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What is cannabis?
Cannabis refers to a family of more than 170 different plant species but is often generally exchanged with the word marijuana. While marijuana is technically just the dried flowers from the cannabis plants, the cannabis industry also includes oils, edibles, and other forms and extracts of the plants.
Cannabis products come from the many plants and flowers within the family of plants. Most people have heard of the marijuana plant. The hemp plant is also part of this family.
Some cannabis products are psychoactive, like marijuana, and others are not, like CBD oil.
Generally speaking, however, when people talk about cannabis, they are referring to the psychoactive marijuana plant, and the many hybrid strains that are being developed. The marijuana plant contains THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which gives it its unique psychoactive effect.
How is cannabis used?
Cannabis is used both as a therapeutic and a recreational drug. Cannabis has many medicinal qualities, and more are being discovered all the time.
Therapeutically, cannabis is used primarily to treat pain, anxiety, and inflammation. But there are plenty of other uses for THC, CBD, and other components of the plants. Cannabis is also being used to:
Mitigate nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy
Relax muscles in people with muscular disorders
Help stimulate appetite for disorders that require weight gain
Cannabis is available in many forms and it seems more are being developed all the time. Because of how the body metabolizes and uses cannabis, some forms tend to be more reliable than others. The most reliable are:
Dried flower – this can be smoked, vaped, or infused into oil or butter
Oils and tinctures – this is THC and other cannabinoids suspended in liquid meant to be dissolved under the tongue or added to food or drinks
Edibles – edibles can be purchased ready-to-consume or they can be homemade, and are often sold as seeds, gummies, candy, baked goods, or beverages like tea and coffee
Topicals – these include roll-ons, creams, and other skincare products
Pre-rolls – these are ready-to-smoke rolled joints
What determines how cannabis affects a person?
A person’s size may affect how they are affected by cannabis. While much more research is needed to know for sure, it seems that a person’s body fat may be a determining factor for how long THC stays in their system; the more body fat, the longer the cannabis stays.
Research shows these factors are more important than body mass:
A person’s previous experience with cannabis or other drugs
Your reaction to cannabis may be stronger the first few times you experience the drug. Over time, it’s possible your body will grow a tolerance to the effects, and you may find you need a higher THC content to experience similar effects.
A person’s biology
Age and health status may play a role in your reaction to cannabis. People who enjoyed a cannabis high in their youth may find they can no longer tolerate it and may become irritated or nervous instead of relaxed.
The method by which the drug was taken
This is because the body metabolizes cannabis differently depending on how you consume it. The amount you consume also changes with each method of consumption.
The strain of cannabis used
Individual strains are developed and grown to contain varying amounts of THC. These strains are also formulated to have various effects on the body. For example, different strains may have greater pain-relieving abilities, be more likely to help you sleep, give you a mood or euphoria boost, or induce appetite.
Interestingly, it seems even your mood when you ingest cannabis can determine your reaction to it. If you’re more comfortable and relaxed, your experience with cannabis will likely be more pleasant than if you are stressed and anxious, or in an unfamiliar place.
Is cannabis medicinal?
We’ve been hearing the term ‘medicinal marijuana’ more and more. In actuality, there are very few differences between medical and recreational cannabis.
The largest difference is simply the reason for using cannabis. If you’re using it as medicine, it’s medical marijuana.
Purchasing your marijuana from any reputable dispensary makes it safe and effective for medicinal uses like helping to support healthy mood, relaxation, and pain response.
While much research is needed to know how cannabis can be used as medicine, early research and anecdotal evidence point to cannabis as being effective for helping with many health conditions. If you want to know if cannabis can help with your medical condition, speak to your doctor about incorporating cannabis into your health regime.
Is it possible for someone to become addicted to cannabis?
While psychoactive cannabis is not generally considered addictive, it’s been linked to a phenomenon referred to as Marijuana Use Disorder. This disorder occurs with the consistent use of marijuana to assist in sleeping or coping. The body begins to rely on marijuana to manage mood, sleep, pain, etc.
To understand this disorder, realize that with Marijuana Use Disorder, the body may not crave marijuana like an alcoholic would crave alcohol. Instead, the body may no longer be able to manage the systems (like sleep, pain response, and anxiety management) that are now relying on cannabis.
To help keep your body from falling victim to this disorder, consider your reasons for ingesting marijuana. If you can’t sleep, if your pain is unmanageable, or if you’re experiencing other health concerns, speak to your doctor before using cannabis to manage the condition.
What are the health risks of using cannabis?
If used in reasonable quantities, there are almost no health risks to using cannabis. In fact, cannabis can help many people relax, sleep better, and gain weight if necessary, among other things.
However, for some people, the euphoria experienced can bring about feelings of panic or paranoia, can cause the heart to beat too fast, or make the user feel confused.
Long-term effects of overuse can cause Marijuana Use Disorder, damage to blood vessels, memory issues, and a lessened ability to make decisions or concentrate. These problems are more likely to surface if cannabis is used in adolescence, or is used to manage emotional distress or chronic conditions.
If you are using cannabis for purposes other than occasional recreation, it’s important to speak to your doctor about the risks.
Is it possible to “overdose” or have a “bad reaction” to cannabis?
While most research shows you can’t really ‘overdose’ on cannabis, it is possible to have a bad reaction or likely, just too much.
This is most commonly experienced with edibles. The effects of edibles, like gummies, take between 20 minutes and 2 hours to kick in. Many people believe they aren’t working and take more, leading to a bad reaction when they finally take effect.
Bad reactions can also happen if the THC dose is too high for the user’s tolerance or if cannabis is mixed with certain medications or alcohol.
A bad reaction might look like:
Nausea or vomiting
Blurry or distorted vision
Increased heart attack
Confusion or paranoia
There’s not much you can do to remedy a bad reaction. Most importantly, try not to panic because likely, there is no real danger to your health. If you experience hallucinations or psychosis, or if you are concerned with your reaction, seek medical attention immediately.
To combat a bad reaction, rest, drink some water, and eat a bit of food if possible. If you’re able, relax in your bed and fall asleep. If not, try to find somewhere quiet and calm until the THC wears off.
What are the effects of mixing cannabis with alcohol, tobacco or prescription drugs?
Mixing cannabis with other products can be dangerous. While some people may regularly mix cannabis with alcohol or other substances, the science is clear: this can pose health risks.
If you are a tobacco smoker, you should consider using edible cannabis products instead of inhalants.
Mixing cannabis with alcohol can increase the risk of a bad reaction and is generally discouraged.
If you are taking prescription drugs, it’s important to speak to your doctor before mixing them with any substance to be sure it is safe. Mixing medication and cannabis can cause a bad reaction or side effect.
Is it safe for a breastfeeding mom to use cannabis?
There is not enough data to prove that using cannabis or any CBD product is safe for a baby when a mother is pregnant or nursing. Because it could pose risks, it’s important not to use cannabis products while pregnant or nursing.
How is eating and drinking foods that contain marijuana (edibles) different from smoking cannabis?
In many ways, using edible marijuana products is no different than smoking them. Products that contain THC will make you high no matter how you ingest them.
The differences lay in how the body breaks down the THC.
The body can metabolize smoke or vapour much more quickly than it can digest edibles, so you will feel the effects of a joint or vape much quicker than you will from an edible. Many people find that when using edibles, they consume more to feel high in less time. When using edibles, go slowly and leave plenty of time for the THC to take effect before you eat more.