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Local scholar says there are pros and cons to legal cannabis

Local scholar says there are pros and cons to legal cannabis

By Ashley Legassic
October 19, 2018 - 3:55pm Updated: October 20, 2018 - 6:30pm

KAMLOOPS —  A TRU student is cautious about the legalization of marijuana, and the impacts it could have on young people.

Kimberly Webster is in her fourth year studying psychology at the university, and she spends much of her studies looking into how drugs interact with behaviours. Webster says there are pros and cons to the legalization of cannabis that went into place earlier this week, Oct. 17.

She's especially worried about people under the age of 25 years old — specifically students — who will now have much more access to cannabis.

"Essentially what marijuana does in adolescents is reduces their grey matter, and they find reduced grey matter in the frontal lobes which are critical thinking and the ability to learn new material essentially as well as (parts of the brain) associated with learning and memory, and damaging that while you're a student is not a good idea because tests are hard enough," she says. "It's just damaging a lot of the areas that students need to be able to function properly."

Webster was part of a group who helped advocate for a marijuana ban on the TRU campus, and also co-authored a piece on why marijuana-friendly campuses aren't a good idea. But Webster says she isn't against marijuana use, especially if the person consuming it is over 25.

"Research is limited but there may be reduced risks with use beyond the age of 25 once the brain is developed and for medical use, for example, they've shown epilepsy can be controlled quite well with marijuana and there are other conditions that are still being researched that it may still have benefits for," Webster says.

A new article co-authored by a PhD student and a research scientist suggested looking at cannabis to tackle the country's opioid crisis, specifically by treating chronic pain with cannabis instead of opioids.

But Webster isn't sold on using cannabis to help with the opioid epidemic.

"I would say that legal cannabis isn't going to have a huge impact on the opioid crisis," she says. "Obviously I don't have a crystal ball and I can't say anything for sure, but I wouldn't think it would have a positive impact at least because it is operating in the same areas of the brain that heroin acts on and other drugs, and I don't think anyone's going to say, 'Hey, I'm taking heroin, now I can smoke legal marijuana and I'll make that switch', it just doesn't seem something that would be likely."

"I think there are several other methods that healthcare professionals should be looking to before considering marijuana tapering (off of opioids)," Webster says. "I think it would need more research to say for sure but there are definitely other psychological interventions that can be done. There's been a lot of evidence for (cognitive behavioural therapy), and other things like that and just teaching people how to deal with chronic pain and other problems like that would be a good step."

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