Article by André Picard, The Globe and Mail
How do you minimize the health impacts of marijuana in a country where it is legal to smoke – or otherwise consume – the drug?
As Canada approaches full legalization on July 1, 2018, a blue-ribbon panel of experts has provided an evidence-based answer to that thorny question and, on Friday, they will release a set of “lower-risk cannabis-use guidelines.”
The research, published in the American Journal of Public Health, is essentially a list of practical tips for current and potential marijuana smokers.
The guidelines begin with the statement that the health risks of cannabis – including impairment, pulmonary damage and neurological impacts – are most easily avoided by abstaining.
The recommended measures include:
Delay using cannabis until adulthood: The researchers say that there is strong evidence that cannabis can affect the developing brain, so it is best delay use until after age 18, or even 21. The earlier someone starts smoking marijuana, the greater the potential harms, according to the research;
Avoid smoking cannabis products: Much of the harm comes from combustion, so users should favour safer methods such as vaping, bongs, edibles and drinkables. They should also avoid mixing cannabis with tobacco;
If you smoke cannabis, avoid harmful practices such as deep inhalation and breath-holding, which intensify the absorption of both psychoactive components and hazardous by-products;
Choose lower-risk cannabis: The researchers say high-potency products (meaning high THC content) such as “skunk” and “wax dabs” are best avoided;
Limit and reduce use: The greater the intensity and frequency of cannabis consumption, the higher the health risks. If you’re going to smoke cannabis, the guidelines recommend doing it occasionally, such as on weekends;
Don’t use synthetic cannabinoids: Products such as K2 and Spice are much more powerful and the effects are more severe than organic cannabis, so they should be avoided;
Don’t drive or operate heavy machinery: The guidelines recommended that users not drive for at least six hours after smoking or otherwise consuming cannabis and be especially cautious if they combine marijuana and alcohol;
Avoid cannabis altogether if you have a family history of mental illness (particularly psychosis) or if pregnant.