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Cannabis is legal now, but does that mean it’s safe?

October 12, 2018 • read

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Cannabis is legal now, but does that mean it’s safe?

There is a lot about cannabis that we still don’t know. After decades of illegality, Canada is only the second country in the world to fully legalize it. Discussions have centered around it being “less dangerous” than alcohol, but there are still concerns regarding the use of the drug, especially where young people are concerned. Here’s what you need to know about cannabis safety.

What is cannabis?

Cannabis contains hundreds of chemical compounds, but the two you’ve likely heard about the most are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the psychoactive part of the drug — the part that makes you feel “high.” CBD isn’t psychotropic, and has many different therapeutic uses attributed to it. New research suggests CBD can actually counter the effects of THC. This means users experience less impairment consuming strains where CBD content is higher than THC.

What are the effects?

Marijuana affects each person differently, and the experience can vary dramatically depending on small environmental changes. Smoking cannabis alone in your backyard for example, might be enjoyable. That same joint at a party with a group of strangers however, could leave you feeling terrible. Individual physiology, THC and CBD levels in the drug, the method of consumption, and whether you have ingested additional substances, can also alter the experience. Anyone with a pre-existing medical condition should consult with their doctor before taking cannabis, as physiological effects can include decreased blood pressure causing fainting, and increased heart rate.

Is all pot created equal?

In short, no. But measuring the potency of individual strains of cannabis is currently an issue. The federal government has convened a task force to make recommendations on whether there should be limits on the amount of THC in products, but they have yet to make suggestions. And a recent Marketplace investigation found that labels stating the percentage of THC and CBD were widely inaccurate. Given that higher levels of THC have been correlated with an increased risk of psychotic episodes, consumers must be aware of the potential, though unlikely, harm.

Are there long-term risks?

In addition to the unpleasant short-term effects associated with a “bad trip,” consuming cannabis can also cause long-term issues. Despite persistent urban legend, marijuana can be addictive. Long-term use can lead to memory and attentional difficulties as well. Over time, regular use of cannabis can even cause a decline in intellectual abilities. The effects become more widespread the more you use, the younger you start, and the longer you use the drug. And some of these effects appear to be permanent.

Is it safe for teenagers?

Across the country, age requirements for legal consumption vary between 18 or 19 years of age. Research has shown, however, that the part of the brain which governs skills like self-management and impulse control, the prefrontal cortex, continues developing into the mid-twenties. As marijuana can negatively affect this region of the brain, youth should be wary of using it until age 25 at least.

Can cannabis cure morning sickness?

Despite what the internet might tell you, marijuana is not a reasonable remedy for morning sickness. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada has been explicit in its condemnation of this. Pregnant women should not consume marijuana as it is correlated with reduced birth weight. It can also negatively affect a child’s attentional abilities and executive functioning later on in life. Breastfeeding mothers should also abstain, as THC transfers to their children through breastmilk.

What about smoking and driving?

Driving high doesn’t make you a better driver. A recent survey of individuals who had used marijuana in the last year, showed that many of them admitted to doing so and then driving. This despite clear evidence that response time is slowed while under the influence of cannabis. The Canadian Public Health Association released guidelines cautioning drivers against driving for a minimum of six hours after smoking marijuana. Individuals who consume edibles should not drive for at least eight hours afterwards, though in both cases they might no longer feel “high” after a period of as little as one to two hours.

Despite its legality, marijuana, like alcohol, is undoubtedly a drug, and its effects can vary widely from person to person. If you are going to partake, make sure you know the risks. And as always, if you’re at all unsure, talk to your doctor.

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