Getting High the Canadian Way: 10 Tips for Reducing the Harms of Marijuana Use
As Canada moves forward with marijuana legalization, the Canadian public health establishment is busily attempting to deal with the reality of legal weed in an oh-so-Canadian fashion: pragmatic and practical, but very, very concerned.
Canada is a country that bedecks cigarettes packages with photos of diseased lungs and bilingual warnings of certain doom, and its public health experts are not so keen on pot either. In fact, they'd prefer people didn't use it at all. But they recognize that Canadians like their weed—about 10% of adults and 25% of teenagers report using in the past year—and they accept that legalization looms.
So the Canadian Institute in Substance Abuse has put together Canada's Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines to "protect public health and public safety" and "reduc[e] cannabis-related harms and problems in the population."
The guidelines aren't exactly party central, but neither are they hysterical. Instead, they represent a cautious, public health approach to marijuana use, concentrating on potential negatives and how to reduce them. As U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempt to round up a posse to confront legal marijuana here, the Canadian approach appears downright civilized. But that's the kind of place Canada is; the kind of country that has civilized things, like national health care.
Here's how the Canadian public health experts think people should consume marijuana in order to have the fewest negative consequences.
1. Don't use it at all. "As with any risky behavior, the safest way to reduce risks is to avoid the behavior altogether," the guidelines say. "The same is true for cannabis use." D'oh! Of course, that what public health experts would say.
2. Hold off until you're out of your teens. "Early initiation of cannabis use (i.e., most clearly that which begins before age 16) is associated with multiple subsequent adverse health and social effects in young adult life," the guidelines say. "These effects are particularly pronounced in early-onset users who also engage in intensive/frequent use."
3. Watch out for wax and dabs. The guidelines warn away from super-high THC products such as "cannabis extract or concentrate products," advising that higher THC potency is related to "increased acute and long-term problems," but noting that CBD seems to ameliorate some of THC's effects and suggesting that using products with high CBD:THC ratios "typically carry less severe health risks."
4. Don't use synthetic cannabinoids. "Recent reviews on synthetic cannabinoids indicate markedly more acute and severe adverse health effects from the use of these products (including instances of death)," the guidelines say. "The use of these products should be avoided." And why bother if you can get the real thing?
5. Don't smoke it. Regularly smoking "cannabis adversely affects respiratory health outcomes," the guidelines warn. Vaping it is better but "not entirely risk-free" and edibles are best because they bypass lung-related risks, although that isn't risk-free either because ingestion delays the onset of psychoactive effects and can lead to higher highs than desired.
6. If you're going to smoke it, don't do that deep hit, holding-your-breath thing. That just increases the amount of toxic materials absorbed by the lungs. Holding the smoke doesn’t get you any higher.
7. Limit your use. "Frequent or intensive (e.g., daily or near-daily) cannabis use is strongly associated with higher risks of experiencing adverse health and social outcomes related to cannabis use," the guidelines say. "Users should be aware and vigilant to keep their own cannabis use—and that of friends, peers or fellow users—occasional (e.g., use only on one day/week, weekend use only, etc.) at most."
8. Don't drive or operate other machinery while under the influence. Driving or operating machinery under the influence increases your risk of being involved in an accident, the guidelines say. Users are advised to wait at least six hours after using the drug before driving or operating other machinery. And using alcohol and marijuana together before driving "categorically should be avoided."
9. Don't use if you have a family history of psychosis or substance abuse disorder or are pregnant. People with those personal or family histories have "a higher or distinct risk of cannabis-related adverse effects," while pregnant women should abstain "based on precautionary principles" to avoid any possible harms to the fetus or child.
10. Don't combine high-risk behaviors. "Combining any of the higher-risk behaviors described above is likely to further increase and amplify the risks of adverse health outcomes from cannabis use." Especially don't be a pregnant teenage daily dabs-smoker driving to a job as a heavy equipment operator.