This past semester I undertook my own research project as part of my research methodologies course through the University of Athabasca. My exploratory study gathered preliminary information on smoking and cannabis behaviors, attitudes about upcoming legalization, opinions on community-driven tobacco interventions, and characteristics of the population, composed of participants from Women Warriors.
As part of my research, I interviewed my friend, Gift Madojemu, MPH, Health Promotions Specialist, Tobacco Project Coordinator, Battle River Treaty 6 Health Centre. After our phone interview in April, she invited me to attend a tobacco and cannabis workshop the health center was hosting on June 18th.
The workshop was hosted by two medical experts on addictions: clinical scientist, Dr. Peter Selby, Addictions Division & Director, Medical Education, Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) & Rosa Dragonetti, Teach Manager & Manager for Nicotine Dependency Service with the center.
Dr. Selby started the workshop with the interesting fact that, “100% of addictive substance are 99.9% organic products synthesized. Drugs of abuse are all white looking.” He also referred to the pure white crystal, sugar and how the highs of “sugar brain” are parallel to the effects of cocaine on the brain. (Please watch Fed Up Documentary with Katie Couric for more info on sugar, addiction, and obesity.)
He shared the difference between traditional tobacco and commercial tobacco, “traditional tobacco is highly acidic and cannot go into the lungs when inhaled, whilst nicotine must be alkaline to get into the body, which is done by adding ammonia to commercial tobacco.”
The most important information I took away on commercial tobacco abuse is the effects of exposure to tobacco in pregnancy.
Dr. Selby stated, “Seven thousand chemicals get concentrated on the fetus and result in babies being born smaller due to lack of oxygen and nutrient supply. In terms of mental effects, there are earlier behavior problems in children. For male children, there is a direct correlation between cigarette smoke exposure and antisocial behavior. For the female fetus, they are born with fewer eggs, which may lead to fertility issues later in life, and they reach menopause earlier, by at least one year, which also affects their heart health.”
Dr. Selby stated, “Each day 100 people die from smoking-related illnesses. First Nations experience twice the rates due to their socioeconomic and educational disadvantage.” He highlights that for Indigenous peoples in the North these statistics did not exist pre-colonization because “tobacco is a completely imported illness and disease.”
Also, he stated we must assess how to conduct tobacco interventions and cessation with Indigenous peoples. “Taking away a substance that people use for self-soothing – will they replace it with something more harmful?”
The majority of attendees at this conference, approximately 90 of us, were there to learn about cannabis and its impact in our communities. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced implementation for the cannabis legalization law is October 17.
Two Indigenous attendees at this event shared their personal experience with unhealthy marijuana use during their 20’s, which robbed them of their ambition and culminated in lost years of their life. They did, however, seek help returned to school and became leaders in their community. They both shared their worry over the vulnerability of young people in their community
Dr. Selby stated, “The capture rate of cannabis addiction is very low, about 8-10% of the population develops an addiction to cannabis. Adolescents are at the highest risk of addiction – their brains are vulnerable, which is why it’s important to push use as far out as possible. It is the daily exposure that is the most important factor for addiction. We can prevent kids from getting addicted for life by developing innovations to reduce harm.”
My main insight from attending this workshop is the importance of community connection and open communication with youth to prevent addiction. The harm reduction strategy we need to adopt for our youth includes delaying use, particularly before age 16, and learning how to talk to them without judgment. A valuable resource you can access for cannabis education and youth is the Cannabis Talk Kit: Know How to Talk With Your Teen.
If someone you know has addictions issues, Dr. Selby recommended the book, Get Your Loved Ones Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading and Threatening.
Check out CAMH Resources & Publications on Mental Health and Addiction
Do you know Cannabis?
Cannabis: What Parents, Guardians and Caregivers need to know.