Cannabis Health and Safety Risks - dummies

Cannabis Health and Safety Risks

By Kim Casey

Cannabis does pose certain risks to the health and safety of some consumers and others, especially if the consumer fails to use responsibly. Some of the more common short-term (transitory) and long-term adverse effects of cannabis are mentioned in this article to call your attention to the potential downside of using or abusing it.

cannabis caution sign
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Cannabis flower and other products contain different concentrations of different cannabinoids — the primary active ingredients in cannabis. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive component that produces the euphoric high. Cannabidiol (CBD) doesn’t produce an intoxicating effect but can make you drowsy and lower your blood pressure, so it’s not risk-free.

Undesirable transitory effects of marijuana

Cannabis consumption can produce a number of undesirable effects that arise particularly when the concentration of THC is high and the consumer consumes too much. These effects are transitory; that is, they go away over time, assuming the person stops consuming for several hours. Undesirable transitory side effects include the following:

  • Impaired motor control: Slowed reflexes and impaired physical coordination negatively impact your ability to drive or operate machinery.
  • Impaired memory and cognition: Your ability to learn or remember, to think or communicate clearly, or to make decisions may be diminished. These adverse side effects could negatively impact a consumer’s performance at school or at work and compromise their problem-solving and communication skills.
  • Altered perception of time: Cannabis can make you feel as though time has slowed down. You may like or dislike this feeling, but it can pose a safety risk if you’re crossing the street, driving, operating machinery, or even cooking. Of course, it may also make you feel as though you’ve accomplished more in less time.
  • Anxiety or paranoia: Although cannabis is generally associated with a calm sense of bliss, it can increase anxiety to the point of paranoia or even delusional thinking (distorted thoughts or emotions) or psychosis (a break with reality). Whether cannabis calms or creates anxiety can be related to the person, the product, the dose, the person’s state of mind, or a combination of factors.
  • Light headedness or fainting: Cannabis may cause a temporary drop in blood pressure (if you’re susceptible) that can make you feel lightheaded or dizzy or may cause you to faint.
  • Increased heart rate: Cannabis can raise a person’s heart rate for up to three hours after the effect kicks in, which may increase the chance of heart attack in those with pre-existing vulnerabilities. If you’re older or have a history or family history of cardiovascular issues, you should be aware of this fact.

Another transitory issue to consider is the fact that THC remains in the body (in fat-soluble tissue) long after it has been consumed, which increases the potential of failing a drug test. While testing is improving, current tests are unable to differentiate residual from recent-use THC. Typically, THC is detectible in bodily fluids for up to 30 days, but for daily heavy users, that period may extend to more than 90 days!

Potential long-term complications of cannabis

Long-term health problems related to cannabis are typically associated with continuous heavy usage over months or years. Possible adverse long-term side effects include the following:

  • Breathing difficulties: If you choose smoking as your method of consuming cannabis, you’re at an increased risk of having respiratory issues, including bronchitis, lung infections, wheezing, and coughing. As with tobacco, the combustion of cannabis plant material produces tar and other toxins, carcinogens, and irritants that are unhealthy for the lungs.

You can avoid this particular long-term side effect by not smoking cannabis. Plenty of consumption methods, like edibles, are available that don’t involve smoke.

  • Psychiatric issues: Long-term cannabis use has been linked to increased risks of anxiety, depression, and psychosis. It also may increase the risk of schizophrenia in people who are predisposed to that condition.
  • Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS): CHS is a condition in which continuous heavy consumers experience regular cycles of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration. These symptoms typically subside when the consumer stops using cannabis, so it’s both a transitory and long-term effect.

Continuous heavy consumption of cannabis also has the potential to cause problems beyond health issues, including increased absences and poorer performance at work or school, relationship issues, and decreased satisfaction with life in general for some individuals.

To reduce the risk of long-term adverse effects, consume in moderation — both in frequency and amount — especially if you’re a recreational user (as with other substances). That way, you can reap the benefits of cannabis while avoiding many of the most serious adverse effects.

With rights come responsibilities. Even in areas where cannabis is legal, you’re expected and legally obligated to consume responsibly for the health and safety of yourself and others. Being a responsible consumer means no mixing cannabis with other drugs, medications, or psychoactive substances; using in moderation; making rational decisions; and staying home or using a designated driver when you’re high or plan to become high.

Use cannabis in moderation

Moderation is the key to reaping the greatest benefits from cannabis and avoiding the worst of its potential adverse effects. Moderate use can also save you a good deal of money! As a general rule, moderation means taking the smallest amount necessary to achieve the desired effect. Here are some general guidelines for any given session (sesh):

  • 1–5 mg for beginning users
  • 5–10 mg for occasional users
  • 10–20 mg for frequent users
  • For medical cannabis use, consult your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider

Make rational decisions about cannabis

High doses of cannabis products with high concentrations of THC can impair your judgment, so you must decide to use your good judgment in dosing before becoming so intoxicated that you can no longer make rational decisions related to consumption and other important matters.

Don’t consume marijuana to the point of becoming irrational. When your mental faculties are impaired, you’re at a greater risk of making bad choices, such as driving under the influence, mixing alcohol with cannabis, and trusting the wrong people.

Commit to no impaired driving

Don’t drive under the influence of marijuana, regardless of whether you think you’re high. Stay home or plan ahead for transportation, for example, by choosing a designated driver or another means to get around. Driving under the influence of marijuana is both dangerous and illegal.