A new report from the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security calls for the creation of a new Canadian Institute for Public Safety Officer Health Research for the benefit of the country’s public safety officials dealing with the the extreme stresses of their job.

The report, released today, highlighted the pervasive frequency of post-traumatic stress disorder in the country’s first responders and urged for the creation of the new agency modeled after one already in place for military members and veterans.

As part of the committee’s work, additional research is also called looking into the benefits of medical cannabis to treat PTSD.

“Another area that in the Committee’s opinion would need particular attention is the use of medicinal marijuana by affected individuals as a form of symptom relief,” the report reads. “There are no large scale studies on the use of medicinal marijuana as a treatment for PTSD. The Committee was told that it is being used as a temporary measure of symptom relief in the absence of a proper cure.

“The Committee therefore believes that the institute should consider conducting a comprehensive review of all the literature on the use of medicinal marijuana as a form of treatment for [Operational Stress Injuries].”

During the committee’s research process into the report, they heard from two experts that spoke on medical cannabis, both called the current pool of research on cannabis as a PTSD treatment option lacking.

University of Manitoba professor of psychiatry Dr. Jitender Sareen told the committee that no practice guidelines support the use of medical cannabis for PTSD.

“Although this is a common question from clients, the evidence weighs in the favour that marijuana use can actually worsen PTSD symptoms,” Sareen told the group. “I think it is important for us to carefully study the impact of marijuana and medical marijuana in PTSD, not just in short-term outcomes but long-term outcomes, especially around functioning.”

Sareen said while there has been shown to be short-term benefits to using medical cannabis for PTSD he will not prescribe it to his patients.

“I think there is a major divide between the medical knowledge…and I think it calls for important research that is unbiased and that looks not only at short-term but also at long-term outcomes,” he said. “I don’t disagree that it may have short-term benefit, but we’re trying to help people, long term, return to their best level of functioning and get back to helping their family.”

University of Toronto Health Adaptation Research Trauma Lab director Dr. Judith Pizarro Andersen said future research on medical cannabis treatment of PTSD should ensure that data collection should be based on hard biological data.

“If we want to know if marijuana treats the symptoms, we can’t just rely on self-reports,” she said. “In the data I’ve collected, I’ve always asked the officers to self-report: how stressed they were, how confident they were about the situation, how well they were going to perform. Often those self-reports were opposite to what I saw going on in their bodies and in the mistakes they made.”