Legalization leaves Canada poised to lead on cannabis research, says minister

The world is looking to Canada as one of the few places where cannabis research can be easily done, says the minister in charge of legalization, and new federal funding will help make that happen.

Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair, who was in charge of the cannabis legalization file, announced $24.5 million in federal funding for cannabis research projects across the country in Calgary on Wednesday.

“The work that is done here … is going to make the world a better, healthier and safer place,” Blair said.

“For too long many people have based their medical use of cannabis on anecdotal evidence, and frankly that’s not good enough.”

The money will fund 26 projects, three of which will be undertaken in Calgary, where researchers will study:

  • Cannabinoid hyperemesis, a condition that can cause severe nausea and vomiting.
  • Cannabis education and harm reduction messaging for youth.
  • Cannabis treatments for migraines.

Blair said the research around public education for youth will be key.

Researcher Rebecca Haines-Saah will head up that project.

“We’ve known for some time that ‘just say no’ is not an effective strategy,” she said. 

“Now, we’re trying to mobilize different messages.”

Blair said further research will become even more important as the next phase of legalization, edible products, comes into effect in October.

Blair and Haines-Saah joined university students from a variety of graduate and undergraduate disciplines for a roundtable discussion on cannabis use the same day as the announcement.

In Canada, 17 per cent of youth Grades 7 through 12 have used cannabis, and that number rises to half of Canadians by the time they are 24-years-old, according to Statistics Canada.

Haines-Saah said youth often use cannabis for the “feel-good” effects, and do make their own harm-reduction choices, picking cannabis instead of alcohol or tobacco.

So, messaging will need to reflect their knowledge base and choices.

“Bringing youth to the table not in a tokenistic way, but as the developers of messages,” she said.

She wants her research to go beyond mainstream youth, who are typically the ones consulted, to reach more marginalized groups.

That research is expected to be complete in April 2020.