The legalization of cannabis will expose many children and adolescents to the drug and parents need to be told about the damage it can cause to developing brains, a pediatricians’ group says.
Dr. Hirotaka Yamashiro, president of the Pediatricians alliance of Ontario, said a major hospital in Colorado saw a spike in children arriving in the emergency room with signs of marijuana use and exposure after legalization.
“In our opinion, Ontario is not ready to deal with the risk that it poses to our children,” the Richmond Hill pediatrician said Friday. “We can be certain that after next July 1 many more young people in Ontario will be exposed to marijuana.”
The Canadian government plans to legalize recreational cannabis by July 2018 and Ontario is setting up government-run stores to sell the product.
Dr. Sharon Burey, a behavioral pediatrician from Windsor and PAO’s vice-president, said a poll in 2010 found one-third of Canadian youngsters had tried pot at least once by age 15 — the highest percentage of any of the 43 countries surveyed.
In her own practice, Burey said she has treated a 13-year-old boy who was using cannabis every day and whose father wanted her to prescribe his son medical marijuana to deal with his behavioural issues.
“I’m even receiving consultations for children as young as four years of age who have been prescribed medical marijuana for conditions like Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Communication Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder (and) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,” she said. “There have been no guidelines set for the use of medical marijuana in children with these conditions.”
Chronic marijuana use in young people has been linked to long-lasting serious mental health disorders, she said.
The pediatrician’s group fears children and teens across the city will be exposed to pot as their parents bring home the newly-legalized product.
PAO is asking that governments launch a public education campaign to warn parents about the risks to their children.
The pediatricians also want the government to fund ongoing research into the effects of marijuana exposure on young people.
Protecting the health and well-being of all Ontarians, especially children, youth, young adults and other vulnerable populations, is central to Ontario’s safe and sensible approach to federal cannabis legalization.
Laura Gallant, a spokesperson for Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins, said the Minister views public education as a critical part of the province’s cannabis framework.
The federal government has announced intentions to invest in public education and Ontario will focus its efforts on raising awareness about provincial rules.
“As part of this work, Ontario will engage in public education efforts to ensure families and their children are equipped with the resources needed to support conversations about cannabis use so that every Ontarian and, most importantly, every young person can make informed and healthy choices,” Gallant said.
Ontario is also developing a prevention and harm reduction strategy that includes training for health care professionals to delay and prevent cannabis use in young people, she said.