Nunavut’s cannabis health campaign set to launch

“Our goal is to protect the developing brains of young people"

By SARAH ROGERS

Nunavummiut will start to see messaging on social media next week from the GN about the risks of cannabis use. (FILE PHOTO)


Nunavummiut will start to see messaging on social media next week from the GN about the risks of cannabis use. (FILE PHOTO)

Nunavummiut will start to see health information and warnings about cannabis use pop up next week, targeting the territory’s youth, as well as pregnant and nursing mothers.

Oct. 17 marks the day when the recreational use of marijuana becomes legal throughout the country. In Nunavut, residents aged 19 and up will be able to make online purchases of 150 grams of dried marijuana and carry up to 30 grams of the psychoactive substance on them.

The territory’s health officials want people to understand the risks, especially its youngest citizens, said Dr. Kim Barker, Nunavut’s chief medical officer.

“Our goal is to protect the developing brains of young people,” she said. “The brain continues to develop until [age] 25 and introducing any substance like cannabis can alter its development.”

That means getting information out to teens and young adults about the health risks associated with consuming marijuana, but also about the effects of second-hand smoke on children in enclosed spaces, Barker noted.

The Government of Nunavut cites research that suggests the frequent use of cannabis at a young age can increase the risk of developing psychosis or a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia.

Cannabis use during pregnancy can also lead to the lower birth weight of a baby and can have an impact on the psychological, social and cognitive development of the child.

“It’s about reminding expecting parents that they have a fetus that’s developing at a rapid speed,” Barker said. “And any exposure to smoke, alcohol or cannabis can be damaging.”

The GN’s campaign is rooted in the concept of “harm reduction,” which acknowledges substance use and abuse is already prevalent in Nunavut and seeks to mitigate any harmful impacts.

The health campaign was developed in line with research done through the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, as well as the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction.

And Nunavummiut will see the first phase of that messaging roll out on social media next week, with a more-thorough campaign to be introduced in early 2019, developed through Iqaluit-based Outcrop Communications.

Barker notes the campaign may seem slow to reach Nunavummiut.

“The GN was uncomfortable with any messaging around an illicit substance,” Barker said. “It’s been a real challenge.”

That said, the GN’s health campaign will take time to reflect on the initial impact of legal marijuana in Nunavut over the early winter months and adjust its messaging according.

The GN has yet to announce the per-gram price of marijuana its licensed provider will sell to the territory, but it will be much lower than the $30 to $100 per gram Nunavummiut currently pay for illegal cannabis.

Barker said the impact of that could mean users can afford to put more food on their family’s table; alternatively, usage could go up considerably.

The other issue authorities will be monitoring is the impact of legal sales on illegal marijuana dealers, who could look for other illicit markets to turn to.

“We’ve been extremely successful in avoiding the opioid crisis we’re seeing elsewhere in the country,” Barker said.

“Any spike in that will suggest we’d have to change our messaging.”

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