Last year ended with a major setback for opponents to legalization in Canada. A prominent Canadian physician has clarified remarks that had been used to fuel fears that legalization would harm the nation's children.
On Dec. 14, the Canadian Paediatric Society released a position paper on the use of medicinal cannabis and children. It was an early Christmas present for Rona Ambrose and other opponents of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promise to legalize cannabis nationwide. In a year-end interview with CBC, Ambrose - the interim leader of the government's Official Opposition - twisted the CPA statement into a warning that legalization would endanger children.
A few days later Dr. Michael J. Rieder - the principal author of the position paper, sat down with CBC's Brent Bambury to clarify the purpose of the statement and the CPA's views of cannabis.
Here are some highlights from the interview.
1. The real threat to children is ignorance, not cannabis
"What worries me is not the fact [cannabis is] used," said Dr. Rieder. "It's not the fact that it's being used for children. It's the lack of information and guidance for practitioners and parents. If you look at our statement, we indicate that cannabis for certain conditions in children probably is helpful. The issue is that unlike with other drugs, cannabis has been thrust out and the burden has been put on the practitioner, which we don't think is fair. Parents are entitled to know how much they should be using, how long they should be using it, how often they should be using it. And that information is just not out there."
2. Health Canada needs to make cannabis safer
"Medical marijuana is a legally available drug in Canada," said Dr. Rieder. "So we're not saying that it should not be available....We just think that Health Canada should be consistent. When Health Canada...licenses a drug, it comes out with dosing information, safety information - and that's not there for medical marijuana."
3. No treatment is risk-free
Cannabis is "not a risk-free therapy," says Dr. Rieder. "Like any potent psychoactive drug, there are benefits and risks....And we think that there needs to be more research so that families and practitioners have the information they need to provide the best treatment for Canada's children....I respect marijuana. It's a psychoactive drug. It's got potent properties, some are beneficial, some may not be....We want to make sure that the children benefit while we try to minimize risk."
4. Advice for Health Canada
"You are putting this on the practitioner," said Dr. Rieder. "That's not fair. That's not right. Let's get some funding. Let's do some research. Let's get the answers that patients and practitioners need to make sure they can get the maximum benefit out of this agent. And the bottom line is, our statement doesn't say 'Don't use it.' We do want to use it. We just want to use it - like any drug and kids - cautiously."
5. Dr. Rieder would use it to treat his own children
"If I had a child...[who] was having 50 seizures a day, would I use it for my child? Yeah, I would."