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Shaping Future Investments in Community-Based Research on Cannabis and Mental Health


Canada is just the second country to legalize cannabis for non-medical use. This decision has created an unprecedented opportunity for research into the effects of cannabis use on many aspects of health, including mental health. In recognition of that fact, the 2018 federal budget granted the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) $10 million over five years to support research on the relationships between cannabis use and mental health. In July 2019, the MHCC brought together substance use and mental health experts from across the country to identify priority areas for exploration. The Shaping Future Investments in Community-Based Research on Cannabis and Mental Health forum relied on the expertise of people with lived experience of substance use and/or mental health problems and illnesses, family members, caregivers, policy makers,nand community-based researchers to discuss appropriate approaches to and topics for community-based research.

Kitigan Zibi Elder Verna McGregor opened the forum with a welcome and blessing, touching on the role of traditional medicines, including cannabis, in Indigenous culture and practices.

The event had four main goals:

  • Develop a common understanding of community-based research and its foundational principles.
  • Identify research priorities in cannabis and mental health to inform the MHCC’s upcoming request for community-based research proposals.
  • Share current evidence and research gaps in cannabis and mental health.
  • Develop recommendations for participants’ ongoing involvement throughout the project’s life cycle.

In his framing of the discussion, Christopher Canning, the MHCC’s director of mental health and substance use, emphasized the need for research to help us understand the relationship between cannabis use and mental health outcomes. Referencing a recent MHCC-funded literature review and environmental scan by a University of Calgary research team, he noted that the results of past research into cannabis and mental health have often been clouded by the context of criminalization. Fear of legal consequences may have discouraged people from admitting cannabis use. As well, observed outcomes could at least be partly attributable to interactions with the justice system and the stigma of behaviour classified as criminal.

The gaps in cannabis and mental health research that have already been identified include

  • the impact of cannabis use on mental health outcomes
  • the impact of mental health problems and illnesses on cannabis use
  • the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis use for mental health outcomes
  • effective treatment options for cannabis use disorder
  • the links between THC1 and CBD2 potency, frequency of use, and age of initiation on mental health outcomes
  • the need to centre the lived experiences of diverse and marginalized populations and support research led by those populations.

This last point is key, according to Canning. People with lived experience have vast amounts of knowledge to inform studies and benefit communities, individuals, and researchers. To prioritize these specific voices and perspectives, he added, those chosen as forum participants included a significant number of people with lived experience of mental health problems and illnesses and/or substance use.

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