The impact of cannabis health warning labels on risk awareness and behaviour
Global Drug Survey runs the worlds largest drug survey. GDS2019 recived over 165,000 participants. To date we have data on over 300,000 people who use cannabis.
In 2019 Canada became the first country to mandate that cannabis products sold in legally regulated outlets must carry not only information on THC and CBD composition but also advice about potential harms and how to minimise them. They have gone for a set of messages that offer a combination of ‘don’t do this’ (e.g. don’t drive stoned) and fact-based messages (e.g. about the harmful contents of cannabis smoke, the risk of dependence and vulnerability of younger brains to cannabis).
Within the context of an illicit market, the only health messages consistent with government policy is zero tolerance – simply stating drugs are bad. That’s why a regulated market is a game changer. It allows governments to support health messages that are honest and treat people as adults who are interested in their own health and well-being. This includes the acknowledgement that the regular use of any regulated psychoactive substance carries risks primarily related to routes of use (e.g. smoking), intoxication-related behaviours (e.g. driving) and dependence. If we can use health information on packaging as a way to ensure that people who use these substances are informed about the risks related to use, this can only be a good thing.
But will such evidence-based health information be taken seriously and, most importantly, will it make any difference? Our GDS2018 research last year on alcohol labels with health information, identified huge gaps in people’s awareness of many alcohol-related health risks and wide variations between countries. GDS2019 built on this experience and conducted the first ever evaluation of cannabis labels containing information about health and side effects related to the use of THC-containing cannabis. We adapted 3 health messages developed by the Canadian Government and added 2 messages on side effects based on the most common reasons to quit that we found last year in GDS2018 (effects on memory and motivation). In this presentation we will share the results.