Reducing the risks of cannabis use

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Maxime Brouillard, Specialist, Health Promotion

It's been three weeks now that recreational cannabis is legal in Canada and there is still a lot of discussion on the topic.

Because "legal" does not mean "good for you," I'll give you a quick overview of some well-researched strategies to reduce the risks of using this drug. Just as with alcohol, the goal is to reduce harm of this substance on your health.

THC and CBD

There has been much talk of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), the two main ingredients of cannabis. THC is largely responsible for the pychoactive effects. Its concentration varies a lot from one cannabis product to another. The standardization of THC concentration is one of the reasons cited by the Government of Canada for legalizing cannabis.

To reduce the risk of developing addiction or other serious mental health problems, it is recommended to use cannabis products with a lower THC content.

Modes of consumption

Smoking cannabis (in a joint) is the most common and the most harmful mode of consumption because it directly affects the respiratory system. Remember that deep inhalation practices can lead to lung problems.

Spraying (using an electronic cigarette) is another mode. However, it is not clear whether or not it is safe since vaping devices are not regulated in terms of health and safety.

Finally, for the ingestion of food products containing cannabis (beverages, pastries), the delay is longer before feeling the desired effect. So be careful and wait before serving another portion. It is also important that product is not left unattended.

Manage your risks

Since the brain is not fully formed before the age of 25, young consumers are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of cannabis and, ideally, they should delay the time of their first consumption as long as possible.

Note that the risk of becoming addicted to cannabis is greater if we started to use it during adolescence. Also, if you have a family or personal history of psychosis or substance use disorders, you should refrain from using cannabis. Cannabis should also not be used during pregnancy.

Moderation is key!

To reduce the risks to your physical and mental health, it is recommended to limit the frequency of consumption. You might decide, for example, to stick to occasional use.

Also remember that every time it is consumed, cannabis can affect your cognitive abilities: reaction time, coordination, learning, and decision-making. It is therefore imperative not to drive or operate machinery when impaired by drugs. Moreover, its effects can last several hours, depending on the quantity and how it was consumed.

Finally, it is better to avoid the joint use of cannabis and alcohol.

Sources:
- Canadian Institutes of Health Research (cihr-irsc.gc.ca)
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (camh.ca)

https://www.camh.ca/-/media/files/pdfs---reports-and-books---research/canadas-lower-risk-guidelines-cannabis-pdf.pdf?la=en&hash=DB0B13C926631F70E006FF9A559E628EE7423342

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