The Research Study
Post legalization, there was a need to understand the lived and/or living experience of those using cannabis in the context of mental health, poverty, houselessness, and other structural inequities. This peer-led research project aimed to understand the impact of cannabis use on the mental health of Albertans facing multiple barriers through looking at social and structural factors associated with cannabis use, impact on mental health, and experiences with support systems.
The project explored the intersection of legalization, criminalization, and structural stigma around cannabis use and its impact on mental health outcomes. The study aimed to develop innovative, tangible, and engaging dissemination methods to raise awareness and share the learnings amongst key community members – including community organizations, government and end users across Alberta – to inform and shape future policy, practice and informed usage of cannabis.
The study was uniquely led by peers with lived and/or living experience of active drug-use, people experiencing houselessness e, racialized persons, or those facing poverty. We adopted a co-development approach, where peers had an equal partnership in all stages of the research, right from conception all the way to dissemination.
Through this methodology, peer researchers not only increased their skills and capacities, but also simultaneously shaped innovation fuelled by community needs. The CARMHA project aimed to share and scale the impacts of the project across Alberta and nationally through existing partnerships and a unique digital community of practice that focused on creating useful and tangible findings that can be utilized by community members..
Drawing on principles of social justice, community-based participatory research, and an equity lens, the CARMHA project study contributes to the limited knowledge of cannabis-use among persons who face intersectional vulnerabilities
This peer-led study was conducted in Calgary and Edmonton, but community membersfrom across the Province were invited to join the digital community of practice.
The CARMHA projectused a mixed method design to answer both qualitative and quantitative areas of inquiry, as well as adopted a systems-thinking framework thatwent beyond understanding individual behaviours to focus on the interconnections around structures, policies and institutions.
To evaluate the study, a utilization focused approach was adopted, which focused on supporting peer researchers and community members to understand the impact of this work. This practical approach ensured that the evaluation fed into the project and supported ongoing research decisions.
In particular, we will explore the following questions:
Specific objectives of the research included:
Understanding the social and structural factors that shape cannabis use among at- risk populations and its impact on mental health.
Expanding a systems perspective of cannabis use and mental health for at-risk populations.
Deepen knowledge of the impacts of legalization on cannabis use for at-risk populations.
Co-development of innovative research practices focused on:
– building the capacity of peers (in research, advocacy, anti-stigma, leadership, and systems change).
– creating a blueprint for ethical community-based research with at-risk communities.
Develop an interactive provincial digital community of practice to disseminate knowledge and evidence.