Above photo: VCH Medical Health Officer Dr. Emily Newhouse talks to cannabis vendors at Vancouver's 420 festival this year.
Non-medical cannabis (commonly known as marijuana) is legal in Canada as of today, October 17, 2018. In a Statistics Canada survey, 17% of people in British Columbia reported consuming cannabis within the past year. But cannabis use does carry some health risks. These risks vary by age of user, consumption method and context of use.
Cannabis should be kept out of reach of infants, children and pets to avoid accidental poisonings.
Regular use of cannabis may affect brain development and functioning, especially for youth. While the law is that people must be 19 years of age or older to purchase, consume, possess or grow cannabis, we urge people to minimize their use before age 25 to reduce risk of these lasting consequences.
Cannabis may worsen symptoms of depression or anxiety and may also cause symptoms such as panic attacks, paranoia, and hallucinations. It may also trigger the onset of schizophrenia in those already vulnerable. People with a history of psychosis or substance use problems shouldn't use cannabis.
Cannabis use is not recommended for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Using cannabis (in any form) during pregnancy carries health risks to the fetus. Chemicals from cannabis are also passed through breast milk, which could lead to health or behavioural problems for the child consuming the breast milk.
When people smoke or vape cannabis, the effects are immediate. Effects can be delayed with oral formulations like oils or edibles. Smoking cannabis can be harmful to the lungs, while oral products can make dosing tricky, especially for newer users.
The main psychoactive component of cannabis is THC, which is strongly related to some of cannabis's health risks. Research suggests another component of cannabis, CBD (cannabidiol) can decrease some of THC's effects.
If people choose to use cannabis, they can reduce their harm by:
Starting with low amounts and waiting to feel the effects
Using lower strength cannabis products (less THC or high CBD:THC ratio)
Avoiding synthetic cannabis products
Limiting use to occasional
If smoking, avoiding deep inhalation or breath-holding
Not mixing with alcohol
Driving while impaired is not only illegal, it's dangerous. Cannabis can affect motor coordination, short-term memory, concentration, information processing and decision-making, which all reduce the ability to drive safely. Depending on the amount and formulation, it may be many hours after consumption before it is safe to drive. Mixing alcohol and cannabis is particularly dangerous for driving.
Smoking of cannabis/marijuana, tobacco, and other products (including e-cigarettes) is prohibited in or on all VCH owned and/or operated premises, facilities, and grounds, as per the VCH Smoke-Free Premises policy.
If a patient, client or resident is smoking or vaping medically prescribed marijuana, (i.e. they have a Health Canada-compliant Medical Document from an authorized health care provider and have a Health Canada-authorized source) they have two options:
If patients or clients do not meet Health Canada requirements (e.g. have purchased cannabis from a dispensary), this is not considered medical marijuana. See: Health Canada cannabis regulations.
Should you be concerned about your clients' or patients' substance use, VCH has services to help.
The BC Government cannabis webpage explains the new laws https://cannabis.gov.bc.ca/