Article by Solomon Israel, The Leaf News
Federal cannabis regulator Health Canada is shaking up its mandatory health warning messages for legal cannabis products by reducing the total number of messages, removing certain statistical claims about the harms of cannabis, and eliminating warnings about cannabis being addictive.
The eight new warning messages for all cannabis products will take effect on Oct. 17, 2019, when new regulations governing cannabis edibles, topicals and concentrates come into force. Two of the new messages are specifically about edible and drinkable forms of cannabis. A separate new warning message will only be seen on topical cannabis products, warning users not to use them internally or apply them to broken or irritated skin.
Many of the 14 current warning messages for cannabis products repeat the same main message, followed by a secondary sentence with more information: two messages cover the risks of cannabis use while pregnant or breastfeeding, two warn about driving and using machinery, and the messages warning that “Cannabis can be addictive,” “Regular use of cannabis can increase the risk of psychosis and schizophrenia,” and “Adolescents are at greater risk of harms from cannabis” each have three variants.
The new messages will do away with those variations on the same warnings, in most cases making the statements more general. For example, the three current messages targeted at adolescents include three different statements with specific warnings related to psychosis and schizophrenia, and the risk of addiction among young users. All three will be replaced with a single warning: “Adolescents and young adults are at greater risk of harms from cannabis. Daily or near-daily use over a prolonged period of time can harm brain development and function.”
The three existing warnings about cannabis being “addictive” will be scrapped entirely, although one of the new messages warns that “Daily or near-daily use increase the risk of dependence”. In an overview of the new regulations released Friday, Health Canada said its revamped warning messages were “informed by advice from scientific experts, the best available evidence from peer-reviewed scientific publications, the outcomes of public opinion research conducted in May 2018 and February 2019,” and public feedback.
Focus group participants were especially skeptical about health warning messages linking cannabis with addiction, according to one of the public opinion research reports commissioned by Health Canada in 2018.
“The statistics in the three secondary messages were not all that persuasive,” said the October, 2018 report from Earnscliffe Strategy Group, which tested three variants of “Cannabis is addictive” messages on focus groups. People aged 18 to 24 were especially likely to disbelieve the addiction messages, Earnscliffe found. The consultancy concluded that Canadians who were familiar with cannabis wanted “clearer evidence of harms or risks in the statements to improve their credibility — simply stating facts (statistics) was not all that persuasive or credible.”
“I think (the new cannabis warning messages are) condensed and more general, and perhaps more helpful, but I still think there’s some things that will give people pause,” said Rebecca Haines-Saah, an assistant professor of community health sciences at the University of Calgary who studies cannabis from a public health perspective.