Black Mental Health Day – addressing research gaps for Black communities

Khadisha Thornhill

On Black Mental Health Day, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) highlights a need for greater knowledge of cannabis use and mental health for Black communities in Canada.

To discuss cannabis use and mental health in Black communities is to discuss systemic racism and related structural issues in Canadian society.

After legalization there were many gaps in cannabis use and mental health research. Afro Cannada Budsistas co-founder Khadisha Thornhill points out how researchers forgot “marginalized and racialized communities most affected by the enforcement of its prohibition, especially with regard to education and de-programming negative stigma.”

Thornhill believes gaps are slowly being closed with efforts to empower communities and to better understand cannabis and mental health. “It is necessary to challenge the historical distrust of government and policing efforts to pave the way for Black and Indigenous communities to finally have their voices and lived experiences heard and amplified.”

The Mental Health Commission of Canada report, Amplifying Black Experiences in Cannabis and Mental Health Research, underscores the need to develop meaningful knowledge about mental health, cannabis, and Black communities, to create research in collaboration with these communities, not without them, and engage Black communities as equal partners.

“This work marks an important step, notably its inclusion of Black perspectives on issues that have affected Black communities for decades,” said Dr. Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto. “It not only demonstrates what knowledge we need to develop, but also how that needs to be done: by using people’s first-hand experience and ensuring that Black communities are equal partners in all aspects of research, education, and policy.”

Dr. Akwasi Owusu-Bempah

Themes that emerged

  • There is no single Black community — there are many.
  • The relationship between cannabis use and mental health in Black communities is intertwined with systemic racism, structural violence, and traumas related to criminalization and stigmatization.
  • There is little research or credible public information on cannabis or its relationship to mental health — either generally or for Black people.
  • Canada needs to take a race-based and intersectional approach to data on cannabis and mental health.

“This Black Mental Health Day the MHCC highlights the need to study cannabis in the proper cultural context, to empower Black researchers, and to validate personal and lived experience of cannabis use for mental health,” affirmed Ed Mantler, MHCC vice-president of programs and priorities.