When Arizona passed the Safe and Smart Act into law in 2020, part of the legislation required money that was previously collected through medicinal marijuana sales to be allocated for education and outreach around recreational use. This year, the University of Arizona’s Health Sciences’ Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center is developing said materials to reach youth, families, adults, and healthcare professionals.
The university’s Health Sciences department received a $1 million grant from the Arizona Department of Health Services to develop educational materials for the AzCANN project, which stands for Arizona Cannabis Education. Benjamin Brady, DrPH, is the director of education and policy of UA’s Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center, and is the lead on the project.
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“Our focus on this project will be promoting responsible use, and so for youth that’ll be awareness around what the law is, and for adults it will be talking about and helping provide information so they could be reformed, and responsible users—whether that’s medicinal use, recreational use, or abstaining—but then having information that they can use to be a health advocate for members of their family or community,” Brady told State of Reform.
The project is in its first year, but will run for a total of five years. While educational materials are currently under development, Brady said that videos and webinars will be available this year, and will be shared with parties across the state, including coalitions, substance use prevention groups, and school districts.
“Our goal is to create a health education video and a science cannabis video,” Brady said. “We think pulling back some of the mystery of the science of cannabis and how it interacts in the body could be a compelling way to promote a higher level of responsibility among teens and youth.”
AzCANN also plans to create educational materials that are accessible to those who speak Spanish and Navajo, which are two primary languages of the state. This year, Brady said some content will be accessible to Spanish speakers.
When it comes to the materials, Brady said that the project will be clear to the public on what is known, and what is unknown about the safety of cannabis use. Additionally, the project will provide educational materials for those who abstain, consume cannabis occasionally, and consume cannabis regularly.
“When we talk about risks of cannabis, the two or three ways that risks can escalate dramatically—especially for youth—[are] whether they use daily or nondaily, the number of times they use in a day, the dosing that they’re using, and then dosing gets related to the product they’re using,” Brady said. “For the messages to be relatable and consumable, we’re not getting into the nitty-gritty details, so we’ll be sharing at a broader, higher level that increase [in risks] will go up the more you use.”
While recreational cannabis use has become more frequent in the US in recent years, Brady thinks that past messaging, such as Reefer Madness (a 1936 propaganda film about cannabis), has been a barrier to better understanding the substance.
“Our approach to regulating cannabis in the United States has really disabled our ability to know more about therapeutic potential, risks, and ways that we can promote a responsible—a more healthy relationship with cannabis at a social, normative level,” Brady said.
While Brady is not attempting to recreate Reefer Madness messaging, he also said he won’t go towards the other extreme and say that cannabis is 100% safe for everyone. For Brady, the truth of cannabis falls between these two extremes. During AzCANN material development, Brady has seen an increase in the promotion of cannabis as an alternative to other substances that create greater harm.
“For pain control, for example, there are some individuals who are using opioids who would likely benefit if they were able to transition from opioid use to cannabis use,” Brady said. “We do have enough information that we would recommend cannabis compared to many other substances. For example, people don’t overdose from using cannabis.”
Although cannabis may be more beneficial than taking opioids for pain management for some, Brady believes that balance in both consumption and messaging through AzCANN is crucial.
“If you’re planning on using, we recommend not using every day,” Brady said. “Take what we call tolerance breaks.”