Learn about Cannabis


​What Is Cannabis?​ • Cannabis Terminology  Legalized Cannabis  Cannabis Laws​

​What is Cannabis?

Cannabis is the scientific name for the hemp plant. Its leaves and flowers, often called marijuana, contain a psychoactive (mind-altering) compound that can affect how we feel, think and act. Cannabis comes in various forms, including dried leaves and flowers or “buds" (marijuana), pressed resin from flowers and leaves (hashish or hash) and concentrated resin extracted with a solvent (hash oil).

While often smoked in a joint or through a pipe or bong (water pipe), cannabis can also be vaporized into a mist. Some people bake or make tea with it, while others turn it into a tincture, a concentrated liquid absorbed by placing a drop under the tongue. Some also use it as a salve or cream.

Why do people use cannabis?

People have been using cannabis for a range of reasons since ancient times. Some people use it while socializing to help them relax and connect with friends. Others people use cannabis for spiritual reasons or to experience an altered form of consciousness. Some people use cannabis to soothe anxiety or manage medical conditions. While some people may experience benefits from their use of cannabis, like any drug, there are risks to using cannabis.

How does cannabis work in the body?

When cannabis is inhaled, chemicals called cannabinoids are absorbed through the lungs and into the bloodstream producing almost immediate effects. When swallowed, cannabinoids are absorbed through the stomach and intestine. This digestive process takes longer, approximately an hour, and varies from person to person. This makes it more difficult to carefully manage the dose when eating or drinking cannabis.

There are more than 60 types of cannabinoids but the one best known for its psychoactive properties is Tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC).

How does cannabis affect a person's mood or spirit?

The effects of cannabis can be very different for each person. Some people feel relaxed, others full of energy, others quite anxious. Sometimes the same person will have a different experience depending on the occasion. Much depends on the type and amount of cannabis being used and the environment where the cannabis is being consumed. Cannabis that is not prescribed by a health-care provider may not be a good fit for everyone.

Factors that affect people when they use cannabis include:

  • past experiences with cannabis
  • present mood and surroundings
  • the state of our mental and physical health
  • where we are using cannabis – for example at a friend's house versus at a noisy, crowded concert

Almost half of the people living in BC have tried cannabis:

  • 8 per cent in the past month
  • 13 per cent in the past year
  • 48 per cent in their lifetime

Cannabis Terminology

Hemp. Cannabis. Marijuana. Hash. Chances are you've heard these words before, though you may not know the difference between them. Are they the same or different? The answer is “both."


Hemp is a plant that, like other plants, has roots, a stalk, leaves, flowers and seeds. Hemp stalks are often used to make fibre-based items such as paper and fabric.


Cannabis is the scientific name for the hemp plant. There are many different kinds of cannabis. The leaves and flowers of each kind produce varying mind-altering and medicinal effects when smoked or consumed. The most talked-about strains of the hemp plant are cannabis sativa and cannabis indica.


Marijuana refers to the dried leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant (also known as “bud").


Hash, short for hashish, is made of pressed resin from cannabis buds, and is therefore stronger in effect.


Shatter is a concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is the ingredient in cannabis that produces a high. Shatter is far more potent than cannabis and hash. Shatter has THC levels of 80-90 per cent, while cannabis has 12-15 per cent and hash has a concentration of approximately 20 per cent. 


Tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC) is an ingredient in cannabis. It is known for its psychoactive (mind-altering) effects, which effectively cause someone to feel “high". THC can alter behaviour, consciousness, mood and perception. THC can lead to increased appetite for some people.


Cannabidiol (or CBD) is another cannabis ingredient. However, unlike THC, it has no psychoactive properties. In recent years, CBD has become popular for treating nausea, cancer, arthritis, seizures, pain and other ailments and conditions. CBD is useful for people who want the benefits of cannabis without the “high". CBD can be extracted from the cannabis plant and can be processed into a variety of different forms including topical creams, oils and tinctures.


Edibles are cannabis-infused products that are consumed orally and pass through the body's digestive system. Eating an edible is different than smoking cannabis because it's being digested instead of inhaled, which often has a more intense and elongated effect. It can take an hour or more to digest the edible and for the full impact to be felt. Some of the more common forms of edibles include baked goods (like brownies and cookies) and candy (like chocolate, gummies and lollipops) but cannabis can also be found in coffee, beef jerky, soda and other products.


A vaporizer heats cannabis buds or oils to a very specific temperature and turns them into a vapour to be inhaled. Many people believe that inhaling vapour is less harmful to the body than inhaling smoke but this is not necessarily true. Research has shown that breathing in vapour particles, even from second hand vapour, may increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks, as well as interfere with overall lung function. Because vapour is hard to see or smell, it is more difficult to keep track of how much is being consumed. There are also smaller forms of vaporizers called “vape pens" or “e-vapes" which people carry with them. 

Legalized Cannabis

Why did the Canadian government legalize cannabis?

Legalizing cannabis provides an opportunity to regulate a drug that is commonly used in order to minimize some of the potential harms. With regulation comes health, safety and quality controls, and a greater understanding of cannabis through focused research.

Using cannabis, like alcohol or other drugs, carries some risk of harm. But the degree of risk and type of harm we might experience depend on certain factors, including:

  • Concentration of THC
  • Amount of cannabis used
  • Frequency of cannabis use
  • Method of consuming cannabis

One of the main risks of buying and using any illegal drug is that we can never be sure of the quality of the drug or the ingredients it contains. For example, an illegal drug can contain contaminants like mold or mildew, which may be toxic.

A Regulated System with Licensed Producers

When drugs are legal, they are produced by licensed producers and sold within a regulated system (such as at the pharmacy for prescription drugs or at the liquor store for alcohol) and so the ingredients and dosage of products are known to us. This is now the case for cannabis due to legalization. Such information helps us better understand and manage potential risks.

Quality Testing

The system being established in Canada will ensure that cannabis is tested for quality, which will provide for better management of health risks. Taxation revenue collected from legal cannabis sales will contribute to long-term medical research and public education efforts, helping us to better understand the health impacts of cannabis use.

Open Conversations

The legalization of cannabis also provides opportunities to engage in honest and thoughtful discussions about drug use with our families, friends, Elders, knowledge keepers and communities. When dealing with complex issues like cannabis legalization, no one has all the answers. But as community members, we all have our own thoughts, feelings and experiences about drugs and drug use. Working together to explore and share ideas will help us discover how to increase knowledge and minimize harm for people who use cannabis.

Public and Private Retailers

Cannabis became legal in Canada on October 17, 2018. The BC government is the lone wholesaler through the BC Liquor Distribution Branch. There is a hybrid system of public and private retailers, and no co-selling of cannabis with liquor or tobacco is allowed. The legal age of possession in BC is 19, with adults allowed to possess up to 30 grams of non-medical cannabis. Some First Nations in BC are passing their own cannabis laws and regulations and establishing retail operations under provincial or Nation-based laws.

It is likely that cannabis will still be available outside the regulated government system to some extent, as it was before legalization.

Cannabis Laws

Recreational (Non-Medical) Cannabis Use and the Law

Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, legalizes the possession of cannabis for personal use by adults in Canada. It came into effect on October 17, 2018. Legal possession includes dried cannabis, seeds, plants and oils. Other cannabis products such as edibles, candies and beverages were legalized a year later on October 17, 2019.

The Cannabis Act attempts to ensure access to a safe, regulated supply of cannabis while minimizing the harms of use. Key elements of the federal Cannabis Act and the provincial Cannabis Control and Licensing Act are:

  • Minimum age: Adults 19 and over in BC are able to legally buy, possess, grow and use cannabis. It will continue to be a criminal offence to sell cannabis to a young person.
  • Personal Possession: The adult public possession limit is 30 grams. Minors in BC (people under the age of 19) are not allowed to possess any cannabis.
  • Retail and Distribution: Provincial and territorial governments will regulate retail sales and distribution within their jurisdictions.
  • Public Consumption: Consumption is generally allowed in public spaces where tobacco and vaping are permitted
  • Personal Cultivation: Adults are allowed to grow a maximum of four plants per household.
  • Production: The federal government regulates production and product standards.
  • Promotion and advertising: No promotion or advertising of cannabis products is allowed (with limited exceptions).
  • Seed-to-sale tracking: A seed-to-sale tracking system supports product safety, compliance and enforcement.

Despite the fact that cannabis is legal and regulated in Canada, it will remain illegal to transport cannabis across Canada's national borders.

Medical Use of Cannabis

People living in Canada have had legal access to cannabis for relief of various symptoms of chronic illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, cancer and inflammatory bowel disease since 2001. The regulations have changed over time. The Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations set out the current rules.

Individuals who have a medical need and the authorization of their health care practitioner are able to access cannabis in three ways:

  • buy it by registering with a licensed producer
  • register with Health Canada to produce a limited amount for their own medical purposes
  • designate someone else to produce it for them.

An individual with a medical need is allowed to possess an amount of cannabis sufficient to address their medical needs for 30 days or up to 150 grams of dried marijuana or the equivalent amount if in another form. 

If a person wants to produce cannabis for their own medical purposes, they need to submit an application to register with Health Canada. An original medical document from their health care practitioner needs to be provided and the application must include information such as the location where cannabis will be produced and stored.

Once successfully registered, the person will receive a registration certificate from Health Canada that includes information showing their authority to possess and produce cannabis. It will also include the location and maximum limits of the production and storage activities, as well as the individual's possession limit.

There is also an option to designate another person to produce cannabis on one's behalf. This process also requires submitting an application to register with Health Canada.

Crossing the Canada–United States or other International Borders

It is illegal to take cannabis across Canada's international borders. Individuals possessing cannabis and attempting to travel to other countries may be subject to criminal charges.


Mental Health and Wellness Team​​​

Email: cannabis@fnha.ca