News / Edmonton

Five marijuana myths debunked: A public health expert clears the air on misinformation

Elaine Hyshka says pot won't ruin your brain, but it probably won't help it either

Dr. Elaine Hyshka, a member of Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services and assistant professor with the University of Albertaís school of public health.

Kevin Tuong / Metro Web Upload

Dr. Elaine Hyshka, a member of Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services and assistant professor with the University of Albertaís school of public health.

In light of the Alberta government announcing its regulations for the retail sale of marijuana, Metro spoke with a public health expert Tuesday to clarify some hazy topics around legalization.

Elaine Hyshka, professor in the University of Alberta’s school of public health and co-chair of the Minister’s Opioid Emergency Response Commission, said it’s “alarming” how much misinformation circulates on cannabis, and she helped us bust the myths.

Myth #1: Legalization will lead to a spike in cannabis use among young people

“What we’ve seen in other jurisdictions is that rates of use have remained fairly stable post-legalization,” Hyshka said.

“Also, it’s important to remember that in Canada we have one of the highest rates of youth use and cannabis is illegal. So, whether it’s legal or illegal, that often doesn’t tend to have a lot of influence over whether people decide to use drugs. When it is legal, though, we have a lot more policy tools to prevent harm from those drugs.”

Myth #2: Legalization will lead to a spike in impaired driving fatalities

“Data from the United States where jurisdictions have legalized is showing that although there may have been a slight increase in motor vehicle collisions related to cannabis, the rate of fatal crashes has not gone up in those states relative to controls that don’t have legal cannabis,” Hyshka said, referring to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health that tracked collisions in Colorado and Washington.

Myth #3: Cannabis is rife with health benefits

“There are people that claim it is a panacea for every health condition and part of a wellness strategy. That is certainly not well established at all in science,” she said, adding there is strong evidence that it does help with chronic pain.

“The science is pretty limited in terms of what has been demonstrated for therapeutic use.”

Myth #4: Cannabis will destroy your brain

“There are also people who claim that cannabis is going to basically damage your brain when you use it, especially if you’re young, and that it’s going to contribute to the intellectual downfall of a generation. And that’s also not true,” she said.

While there is evidence of acute impairments in cognition and memory related to cannabis, Hyshka said studies linking the drug to declines in cognitive function “have not been well controlled.”

Myth #5: Smoking pot in public could lead to unsuspecting passersby getting stoned

“It’s possible that with passive exposure, you could actually end up with an elevated concentration of THC. But it has to be quite a bit – it has to be an intense exposure,” Hyshka said.

“Even with that elevated blood concentration level, it doesn’t necessarily translate to impairment. So I would say more or less that’s not really a practical concern.”

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