A guide to cannabis use

Cannabis can be used for medicinal and recreational purposes

Green cannabis leaf and a black glass dropper bottle.
PHOTO: Kimzy Nanney/Unsplash

By: Hailey Miller, Staff Writer

Content warning: brief mentions of nausea, blood, vomiting, and psychosis.

Since cannabis became legalized in Canada in 2018, access to it has been easier and safer for a variety of purposes. Being able to easily obtain cannabis (also referred to as marijuana or any one of its many slang terms) has helped improve the lives of those who use it for medicinal purposes, such as helping with chronic pain or low appetite. Prior to full legalization, cannabis was only legal for medicinal purposes since 2001. Patients had to register with Health Canada to be licensed to grow or order it from licensed producers. Now, it’s easy to access a cannabis store (or order online) to get whichever strain or dose one desires, whether for medicinal or recreational use, without the need for going to a healthcare provider and getting a prescription.

Cannabis has many medicinal benefits that help people for various conditions. It can help reduce pain, regulate sleep and appetite, reduce nausea and vomiting from certain drugs (such as those who are undergoing chemotherapy), relax muscles and reduce spasms — especially for those with neuromuscular conditions. Conflicting information says that cannabis can potentially help reduce anxiety, but also potentially cause it, depending on the main active compound

There are two distinct components of cannabis: cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD is known as the compound that has medicinal properties and does not get you high. THC, on the other hand, is the psychoactive compound responsible for the high. Some medicinal blends may contain trace amounts of THC.

Despite these benefits, it is important to remember there are potential side effects to using cannabis. Common side effects include dry mouth, eye redness, increased heart rate, dizziness, and drowsiness. But it’s important to remember that cannabis consumption will affect people differently: some might feel relaxation, happiness, and heightened awareness, others might experience impaired thinking, anxiety, nausea, and even psychosis. Although cannabis can help reduce some unwanted feelings such as anxiety, it can also cause the same effects in certain instances depending on a variety of factors. Some people might have a genetic predisposition to psychotic episodes and cannabis might act as a catalyst for their early onset. Another factor might be that the interactions between cannabis and other drugs can have adverse and serious effects, such as bleeding complications, if mixed together (such as antidepressants, pain medications, and sedatives). Remember, each person reacts and will be affected differently by cannabis.

Whether prescribed or not, cannabis can be expensive. This was particularly the case before legalization — medicinal cannabis isn’t usually covered by any reimbursement program, even when prescribed by a healthcare professional. Now that cannabis is legal, it is becoming cheaper

“Cannabis consumption will affect people differently: some might feel relaxation, happiness, and heightened awareness, others might experience impaired thinking, anxiety, nausea, and even psychosis.”

Even though cannabis is legal, it’s still important to be cautious of where you get it from. Make sure your supply is from a trusted, licensed provider. To find a trustworthy source, it’s best to go to an approved store or dispensary, such as a BC Cannabis Store or any other licensed cannabis retailer. Be wary of suspicious behaviour by a provider, such as not accepting credit cards as a payment option or no age verification, as per the Cannabis Act. While cannabis lacing reports are uncommon, non-regulated/illegal providers won’t provide the certainty that the cannabis you’re buying hasn’t been altered with any other drugs or ingredients that may be harmful.

The Cannabis Act was implemented to reduce the likelihood of underage youth from accessing cannabis, to decriminalize its use and sale, and to use it for its medicinal properties, among other things. Under-age use can “increase the risk of short-term cognitive impairment and under performing in school, as well as psychotic symptoms and disorders.” With cannabis use among 16-19 year olds on the rise, it’s important to protect those close to you.

Prior to legalization, and even still today, cannabis has gotten — and sometimes still gets — a bad reputation. Whether people choose to use it as a recreational drug or for its medicinal properties, cannabis can still be a taboo topic for some, especially if they’re not comfortable with the discussion of drugs — whether legal or not. It’s important to open the conversation regarding cannabis and how it can be helpful. Be respectful and compassionate with others’ personal decisions around using cannabis. Reducing the stigma around cannabis will make it safer for people accessing it. Many individuals are still on the fence when it comes to their own choices. This, of course, is also fine — everyone is entitled to their own views and thoughts on its use. 

There are health and safety factors that people need to be aware of and how to use it safely, if they choose to do so. Healthcare guidelines suggest avoiding smoking cannabis and if you do, don’t hold it in your lungs. Edibles or a vaporizer are recommended. Cannabis might impair your thinking, so avoid driving or using dangerous machinery if you have consumed cannabis within the last 24 hours. 

If you’re considering taking cannabis, be it for medicinal benefits or recreational use, it’s best to have a discussion with your doctor or healthcare provider regarding what’s right for you.

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