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Puff, Puff, Pass

…A Primer for Cannabis Legalization

Canada is on the verge of one of the biggest paradigm shifts in its 151-year history—legalization of cannabis. Canada is only the second country, preceded by Uruguay, to nationally legalize recreational cannabis use. Move over 420—10-19 is almost here. My job as a medical cannabis counsellor usually pertains to that field, but my mandate to enlighten, educate, and promote safe cannabis use, inspires me to write this month’s column to inform the recreational user, ahead of this monumental event.

Whether you may be a curious first time user, occasional party puffer, or long-term consumer, the following compilation of cannabis culture basic information, etiquette, and warnings aim to help users of all experience levels partake in this mystical plant safely and enjoyably.

Cannabis is a natural plant that has two main components: CBD and THC.  CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it cannot get the user high or alter perception or performance. This is commonly sought out for its effective health benefits. THC has a psychoactive effect, commonly known as a high. It is most frequently used, like alcohol, as a social enhancer, an escape, and to relax. In higher doses, it has a strong, reality distorting, psychoactive effect that alters thought and perception.

Despite decades of misinformation, it is now widely understood and accepted by the scientific community and beyond, THC and cannabis are not physically addictive. Users will not go through withdrawal from abrupt discontinuation of use. Cannabis can be psychologically addictive, but no more so than chocolate cake, for example, can.

There are two main types of plants with different effects—Indica and Sativa. Both have very different cerebral effects. Sativa has a stimulating effect. It promotes creative thought, energy and is uplifting. Users often prefer sativa during the day. People with anxiety, insomnia or related conditions need to use Sativa with caution. Consuming Sativa can cause panic attacks in some individuals. Indica is relaxing, mellowing and sleep inducing, much like alcohol. Indica is widely used to wind down in the evening or to facilitate sleep. Because the properties are so diverse, many breeders and growers create hybrids—crosses of the two plants that combine the best qualities of both, while toning down the extremes from either.

You cannot overdose on cannabis. It has no lethal dose, no matter how or how much you consume. Having said that, you can overdose on THC cannabis, making one feel “like” they are dying. It is a certainty that emergency rooms will see an increase of cannabis consumers mistakenly thinking they are having heart attacks, panicking, or just unable to cope with the dose they took. This most commonly occurs with edibles.

Recently, two Toronto police officers, who participated in a cannabis dispensary bust, sampled some of the confiscated goods. They likely had no knowledge or experience with edibles. One ended up stuck high in a tree. The other locked himself in their patrol car and called for backup. This is a textbook warning about consuming THC orally, in any format. This is why edibles will be slowly and carefully phased in a year after legalization—October 2019. Until then, only homemade edibles, homemade from licensed cannabis flower, are allowed.

The rule with all cannabis, especially edibles, is LOW and SLOW. Edibles and oral oils take at least an hour, and up to 90 minutes or more, to kick in. The most common rookie mistake is starting with too large a portion, or what I call “stacking”. The first time one takes edibles, they need to be in a safe environment with trusted people, preferably with someone not partaking—a designated flyer, per se. Once edibles are legally sold, it will probably be recommended that a safe portion is 10mg of THC, like most legal US states. This is still enough for an amateur to get quite a ride on, but low enough for most to get into an overwhelmed mental state.

Using a good quality vaporizer is very safe and has few of the health consequences of smoking. If you are going to partake, make the investment. Arizer, for example, is a Canadian-made brand and is an excellent choice for under $200. Do some research about vaping, and invest in a good quality one.

PUFF, PUFF, PASS, is the mantra of users globally. If sharing a joint, it is a social ritual to take two puffs and pass it to the next person. Taking more is called bogarting and is frowned upon. If you earn the label as one who bogarts, you will not be invited to partake as often.

Legal cannabis must be bought from the Provincial system, in Ontario. The Ontario Cannabis Store will exclusively be online delivery, until Doug Ford figures out the private dispensary system that is scheduled to unroll in April 2019.

Recreational, as opposed to medical users, are confined to consume cannabis solely at their residences—otherwise they face fines up to $1000. Fines will start smaller and increase for subsequent offences.

Consuming THC and driving is an offense, like drinking. There is already an approved saliva testing device and there will be sobriety roadside testing, and blood tests,  DON’T DO IT!

Every household in Canada, with the exception of residents of Manitoba and Quebec, will be afforded the right to grow four plants, per household, for personal consumption. Seeds will be available where legal cannabis is sold.

Illegal cannabis is still just that. Possession, selling and growing will still be criminal offenses. Same goes with illegal edibles, oils etc. Now that you can be legal, BE LEGAL. Be smart, educate yourself, and enjoy all this wonderful plant has to offer.

Rick Gillman is a medical cannabis patient, consultant, and veteran freelance writer. He is involved in medical cannabis research and breeding projects--creating more effective medicine. He works for Canadian Cannabis Clinics as a Medical Outreach Educator out of the Collingwood, Ontario clinic.