Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Health Corner: Highly Safe Cannabis Use

Tips for Safe and Smart Consumption

April 6, 2022

In June of 2019, Illinois Governor J.B Pritzker signed a bill legalizing the recreational use of cannabis by adults (21 years or older). Despite its legalization, discussions on the topic remain uncomfortable and prohibited. In 2018, more than 11.8 million young adults reported cannabis use, with prevalence growing post-legalization. So, what does this mean for you?

College is a medley of new experiences, stress, excitement and pressure. It’s a time for self-discovery and independence, so the last thing you want is another lecture on drug abuse, right? Well, this is not that. Odds are you will attend social gatherings and be exposed to alcohol, cannabis and whatever else lands on the sticky coffee table that night. 

The point here is not whether you should participate or not, because as we’ve been told repeatedly since the fourth grade, abstinence is the only way to eliminate the dangers associated with “risky behavior.” Instead, we will discuss ways to stay safe and reduce the chances of adverse events if you choose to participate in substance use, particularly cannabis.

Choice of cannabis product: Be mindful of the composition of the product you are choosing to use. Products higher in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are strongly related to increased acute and long-term problems, such as mental health and cannabis use disorders. Avoid synthetic cannabinoids, such as K2 and spice, as they present with more severe psychoactive effects and have resulted in death.  

Types of cannabis use: Cannabis legalization has come with a multitude of methods for consuming it. Cannabis is edible, drinkable, topical, and smokable. So, what’s the best way to use it? There’s no straight answer to this, but there are a few guidelines to follow. Evidence supports that smoking burnt cannabis can cause respiratory problems such as lung cancer. Vaporizers and e-cigarette devices are safer methods of smoking cannabis and reduce the risk of lung injury compared to burnt cannabis. 

Deep inhalation and forceful exhalation techniques increase the amount of toxic material admitted into the respiratory system, so it’s best to stick to shallower breaths. 95% of THC is absorbed in the first few seconds, so there is no need for deep inhalation or breath-holding like many of us thought. Edible forms eliminate the risk of inhalation injury. However, the delayed onset of psychoactive effects may lead to ingestion of higher doses, so be patient!

Frequency of cannabis use: Based on scientific evidence, daily or near-daily cannabis use is a strong predictor of severe cannabis health-related problems, such as mental health problems, changes in brain development and functioning, cannabis use disorder, suicidality, poorer academic performance and higher college dropout rates. It is recommended to stick to weekend/once a week use. 

Other cannabis considerations: Combining cannabis with other drugs increases the risk and severity of adverse effects. Cannabis impairs cognition, reaction times, and attention span. The risk of being involved in a collision resulting in injury is two to three times higher among cannabis-impaired individuals than non-impaired drivers. It’s recommended to wait at least six hours or until psychoactive effects have ended.

So be safe and be smart. Although cannabis is considered a safe drug among many individuals, it has multiple evidence-based documented risks of short- and long-term health effects. However, most of these risks described above are focused on those who consume cannabis in high-risk ways. The best thing you can do is educate yourself, understand the implications (both positive and negative) that come with cannabis use, and decide what is best for you.

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