Family Therapists express concern on proposed cannabis reform

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The Malta Association of Family Therapy and Systemic Practice expressed its concern with regard to the proposed cannabis reform, saying that this law is encouraging a culture whereby seeking a ‘high’ from the use of substances is necessary to distress, cope with life’s challenges and have fun. In parallel, it said, those services which are entrusted with preventive and therapeutic work seriously lack resources.

In a press statement, reflecting its reaction to the public consultation, the Association said that “responsible use of cannabis or any other substance requires maturity and, intrapersonal and interpersonal prerequisites, which are not mentioned in the proposed White Paper. When these qualities, such as resilience, ability to engage in healthy and meaningful relationships, ability to reach important life goals are not present, the risk of substance misuse increases”, it added. In this context, family therapists warned that the use of cannabis may have a negative impact on these essential developmental processes.

On the other hand, the Association welcomed the decriminalisation aspect of the proposed law for personal use, rather than treating cannabis users as criminals. “Therefore, in order to decriminalise cannabis use and, at the same time, to limit misuse, there needs to be more emphasis and clear solutions for harm reduction.”

The Association also insisted on the need to further look at other aspects of this legislation. These include addressing the protection of minors with regard to the exposure of cannabis use in private residences and the need for timely services for parents and families, where there is concern over the frequent use of cannabis as a coping strategy.

Concern is also expressed on the regulation of cannabis use for pregnant and breast-feeding women, since the effect of cannabis on the foetus and baby can have both short and long term repercussions. Research shows that the risk of stillbirth increases by 2.3 times in pregnant women who consume cannabis. Research also identifies risks for the child developing neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD.

Finally, there needs to be clear provisions on the monitoring of the quality and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) potency of home-grown cannabis, given that higher THC levels, significantly increase the risk of addiction and mental health problems. Moreover, the THC concentration of currently available cannabis has doubled in recent years, which renders research based on old, lower THC potency cannabis consumption obsolete, it said.