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Many Canadians are driving high on cannabis, according to new national survey

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  • OTTAWA — A new Statistics Canada survey reveals an “alarming” number of Canadians have driven a vehicle while high on cannabis or have been passengers in such vehicles.

    According to the second quarterly national cannabis survey, 14 per cent of cannabis users who have a driver’s licence admitted they got behind the wheel within two hours of consuming cannabis at least once in the past three months.

    And five per cent of Canadians over the age of 14 said they’ve been a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who’d consumed cannabis in the preceding two hours.

    The survey results were released Thursday, just two months before cannabis is to become a legal, regulated product in Canada.

    Statistics Canada is conducting quarterly surveys throughout this year as part of an effort to measure the social and economic impacts of legalization.

    Andrew Murie, chief executive officer of MADD Canada, called the latest numbers “alarming” — more than triple the rate of Canadians who drive after consuming alcohol in the preceding two hours.

    “I think if you compare it to alcohol, they’re shocking,” he said in an interview.

    However, Murie noted that the federal government has recently authorized more tools to test drivers for cannabis impairment and he predicted the rate of drug-impaired driving will drop once police get those tools operational.

    “I think once people get the idea that police do have the tools, that they can detect drug-impaired drivers, especially cannabis, then I think like alcohol with the breathalyzer it’ll start to lower those rates.”

    Part of the problem in discouraging driving while high is that no one can pinpoint how much cannabis needs to be consumed to cause impairment, Murie said, noting that there are too many variables, such as the potency of pot consumed and an individual’s tolerance level.

    To be on the safe side, he said MADD — Mothers Against Drunk Driving — recommends that no one should drive a vehicle within four hours of consuming any amount of cannabis.

    According to the survey, men were nearly two times more likely than women to drive high.

    The second quarter data found that about 4.6 million people nationally, or close to 16 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and up, reported using cannabis in the prior three-month period. This was similar to what was reported in Statistics Canada’s first quarterly survey.

    Cannabis use was higher than the national average in Nova Scotia (21 per cent), Ontario (18 per cent) and in the territorial capitals: Whitehorse (23 per cent), Yellowknife (27 per cent) and Iqaluit (33 per cent).

    The survey suggests cannabis use is highest among young people — 33 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds, compared to 13 per cent of Canadians over the age of 25. Statistics Canada suggests higher usage among young people may account for regional variations, particularly in the territorial capitals where populations tend to be considerably younger than the national average.

    Consumption rates in Quebec and Saskatchewan were lower than the national average, at 11 and 10 per cent respectively.

    The vast majority of respondents — 82 per cent — also said they probably wouldn’t increase their consumption once pot is legalized.

    The latest data was collected from mid-May to mid-June.

     

    The Canadian Press



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    Health

    Updated mammography guidelines consider woman’s preference, not only age

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  • TORONTO — New guidelines for breast-cancer screening are intended to give women more of a voice in their health-care decisions, taking into account their personal values and preferences rather than age and risk factor alone.

    The guidelines, released Monday by the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care, encourage women aged 40 to 74 to discuss breast cancer screening with their doctors and make a shared decision about whether to get a mammogram based in part on a woman’s preferences.

    The previous guidelines from 2011 recommended against women aged 40 to 49 having routine mammograms, while those aged 50 to 74 were advised to get the screening test every two to three years.

    The new guidelines are “intended for an empowered position, which puts the decision-making in the hands of the individual woman in terms of what she prioritizes,” said task force vice-chair Ainsley Moore, a family physician at McMaster University in Hamilton.

    “I think there was in the past a lot of confusion about how the recommendations were interpreted,” she said.

    While mammography offers the benefit of somewhat reducing the risk of death from breast cancer, the test can also result in significant harms, she noted.

    False positives, which can cause women unnecessary distress, are common and can lead to additional testing and possibly an invasive biopsy.

    For instance, the task force found that for every 1,000 women aged 40 to 49 screened over a seven-year period, there were 294 false-positives, resulting in 43 unnecessary biopsies; even in the age 70-74 group, there were 219 false positives and 30 biopsies per 1,000 women screened.  

    Moore said there’s also a risk of overdiagnosis and overtreatment, with potential complications from radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.

    The latest medical evidence, on which the updated guidelines are based, suggests there can be a narrow margin between benefits and harms, leading the task force to make “conditional” recommendations based on patient preferences. They include:

    —Women 40-49: The task force recommends against screening, but if a women wants a mammogram, she should discuss with her health provider the potential harms and benefits related to her age group.

    Those in their 40s face a higher risk of harm from false positives, overdiagnosis and overtreatment, compared with other age groups. But the benefit is smaller: only one breast cancer death is prevented for every 1,700 women who have mammography, compared to one death for every 645 women aged 70 to 74 who get screened.

    —Women 50-74: The task force recommends that women in this age range get mammograms every two to three years. This advice is also conditional, as some women may choose not to be screened if they are concerned about overdiagnosis and associated harms.

    —There is no screening recommendation for women aged 75 and older, and the guidelines do not apply to high-risk women, such as those who carry a BRCA1 of BRCA2 genetic mutation.  

    Moore said overdiagnosis is a major concern that relates to the nature of cancers: some are slow-growing tumours, while others are more aggressive and progress at a faster rate.

    “The issue is that these slow, turtle-growing cancers will be detected on screening, but they wouldn’t cause symptoms in a woman’s lifetime. They wouldn’t become palpable lumps … they certainly wouldn’t cause death,” she said.

    “The challenge is that physicians can’t tell at the time they’re diagnosed which of these cancers will progress and which will not. So the tendency is to treat them all … because the consequences of not treating can also be significant.

    “And so those are the issues that women are facing. Those are the issues that physicians are facing.”

    Dawn Stacey, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, welcomed the changed advice to women. “I’m excited about this new guideline because they’re actually now acknowledging women’s preferences.

    “The guidelines up until now have been directives, so they said this is what you should do,” she said. “The new guidelines coming out are saying this is what we would suggest, but really we need to discuss this with women in both age groups.”

    So if having a mammogram is important to a woman in her 40s, said Stacey, “then that’s OK.”

    The guidelines are published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and can be accessed by visiting: http://www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.180463.

     

    Sheryl Ubelacker, The Canadian Press


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    Health

    Shoppers Drug Mart granted licence to sell medical marijuana online

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  • TORONTO — Shoppers Drug Mart has been granted a licence to sell medical marijuana online.

    Health Canada’s list of authorized cannabis sellers and producers has been updated to reflect that the pharmacy can sell dried and fresh cannabis, as well as plants, seeds and oil.

    A website has been set up by the company, which says that patients “with a valid medical document will soon be able to purchase a wide selection of medical cannabis products” from Shoppers.  

    The company was granted a medical marijuana producer licence in September, after initially applying in October 2016.

    Shoppers has said that it has no interest in producing medical cannabis, but the licence is required in order to sell the product to patients.

    Under the current Health Canada regulations for medical pot, the only legal distribution method is by mail order from licensed producers direct to patients.

    The Canadian Press


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