Preventing Reefer Madness
The true dangers of cannabis and how to avoid them
Cannabis has been portrayed as lethal, maddening, corrupting, and down-right evil; some famous 20th century propaganda posters even called it the “Devil’s Harvest” or “Satan’s Smoke” and warned us of “Reefer Madness”.
When we’re presented with such harsh characterizations, only to find out later that they’re untrue, it’s easy to swing too far in the opposite direction and treat cannabis like the safest thing on the planet. However, like most good things in life, healthy cannabis use requires an understanding of the true risks and how to minimize them.
You can use cannabis too early in your life. You can use too much cannabis. You can get poor quality cannabis. And you can administer your cannabis in an unhealthy way. Healthy cannabis use requires an understanding of appropriate timing, dosage, quality and application.
Most studies suggest that our brains finish developing at about the age of 25. Cannabis has been shown to have very negative consequences for some people using it at a younger age. It can lead to long-term problems like anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and a psychological dependence on cannabis called cannabis-use disorder.
So for the healthy cannabis user, the first time should come after the brain has developed at about the age of 25. And for those of us who started at a younger age, it’s important to reflect on our usage, to evaluate whether or not we do have a dependence, or if it does contribute to some of our negative psychological behaviours; and most importantly to speak to our doctors about it and seriously consider whether or not to stop.
When it comes to how much cannabis you should use, unfortunately no one really knows. The amount of cannabis that is beneficial versus the amount that is damaging is different for each person.
It has been shown that regular “high-dose” cannabis users can downregulate, or “shut-down,” some of the endocannabinoid receptors in their body. These receptors are vital to everyday functions within our bodies, affecting memory, pain-response, mood, and appetite, to name a few.
What we advise our patients to do when beginning with medical cannabis is to start low and go slow. Whether you are inhaling it or eating it, you want to start with the absolute smallest amount you can; give it adequate time to take effect (about 10-20 minutes if inhaling, and about 6-8 hours if ingesting). If it’s effective, take the same dose or lower next time; if it’s ineffective increase very slightly on the next trial, and repeat.
Not only does this “microdosing” avoid the potential “shut-down” of some of your body's most important receptors, but it can also allow you to experience some of the benefits of cannabis, like focus, creativity, energy and mood-enhancement, without some of the more negative effects that can come from taking too much, like fatigue, anxiety, dizziness and memory impairment.
Most of us have never had much choice in the quality of our cannabis, having to go through illegal sources. These sources are obviously not required to follow any regulations, submit to any inspections, do any testing, or suffer any real consequences of mislabelling or producing an unhealthy product with pesticides, moulds, or pathogens present.
Despite some illegal dealers feeling comfortable enough to open up dispensaries around the country, the product they’re selling remains basically the same: unknown. So in our current state of prohibition, quality is a difficult thing to obtain. The only verifiable options we have now are through Licensed Producers which are only accessible with a prescription.
Until we all have access to cannabis grown under a regulated environment, quality will be out of some of our hands; the fact is if it hasn’t been tested there could be many things in there that you do not want in your body.
I’ve spoken to enough cannabis-users to know that the ritual and feeling of smoking cannabis is just as quintessential to their lives as drinking coffee in the morning. But not all habits are worth keeping if they present a serious risk to your health.
When cannabis is heated with a flame, not only are approximately 50 percent of the cannabinoids completely destroyed and wasted, but many harmful by-products are created, like carcinogens, tars, and other burnt plant material. Inhaling those by-products into your lungs can lead to very serious problems, including cancer. It goes without saying, this risk is increased if the cannabis is mixed with tobacco.
Not only does vapourizing create little to none of these harmful byproducts, it also more efficiently releases the medicinal compounds within the cannabis by heating them just past their boiling points without burning the plant material.
When you start using a vapourizer, at first it will seem less effective than smoking, but given enough time, about two to four weeks, and by completely abstaining from smoking, your body should adjust and you can eventually get a similar effect; your lungs and throat will thank you for it.
And if inhaling isn’t your style, eating is an even healthier way to consume your cannabis as it presents no risk to your lungs. But if you’re going to eat it, it is absolutely important to start with a very low dose and take it very slow.
Now you should be armed with the knowledge you need to use cannabis in the healthiest way you can. Cannabis may not make you go insane and it’s probably not evil, but it does have serious health consequences if used improperly. So start low, go slow, know what you’re using, and try to use it safely. You don’t need to worry about “Reefer Madness”, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry at all.
Michael Murchison is a Cannabis Counsellor working out of Canadian Cannabis clinics throughout the GTA, offering free knowledge and guidance to hundreds of medical cannabis patients every day. Canvasrx.com, firstname.lastname@example.org