More than half of U.S. states have medical marijuana laws, and eight states have decriminalized recreational marijuana use. Nevertheless, marijuana use remains controversial. Proponents point to numerous studies finding mental and physical health benefits. Opponents have expressed concern about addiction and negative health outcomes, such as respiratory problems.
The Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse’s new Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, released last week, seek to minimize the risks inherent in both medical and recreational marijuana use. The list of guidelines comes ahead of the introduction of Canada’s federal Cannabis Act, proposed legislation that would create a framework for legalizing and regulating cannabis production, distribution, and possession in Canada. The guidelines are endorsed by medical authorities and boards, including the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine.
10 Guidelines for Lowering the Risks of Cannabis Use
The guidelines, which were published in the American Journal of Public Health, draw upon expert insight and multiple studies. A summary of the recommendations is as follows:
- The best way to avoid adverse outcomes associated with cannabis use is to avoid cannabis.
- Using cannabis before the age of 16 is associated with more adverse outcomes. This is partially due to marijuana’s effect on the developing brain.
- Products with higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in cannabis, are associated with more adverse outcomes. Users should know the THC levels of products they choose and select products with lower levels of THC.
- Synthetic cannabinoids are associated with more adverse outcomes, including severe reactions and death. Users should avoid these products.
- Smoking cannabis is associated with respiratory problems. When possible, users should select other delivery methods.
- Practices that increase the amount of smoked cannabis inhaled into the lungs are more dangerous. When users choose to smoke cannabis, they should avoid breath-holding and other strategies designed to increase the high.
- Frequent heavy use of cannabis carries greater risks. Users should stick to occasional use only, and should monitor themselves for signs of dependency.
- Driving while under the influence of cannabis increases the risk of motor vehicle accidents. Users should not drive while under the influence of marijuana.
- Some people are more likely than others to experience negative outcomes associated with cannabis use. Pregnant women, people with a personal or family history of psychosis, and people with a personal or family history of substance abuse face heightened risks and should avoid using marijuana.
- Data are limited, but combining multiple risk factors—such as frequent, heavy use by people with a history of psychosis—likely compounds the risks of cannabis use.
A recent study found people prefer medical cannabis to many other psychoactive medications. Other studies have found cannabis may combat mental health issues. For example, research published in 2016 found cannabis could treat addiction and some mental health conditions.
- Canada’s Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines [PDF]. (2017). Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse.
- Legalizing and strictly regulating cannabis: The facts. (2017, May 30). Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/services/health/campaigns/legalizing-strictly-regulating-cannabis-facts.html
- Public health guidelines aim to lower health risks of cannabis use. (2017, June 22). Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-06/cfaa-phg062217.php
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