What it is
Cannabis is a product of the cannabis sativa plant that's used for its psychoactive and therapeutic effects. Cannabis contains hundreds of chemical substances called cannabinoids. THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main psychoactive cannabinoid and is most responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis.
How it’s used
Cannabis comes in many forms, including dried flowers and leaves; hash; extracts such as oil and shatter; and edibles like chocolate, candy, or baked goods. It’s now legal for adult use in Canada. 3.6 million (12 per cent) Canadians used cannabis in 2015 (when it was still illegal). When cannabis is inhaled, cannabinoids are absorbed through the lungs and into the bloodstream, with immediate effects. When swallowed, cannabinoids are absorbed through the stomach and intestine—which takes longer to have an effect.
How it affects us
Many people who use cannabis socially say it helps them relax, but some people actually feel anxious after using cannabis. Cannabis can help relieve the symptoms of some medical conditions such as some types of pain and nausea. But over time, smoking a lot of cannabis can irritate the respiratory tract, increasing risk of chronic coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing.
Heavy use is associated with a variety of harms, including psychosis—when a person experiences a break from reality or bizarre thinking. Regular use by young people can interfere with healthy brain development, and with normal patterns of social interaction with friends. People who use often may feel they need to use cannabis to feel normal and function during the day. And people who stop using cannabis after regular use may experience mild feelings of withdrawal (e.g. anxiety, sleep disturbances, feeling uneasy). Compared to tobacco, the risk of developing some cancers is lower for cannabis users.
Lowering the risk
Don’t use too much at one time, start smaller and see if that’s enough. Choose safer inhalation methods like vaporizers or e-cigarettes, or edibles. Don’t use too often. Avoid using every day or every weekend. And use cannabis only in safe times and places. If going out, stay in the company of trusted friends and use safe transportation options. If using edibles, remember that they take longer to kick in. If smoking, leave tobacco out of the mix. Avoid unsafe practices like deeply inhaling or holding your breath.
Here’s more information on lower risk cannabis use.
When to seek help
Using cannabis is a problem if it affects your life or the lives of others in a negative way. Even using just once can be a problem—if it leads to a poor decision like driving before the effects have worn off. If you’re concerned about your own cannabis use, speak to your doctor about your options for getting help.
Wellness Together CanadaWellness Together Canada
Wellness Together Canada is a mental health and substance use website to support people across Canada and Canadians living abroad in both official languages. They provide the following resources for you at no cost:
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