May 10th 2018 - Social Affairs Committee with Foreign Affairs & International Trade Steering and Other Witnesses
Senator Poirier: Thank you all for being here and for your presentations. I think my question is going to be to Ms. Skeer.
In your presentation, you highlighted that edible marijuana is extremely problematic in many different areas, and you were extremely clear in your presentation about what it is. We’ve heard from all the witnesses we’ve had about the risk to youth from 18 to 25, about the development of the brain if they’re smoking marijuana. In your presentation, you also talked about a five-fold increase in calls to the poison control centre and talked a lot about that the children were under 10 years old, which was very alarming.
We understand and it’s very clear that an edible would be of higher risk for a child to have access to than smoking. Comparing the brain development of a younger child — they’re saying even under 18, the younger you are, the higher the risk. Is the risk as high for a child to be having edible marijuana than they would have if it would have been smoking? Is there a comparison? Other than all the other health issues involved with smoking — just the marijuana part itself.
Ms. Skeer: Are you referring to adolescents or younger children?
Senator Poirier: Children.
Ms. Skeer: With children, if this is a one-off situation where they get a hold of an edible and they eat it, under 10, we’re more worried about accidental ingestion through food. It’s less of a worry that a child under the age of 10 will find parents’ marijuana and smoke it. If it’s a one-off situation, we’re less concerned about the long-term brain development than we are about youth using regularly. We know that, even with alcohol, if the percentage of people who start drinking alcohol — and there are many comparisons with marijuana — before the age of 13, close to 50 per cent of them will use illegal drugs in their lifetime compared to those who start when they’re 21. Around puberty, the brain starts going through a massive restructuring, where it’s making changes and solidifying pathways, and marijuana interferes with that. So the earlier they’re using, the more that marijuana is interfering with those pathways being solidified and the brain’s restructuring to allow for information processing as they get older.
Senator Poirier: Whether it’s edible or smoking?
Ms. Skeer: Whether it’s edible or smoking. The primary difference is how quickly it gets to the brain; but if it’s getting to the brain, it’s getting to the brain. With consistent use over time, my belief is that it will have the same effect over time.
Senator Poirier: Dr. Vandrey, do you have anything to add to that?
Dr. Vandrey: Yes, I do. The difference in the route of administration kind of comes into the time course and the likelihood of over-ingestion. With smoking, the drug effects are immediate. Once you go too far, you stop right away. With oral ingestion, it takes about an hour for effects to start kicking in. Peak effects don’t happen until one to three hours later. What ends up happening, if somebody either accidentally ingests or doesn’t know what they are doing, if a six-year-old finds a pile of brownies, they’re probably not going to eat just one. You can have this overdose happen, and it can be much more severe and longer lasting. That is one consideration. In terms of brain development, if you give 10 milligrams orally or 10 milligrams smoked, I don’t see any reason why there would be any difference in brain development from that perspective.
The other thing that I want to just comment on is that accidental ingestion is not just important for kids. It can also be very important for adults, and that hasn’t been raised yet. I have been an expert witness on a bunch of criminal cases where people have accidentally ingested or been reported to have accidentally ingested a cannabis product, and they are adults. It can impact not only their health, with regard to cardiovascular effects, but you can have acute episodes of psychosis that can result in crime. Also, it can impact people’s job performance, just to throw that out there as well.
Senator Poirier: When you are eating something edible that has marijuana in it, does a brownie taste any different than a regular brownie? Does the candy taste any different? Can you tell that there is something in it that’s different?
Dr. Vandrey: In some cases, yes. In other cases, no. It all depends on how it is prepared. If you put a highly concentrated resinous substance in there, it doesn’t taste good, but if you have finely ground the plant material and mixed it in with a really rich brownie, you might not taste it at all.
Ms. Skeer: I would add that manufacturers are doing a great job of making it taste as delicious as possible. That’s their job right now.
Senator Poirier: Thank you.
Senator Poirier: I have one question, and it’s concerning the last recommendation regarding the Minister of Foreign Affairs to report to your committee on the actions taken by the Government of Canada to comply with the international convention. Could you elaborate what action the minister should take, in your opinion? And should the current government have done more prior to the legislation with regard to the international convention?
Senator Andreychuk: Well, we’re not the government, and we were very aware of that. The witnesses were not united at all, and therefore, what we want to know is that the minister is taking it seriously and is following through. She gave us the indication that she’s in early discussions. I think it’s incumbent on the minister to develop her strategy and come back to us, and we’ll see where that leads us both on a foreign policy aspect and a compliance aspect.
I think our committee was united in this. People have a right to know where we’re going on this, but not necessarily tell the minister what to do. It is a government option, and the government will stand and fall on their own options. This is where I think we backed off and said it should be done and come back and tell us what you’ve done.
Senator Poirier: Thank you.