Study suggests cannabis harm reduction designed for Indigenous Canadians

A review shows higher prevalence of cannabis use among Indigenous people in Canada.

harm reduction strategy Indigenous cannabis

A review funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research notes that cannabis use “remains associated” with multiple health risks. NinaHenry/Getty Images


Academic researchers have published a study calling for a cannabis harm reduction strategy designed for Indigenous Canadians.

“Prevention interventions targeted towards Indigenous youth should be developed and implemented by or in partnership with Indigenous communities,” the authors wrote.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research funded the study.

Researchers with the McGill University and Simon Fraser University in Canada, and the University of Auckland in New Zealand, reviewed scientific databases and reports.

The International Journal of Drug Policy published the resulting paper online on December 24.

The paper carries the title ‘Non-medical cannabis use among Indigenous Canadians: A systematic review of prevalence and associated factors’.

The authors related that before cannabis was legalized, Indigenous communities had called for the federal government’s attention.

Specifically, these communities expressed concerns about a “lack of culturally-specific educational materials on the health effects of cannabis”.

Moreover, the authors pointed out that governments can develop and implement these materials as part of a harm reduction strategy.

Cannabis legalization requires harm reduction

The federal government’s Cannabis Act legalized nonmedical cannabis. It took effect on October 17, 2018.

The researchers noted that this led to the “availability of controlled, unadulterated alternatives to black market cannabis [which] may increase safety”.

However, they added that “cannabis use remains associated with multiple health risks”. Those include “dependence, mental health problems (including psychosis), and respiratory problems”.

In connection with this, the protection of public health post-legalization requires prevention and harm-reduction initiatives.

“Indigenous Canadians, especially youth, have been identified as a population that may be at greater risk for harms associated with non-medical cannabis use,” the authors wrote.

Further, the risk faced by Indigenous people “may be amplified by government inaction in preparing Indigenous communities for legalization”.

As an example, communities cited the federal government’s “lack of consultation with Indigenous communities prior to legalization”.

As well, they noted a “lack of culturally appropriate public education materials”.

In addition, communities pointed to a “lack of access and funding for addiction services”.

Indigenous communities see high prevalence of cannabis use

The study cited recent estimates of prevalence of cannabis use. They showed a higher risk faced by Indigenous populations.

In one example, the rate of cannabis use in on-reserve First Nations adults stood at 30 percent.

This rate represents “twice that of the general Canadian population”, a 15 percent prevalence rate.

Moreover, on-reserve First Nations, when compared to other Indigenous groups, had the lowest prevalence of use.

For Indigenous youth, the authors noted 1.2 to 15 times higher prevalence of use compared to non-Indigenous youth.

That’s why they’re calling for targeted prevention and treatment.

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