Health tipsOctober 2019

What you should know before you huff and puff the green stuff

Photo © Bob Doran


Ever since cannabis was legalized across Canada in October 2018, a small number of SQDC stores have been keeping busy, with long lines of smiling customers eager to try the many products. But whether you’re going to smoke it consume it or slap cannabis-infused oil on your skin, there are precautions to consider.

Not only can cannabis lead to a substance-use disorder, the risks are higher for certain people, explains Anita Cugliandro, a Coordinator in the Mental Health and Addiction directorate of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal.

Research shows that cannabis use can have negative repercussions on brain development. Since the brain is not fully developed until the age of 25, cannabis use as a teen or young adult comes with higher risks.

However, Ms. Cugliandro stresses that context is of key importance in gauging whether a person may later develop a substance-use problem. This can include risk factors such as age of initial use, frequency of use, and mental health history.

“Of course, it’s recommended that teenagers put off using it as long as possible,” says Ms. Cugliandro. “But what if they didn’t wait? Did they just try it once? Did they smoke every day? Once a month?”

The reality is that the majority of teenagers will not become lifelong smokers or develop a substance-use disorder, she says. However, those with a history of psychotic disorders in the family should avoid using it altogether.

“The risks also go up, the younger the person starts using it,” says Ms. Cugliandro. “We can see big differences between someone who started at 13 versus at 16.” In Quebec, more than 80 per cent of teenagers will try cannabis at least once.

“The risks also go up, the younger the person starts using it. We can see big differences between someone who started at 13 versus at 16.”

It isn’t just millennials who are curious about cannabis, though. Ms. Cugliandro says she is seeing more elderly people looking to explore the drug, particularly to manage pain or help with sleep. While it can be effective in both scenarios, potential users are urged to speak to their doctor first, to make sure cannabis won’t interfere with other medications.

With the second anniversary of cannabis legalization upon us, edibles will also slowly start trickling into the market. Since smoking is not involved, these items are safer to consume, says Ms. Cugliandro. But that doesn’t mean you can ingest a plate of weed brownies in one sitting.

“With edibles, it takes longer for you to feel the effects, so you need to be patient,” she says. The effects are immediate with smoking, but an edible can take up to a half hour to kick in.

And if you’re planning on trying cannabis for the first time, regardless of what kind, Ms. Cugliandro offers some advice: Be in a safe, comfortable place with someone you trust, in case the drug produces negative effects.

“In the same way that we might have a bad reaction to a certain type of alcohol (like vodka or beer), there are hundreds of strains of cannabis that can each have different effects,” explains Ms. Cugliandro.

In most cases, a “bad trip”—a negative reaction—leads to general feelings of unease, anxiety and, sometimes, heart palpitations or hallucinations. If any of these side effects occur, it’s best to stop using the substance. And always be aware of your mood before consumption: If you’re under extreme stress, for example, you could be in for a bad trip.

“I always encourage people to visit their local SQDC,” says Ms. Cugliandro. ”There are professionals there who can help you find cannabis for the specific effect you might be looking for.”

If you have concerns about cannabis use, Ms. Cugliandro recommends talking to your doctor or visiting an addiction counselor for guidance. Several such counselors work in Frontline Services in the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal.

You can also learn more about cannabis on the website of the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.

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