CANNABIS & YOU
Why do people use cannabis?
Eating great foods, exciting activities, spending time with friends, having sex or using drugs – these all affect the ‘feel good’ system in the brain. That is why people are attracted to these activities. But, it is important to know that these ‘feel good’ things are not always good for you.
Cannabis can block or relieve certain feelings such as anxiety. This helps us to avoid feelings that are bothering us, but it does not deal with the reason we are anxious. We may be able to avoid the feelings we don’t like by using cannabis, but the underlying concern is still there and we are responsible for anything we do while using. The question to keep in mind here might be: When is using a substance useful and when does it stop us from dealing with things that are really bothering us? A caring adult may be able to guide and support you while you sort this out.
How can using cannabis affect your health?
People have used cannabis for as long as we know. Sometimes people took it to bring relief for physical problems like pain, being unable to fall asleep or to improve appetite. This is still true today and you have probably heard that there is a lot of research going on concerning the use of cannabis as a medicine. But, we need more research to better understand how cannabis affects our health. We know it can help relieve pain, nausea and muscle problems from some medical conditions. Cannabis encourages appetite when someone loses weight as a result of HIV/AIDS or cancer treatment. It can also give relief from anxiety and depression linked to chronic illness.
Many people who use cannabis socially say it helps them relax and increases their sense of well-being. On the other hand, some people feel anxious after using cannabis, which can cause them to withdraw from others. They may also have a hard time remembering things for several hours after smoking cannabis.
It is dangerous to drive while under the influence of cannabis. Cannabis makes your reaction times slower and this can lead to accidents. If caught driving while under the influence of cannabis you can received a ticket, have your car impounded or be imprisoned, just like with alcohol.
Cannabis can lower your inhibitions which may mean you do things you wouldn’t normally do like take part in high-risk sexual behaviour.
Cannabis smoke also contains toxins, so over time, smoking a lot of cannabis can increase the risk of breathing problems such as coughing and shortness of breath.
The use of cannabis has been linked to psychotic symptoms or psychosis for a small number of people. Psychosis may be thought of as a break with reality. Symptoms include experiencing thoughts, feelings, sounds or seeing things (hallucinations) that others around you do not experience. It is difficult to know what is real and what is not. For most people, these symptoms go away as the drug wears off after several hours, and their thinking, feeling and perception returns to normal. The symptoms do not usually return unless cannabis is used again. A very few people, with a family history of serious and persistent mental illness or other factors in their life, may develop a longer lasting psychosis. An even smaller number of people who experience a longer psychosis may receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia. If you have a family member with psychosis or schizophrenia and especially if you also develop a temporary psychosis when using cannabis, then you are at very high risk and need to address your use.
Risks linked to cannabis can increase depending on a number of factors, including:
- starting to use at a young age (young brains are still developing and are more vulnerable to the effects of psychoactive substances)
- how often it’s used
- how much is used and the THC content (the active ingredient in cannabis)
- activities during or after use, such as driving or using other drugs
- personal health history
Reducing the risk of harm from cannabis use
The most important thing is to always pause and think before you act. Why do you want to use? How are you going to ensure you and those around you are safe? Here are a few tips to lower the risk of harm if you do choose to use cannabis:
- Delay the age of first use. Starting to use at a later age can reduce the possibility of negative effects on your brain.
- Use a vaporizer rather than smoking cannabis. That will get rid of most of the smoke, and so fewer toxins and potential cancer causing agents will be absorbed,
- If you do smoke, take shallow puffs. Most THC is absorbed into the lungs in the first few seconds so big puffs and holding your breath does not help you get high, it just exposes you to more toxins.
- Use only occasionally, regular use means more risk.
- Be smart – trying cannabis with friends at a weekend party is less likely to result in trouble or harm than smoking cannabis on school property or driving after using.
- Know who and where your cannabis comes from.
- Products with a high THC content are generally associated with higher risks.
- Don’t drive or operate machinery while under the influence.
- Don’t mix cannabis with other substances.
- Have a safety plan or contact in case you feel you are in trouble.
- If you possess cannabis, store it in a safe location away from children and pets.
- It is safest not to use cannabis in any form if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Evidence suggests that THC can pass through the mother to the developing fetus or through her breastmilk to the baby.
Check in with yourself regularly – are you using occasionally to have fun? (lower risk) or are you using daily as a way to cope with feeling down or sad? (potentially high risk).
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