It was a full house at UBC Okanagan Tuesday afternoon when Dr. Zach Walsh presented his research on the potential benefits and risks cannabis can have on mental health.
Walsh is a clinical psychologist and associate professor at UBC Okanagan who recently completed a comprehensive review of published data relating to cannabis use and mental health.
Walsh says most of the research on the stigmatized plant has focused on the risks associated with use, but Walsh is looking at the potential benefits.
His review found evidence that the plant can be used to help people suffering from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, but he stressed the importance of substantiating the limited data available with clinical trials.
“(Legalization) should clear out a lot of barriers and make it easier to conduct those types of controlled clinical trials that can help us to really determine how cannabis stacks up to other medicines,” Walsh said following his presentation. “I think the next 10, 20 years we're going to find out a lot about different types of cannabis, about what cannabis is good for, about what maybe it's not good for.
“Hopefully Canada can be a world leader there, because we have a federal program and we have a lot of strong researchers in this country that are already leading the way.”
The presentation was put on by the Okanagan chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an organization that advocates for harm reduction and a health-based approach to drug policy, rather than a criminal justice approach.
Walsh stuck around after his talk for about an hour, fielding one-on-one questions with dozens of interested audience members.
“For people who have been using cannabis as a medicine, a lot of the time they felt shame, they felt stigmatized, they've wondered whether or not there's any validity to what they're saying,” Walsh said. “So when they hear stories of other people who are validating their claims, and when they see the science is being done, often it can be pretty emotional.”
Dr. Walsh is currently looking for people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder for clinical research his lab is undertaking, looking at how cannabis can help those suffering.