Longitudinal studies by Dunedin and Christchurch provide a pre-referendum perspective on cannabis

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Researchers at the University of Otago drew on world-class data from The Dunedin study and similar Christchurch Health and Development Study, to provide a general analysis of the effects of cannabis ahead of the cannabis referendum in New Zealand in September.

The results: Patterns of recreational cannabis use in Aotearoa, New Zealand and their consequences: evidence to inform voters in the 2020 referendum were published in The Royal Society of New Zealand newspaper.

The director of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, Professor Richie Poulton, says the research aims to provide a “cool” and agnostic take on what the best evidence (i.e. say the most reliable and solid) about the effects of cannabis use can tell us.

“In providing this overview, we are fully aware that there are highly contested views and opinions on cannabis use among the public, and even divergent views within the scientific community itself,” said Professor Poulton.

He says New Zealand’s laudable public health response to COVID-19 has shown the value of strong scientific advice, and hopes that value will be maintained as people reflect on their position for the upcoming referendum on the issue. cannabis.

“Science is relevant at times other than emergencies. In an age where decisions are often skewed by shoddy information, ideological leanings, special interest groups and commercial pressures, science is more important than ever to society. Our study removes the emotions and the agenda, and puts the scientific facts on the impacts of cannabis on the table. That’s the value of science, ”adds Professor Poulton.

The main areas covered include the number of people using cannabis, the implications for mental health and substance dependence, cannabis as a gateway to harder drug use, psychiatric consequences, physical effects, cognitive (brain) problems ), social, professional and conduct consequences, and biases in law enforcement (particularly relevant to Maori who were more likely to be arrested than non-Maori).

The study shows that in adulthood, most New Zealanders (born in the 1970s and now approaching middle age) have tried cannabis and have done so with relative impunity, escaping serious health and / or social consequences. However, for a small portion who frequently used cannabis or became addicted, the study describes a number of “not insignificant” negative results.

“These range from impaired psychological function, loss of cognitive ability, poor respiratory and gum health and a series of negative psychosocial consequences such as dropping out of school and poor school performance, failure in employment and the workplace, dependence on benefits and risk. criminal conviction or incarceration, ”says Professor Poulton.

Given that the high rate of cannabis use in New Zealand occurred at a time when cannabis was illegal, the study authors question whether cannabis should be treated as a health problem rather than a health problem. legal issue.

“The illegal status of marijuana does not prevent most people from using it, and arrests and convictions do not result in reduced use, and often see a prejudice against the Maori.

“I have testified before various health committees about cannabis use and its harms for almost a quarter of a century and I raise the same point every time: the harms associated with cannabis use must be treated as a problem. health, not as a legal issue. , with a strong preference for evidence-based preventive and early intervention approaches, but these are hampered by the legal status of cannabis, ”says Professor Poulton.

The study is written by: Richie Poulton, Kirsten Robertson, Joseph Boden, John Horwood, Reremoana Theodore, Tuari Potiki & Antony Ambler. All of the authors hold positions at the University of Otago.

Hyperlink above – the study can be viewed at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03036758.2020.1750435


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