MHCC to examine impacts of cannabis use on mental health, post-legalization

Over the next five years, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) will help close the research gap on the potential harms and benefits of cannabis use on mental health, providing a foundation for future policy decisions. Budget 2018 allocated $10 million over five years for this work.

“Our initial review of the literature has found that the illegal status of cannabis, which limited how a study could be done and what data could be collected, has left us with critical knowledge gaps about cannabis use and its impact on mental health,” said Ed Mantler, Vice President of Programs and Priorities at the MHCC. Cannabis use will become legal and regulated in Canada as of October 17, 2018.

The negative impacts of cannabis use on mental health outcomes, the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis and cannabinoids, the influence of mental health problems and illnesses on patterns of cannabis use, and the experiences and needs of diverse populations who live with cannabis use disorder and/or a mental illness are not well understood. The MHCC is well positioned to engage a diversity of Canadians including youth, emerging adults and seniors as well as LGBTQ2+, Indigenous, immigrant, refugee, ethnocultural and racialized populations.

Canada has one of the highest cannabis consumption rates in the world, with more than 40 per cent of Canadians reporting they had used it at least once in their lifetime. Fifty-four per cent of youth in Canada report using cannabis before grade 12.

Since April 2018, the MHCC has held over 30 consultations and formed key partnerships to direct and help execute its work. These efforts build on previous work undertaken by experts and key organizations such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), including workshops that identified priority areas for cannabis research.

The MHCC will undertake more than 15 short- and long-term research projects to strengthen the evidence base around cannabis, including multi-year community-based research intiatives. This work dovetails with and advances CIHR’s Integrated Cannabis Research Strategy. Knowledge exchange and mobilization activities will ensure this new evidence is widely shared.

The first research projects will be selected through a funding opportunity for urgent priority areas in cannabis launched by CIHR in partnership with the MHCC and CCSA. The maximum amount per grant is $125,000 for up to one year with $750,000 set aside to fund applications relevant to cannabis and mental health. These catalyst grants are meant to build research capacity and inform the development of future, larger scale research projects.

These short-term projects are just the beginning. A further round of consultations to inform longer-term research projects, including community-based initiatives, will be undertaken in the fall and winter of 2018-2019.

“As the second country to legalize cannabis, we have an opportunity to be global research leaders. We will only succeed in this by creating a unified approach which merges the MHCC’s research incubation and policy know-how with the expertise of key partners in the field, including CIHR, CCSA, members of the Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information,” said Mantler.