxiety associated with a cancer diagnosis, as well as assisting with side-effects of chemo therapy such as nausea and vomiting, there is no indication that it can help prevent or cure cancer.

Can consuming pot regularly increase risk of psychosis?

Only 37 per cent of Canadian respondents recognized this as a concern, while 24 per cent said “maybe,” 23 per cent said “no,” and 27 per cent said they “don’t know.”

Cannabinoids found in pot can influence the way neurons in the brain interact with each other. THC, for example, is a cannabinoid associated with the psychoactive effects of getting high. Cannabinoids can also impact how someone perceives or interacts with their environment, how they feel and the thoughts they may have. The strength of the cannabis, frequency of use and person’s age (under 16 being the highest risk) impact the risk of developing psychosis. One longitudinal study of more that 3,800 adults also found that the routine consumption of cannabis for more than six years significantly impacts the rate of developing psychosis.

Can marijuana smoke be harmful?

When asked if marijuana smoke can be harmful, 25 per cent of Canadian respondents said “maybe,” while seven per cent said “no” and 11 per cent didn’t know.

A 2016 review of the effects marijuana smoke can have on the respiratory system found an association between inhaling this smoke and an increased risk of lung cancer, sudden onset of a collapsed lung (spontaneous pneumothorax), damaged and enlarged alveoli (bullous emphysema), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The 48 articles analyzed also frequently reported symptoms like coughs, wheezing, shortness of breath, excess phlegm, and altered pulmonary function tests.

Can high levels of THC negatively affect memory and concentration?

Twenty-three per cent of Canadian respondents said that high levels of TCH will “maybe” affect concentration, followed by 18 per cent saying they don’ know and five per cent saying no.

Research indicates that regular consumption of cannabis products with high THC concentration and low CBD may negatively impact short-term memory and ability to concentrate, especially in young adults. Higher doses or more frequent use of marijuana products may also impact long term memory, which can impact learning and interest levels over time. Promisingly, some research does suggest that abstaining from using these products may help reverse their effects, at least partially restoring memory and concentration.

Can using marijuana cause diabetes?

This question was the only question that tripped up as many Canadians as Americans, with only 38 per cent of Canadian respondents correctly identifying that no, there isn’t a link between use of cannabis products and developing diabetes.

Knowledge of health risks decreased after pot was legalized in Canada

In general, Canadians were more likely to agree with health risk questions than Americans, and Americans in states where pot was legal were more likely to agree with health risk questions than those who lived in states where pot wasn’t legal. The researchers suspect that this is due to mandatory warnings on cannabis products where pot is sold.

Within the areas where pot is sold, individuals who said they smoked pot daily were less likely to correctly identify health risks than those who said they smoked infrequently or not at all. However, the overall knowledge of health risks in Canada decreased from 2018 (pre-legalization) to 2019 (post-legalization), which researchers believe is likely due to the fact that widespread campaigns about the dangers associated with weed largely stopped after legalization in favour of the warnings printed on the packaging, which non-consumers wouldn’t come into contact with very often.

Emma Jones is a multimedia editor with Healthing. You can reach her at emjones@postmedia.com or on Twitter @jonesyjourn.

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