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Summary Report on the Inuit Forum on Cannabis and Mental Health


On October 9-10, 2019, representatives from the Mental Health Commission of Canada, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, and the Nunatsiavut Department of Health and Social Development hosted an Inuit forum on cannabis and mental health in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador. This two-day dialogue marked the first opportunity for Inuit across Inuit Nunangat to come together to discuss cannabis. The purpose of the forum was to have the participants exchange knowledge and identify research gaps and priorities as a way to begin the process of developing an Inuit-specific cannabis and substance use research agenda. While the event included presentations, most of the time was spent working in small groups while engaging in wide-ranging discussions centred on cannabis, mental health, and research. Topics included cannabis use and access, risks, benefits, challenges, and best practices. Various areas of expertise were represented, including mental health and addiction counsellors, community health representatives, public health practitioners, policy advisers, and Elders.

Research questions

Participants wanted more information on (1) cannabis use as a form of harm reduction (for other substances), (2) the different strains of cannabis and their uses, (3) methods of use, (4) the long-term effects of smoking cannabis, and (5) the impacts of use on pregnancy and breastfeeding. After the discussion, participants worked to develop the following research questions:

  • What are the perceptions of cannabis use among different demographics?
  • What are the risks associated with using cannabis?
  • What are the potential benefits of using cannabis?
  • What are the broader impacts of cannabis use and legalization in different communities?
  • What are the general patterns of consumption in different regions?
Key Findings
  1. Communities require information on cannabis that is a lot more basic, including its relationship with mental health.
  2. Cannabis-related programs or research must be grounded in the local culture and language and in such social determinants of health as housing. They must also take into account the community context — including trauma and lived experiences — and reflect regional differences.
  3. There is considerable interest in exploring a harm reduction approach, including cannabis use as a substitute for other substances (e.g., alcohol). However, this possibility must be thoroughly studied so all harms and benefits are known and the approach can be customized to the individual.
  4. A comprehensive cannabis strategy similar to the Tobacco Reduction Strategy is needed. Much of the information in the full summary report can be used to inform such a strategy.
  5. Participants saw a need for more opportunities to come together to discuss and share knowledge related to cannabis and mental health.

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