Safer Cannabis Use

​Cannabis and You​ • Risks to​ Mental Health  Safer Cannabis Use • Problematic Cannabis Use​  Cannabis and Driving

Cannabis and You

How can using cannabis affect my health?

Cannabis that is not prescribed by a health care provider may not be a good fit for everyone. Our teachings inform us about respecting powerful substances and how anything taken too far can hurt or harm us, our families and our relationships.

Cannabis affects everyone differently. Many people who use cannabis socially say it helps them relax and increases their sense of well-being. Research has shown that cannabis can help relieve pain, nausea and muscle problems associated with some medical conditions, but this varies from person to person. For some people, cannabis has also been shown to encourage appetite when experiencing weight loss due to HIV/AIDS or cancer treatment.

On the other hand, some people feel anxious after using cannabis and may even have panic attacks, which can cause them to withdraw from others. They may also have a hard time remembering things for several hours after using cannabis. The impacts to a person's mental health and wellness can be short-lived or potentially long-lasting. 

Risks to Mental Health

Using cannabis can increase the risk of triggering a psychotic illness in any individual but is much riskier for individuals with close family members who have psychotic illnesses or have a history of trauma.

Cannabis use can increase the risk of psychotic symptoms for all individuals, especially those with a pre-existing vulnerability to psychosis. A person with psychosis experiences some loss of contact with reality, characterized by changes in the individual's way of thinking, believing, perceiving or behaving. Cannabis use may also worsen the symptoms of psychosis in people with pre-existing psychotic disorders.

Cannabis, Psychosis and Psychotic Symptoms

Psychosis can be thought of as a break with reality where a person experiences thoughts and feelings or hears and sees things (hallucinations) that are not experienced by others. A person experiencing psychotic symptoms has a difficult time knowing what is real and what is not.

For the majority of people who experience psychosis when using cannabis, the symptoms go away as the body processes the active ingredients in cannabis –Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Thinking, feeling and perception return to normal and the symptoms do not return, though they may when cannabis is used again. Some people, including those who have a family history of serious and persistent mental illness (for example, psychotic disorders) or a history of trauma, may develop a longer-lasting psychosis. Of these, some will go on to develop chronic mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. 

Safer Cannabis Use

How can I use cannabis more safely?

The most important thing is to make informed choices. Be sure to make the right choice for you when it comes to cannabis. This can take courage. Our cultural traditions and teachings can guide you to make choices that are safer for your body and mind. If you choose to use cannabis, see the tips below to lower the risk of harm.

Before You Start Using Cannabis

Ask myself: why am I choosing to use cannabis? Is it going to help me in some way? Is it out of curiosity? Is it something I use frequently? Have I informed myself on the risks as well as the benefits?

Legal Cannabis Products are Safest

Legal cannabis products are regulated and tested for quality in BC. Legal cannabis products are safer to use than cannabis you may get from your dealer or a friend. Avoid using cannabis if contaminants like mold and mildew are visible.

Safer Practices

  • Start small and use less: Choose cannabis with lower levels of THC and try a small amount first. Some strains of cannabis may have higher THC content and may have a stronger effect than you were expecting, so be aware of the potency of the cannabis you are choosing to use. To be on the safe side, start small and use less. Smoking less helps reduce smoke and toxins in your lungs.​ You'll notice the full effects of smoking cannabis within 30 minutes of smoking a joint. Most physical and psychological effects of smoking cannabis will wear off within five hours but this can vary from person.
  • Choose your setting: Try cannabis in a safe setting where you feel comfortable and have support from people you know and that you can count on.

Prevent Burns on Your Lips or Fingers

Use a small piece of rolled unbleached cardboard as a filter. Avoid using cigarette filters – they do not remove toxins in the smoke.

Take Shallow Puffs, not Deep Inhalations

About 95 per cent of the THC in the smoke is absorbed in the first few seconds, so you don't need to puff hard or hold your breath to help you get the “feeling" – you are simply exposing yourself to more toxins.

Mixing Cannabis with other Substances is Risky

It's not uncommon for people to mix cannabis with other substances to experience different feelings or offset unwanted side effects. But there are risks to combining cannabis with other substances, including intensified effects that may last longer than expected or wanted. Here are some common combinations and their related effects:​

  • Tobacco ​–​ Tobacco contains nicotine, a highly addictive substance, and many cancer-causing toxins, so it's safer to smoke cannabis on its own.
  • Alcohol and other Depressants – These are substances that slow down the body's heart rate and make us feel more relaxed. Depressants affect coordination and other skills needed for safe driving. Cannabis in combination with even small doses of alcohol impairs our driving ability more than either drug used alone.
  • S​timulants – These are substances such as energy drinks or cocaine that increase the body's heart rate and make us feel more energetic. Combining cannabis with stimulants may cloud our judgement about how intoxicated we may be, potentially leading to poor decision-making and risky behaviour.​

Eating or Drinking Cannabis Products

Research suggests there are ways to consume cannabis more safely. Eating cannabis that is baked into foods (called “edibles") avoids the risks related to smoke and toxins, but ingesting cannabis introduces other concerns. It takes much longer to feel the effect (the “high") when eating edibles compared to smoking cannabis. This can lead to someone ingesting more than they intended to and having a negative or even scary experience. To avoid this, use a small amount and wait at least one hour to feel the effects before using more.

Understand the Laws

If you are 19 years or older, possessing up to 30 grams of cannabis for your own use is legal in Canada. Cannabis is regulated by the province of BC. You must be 19 or over to purchase, possess or use cannabis or cannabis products. Minors in BC (people under the age of 19) are not allowed to possess any cannabis. Be sure you know where and when it is safe and legal to use cannabis 

Problematic Cannabis Use

When is cannabis use a problem?

Using cannabis is a problem when it negatively affects your life or the lives of others. We may think this refers to people who use large amounts of cannabis on a regular basis, but even using cannabis on a single occasion can lead to problems. For example, we may make a poor decision such as driving a car before the effects of cannabis have worn off.

Regular cannabis use, especially by a youth, has particular risks. Like other psychoactive drugs, cannabis can interfere with healthy brain development. Early and regular use can interfere with developing positive patterns of social interaction with peers. Regular use may also negatively impact mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellness. Our relationships with friends and loved ones, and our ability to function and fulfill the responsibilities of our daily lives (such as going to work and school) may also be negatively affected by using cannabis regularly.

The risk of developing problems is often connected to the reason a person chooses to use cannabis to begin with. If someone uses cannabis now and then to have fun socially, then they will likely only use cannabis socially and occasionally – similar to having an alcoholic drink while at a party. But when a person uses cannabis to cope with challenges related to mental health and wellness or chronic stress, it may lead to long-lasting and intense use of cannabis. 

While most people who use cannabis do not become dependent on the drug, those who use cannabis frequently over a long period of time may be putting themselves at some risk. A person who uses cannabis frequently or on a daily basis may feel they need to use cannabis to feel normal and function during the day.

People who stop using cannabis after regular use may experience mild feelings of withdrawal, such as irritability, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping. 

What increases the risk of harm from cannabis use?

  • Risks associated with using cannabis can increase depending on a number of factors, including:
  • Starting to use cannabis at an early age: young brains are still developing and are more vulnerable to the effects of psychoactive substances. Waiting until you are older can reduce the possibility of negative effects on your developing brain
  • Family history of trauma and mental health issues, especially psychotic disorders
  • Frequency of cannabis use
  • Quantity and potency (level of THC) of the cannabis being used
  • Using synthetics and concentrates, such as “shatter"
  • Activities during or after cannabis use, such as driving or using other drugs or alcohol 

Cannabis and Driving

Driving after using Cannabis is risky and unsafe

Driving under the influence of cannabis or getting into a car with someone else who has been using cannabis is a bad idea. Someone driving under the influence of cannabis is more likely to have a car accident than if they hadn't used cannabis. It's important to know that it can take up to eight hours for the effects of cannabis to fully "wear off".

How does Cannabis impair a person's ability to drive?

When you drive a vehicle, you need to be alert and focused. Consuming even small amounts of cannabis affects your ability to react and increases your chance of being in an accident.

Cannabis impairs your ability to drive by:

  • Affecting motor skills
  • Slowing reaction time
  • Impairing short-term memory and concentration
  • Causing drivers to vary speed and to wander
  • Reducing the ability to make decisions quickly or handle unexpected events, such as a pedestrian darting out onto the road or another driver slamming on the brakes
  • Cannabis also affects your ability to operate heavy equipment and machinery 

Make a plan ahead of time to get home safely

Our teachings guide us to consider our safety and the safety of our family and community members in what we do. The simple, yet often challenging, act of deciding not to drive after using cannabis protects us and the friends and family members who are often our passengers or elsewhere on the road.

By planning ahead, you are keeping yourself and the people you care about safe. Having a plan ahead of time means you'll feel a lot less pressured or tempted to drive while impaired or get into a car with someone who is high. You won't need to make that tough decision in the moment.

Here are some options to get home safely:

  • Have a designated driver lined up before going out to a party or event
  • Call a friend or loved one to pick you up
  • Take public transit
  • Call a cab
  • Stay over 

Check out the "Good to Go?" App

Before you get into your vehicle, ask yourself, "Am I Good to Go?" If you had a little cannabis, had a couple of drinks, or feel emotionally upset and still think you can drive, the "Good to Go?" app will give you some straight answers. Download on the app store.​


Mental Health and Wellness Team​​​