Many people use cannabis for medicinal reasons, as they believe it to be healthier than pharmaceuticals and it carries less side effects.
While that’s definitely true, there are some health risks associated with cannabis use as well. But fear not, because there are quite a few ways to minimize these risks and have a safe and healthy cannabis experience.
So what exactly are these potential hazards? The main areas of concern regarding cannabis are typically teen use, and if there is any possibility of developing a lasting health condition, cancer for example. When young teens use cannabis, they run the risk of developing memory retention issues and an inability to focus at times, although it has yet to be determined whether these are long-term afflictions or if they improve over time.
There’s also the possibility that cancer could possibly develop from carcinogens associated with smoking, although very unlikely. Cannabis itself and its compounds are safe, but the toxins released from burning plant matter are unknown. The exact risk, if any, is still undetermined because researchers did not account for or eliminate any confounding variables beforehand, for example, whether or not the cannabis user also smokes cigarettes, which is a known risk for cancer.
A paper entitled, “Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use,” noted that, “The effects of long-term marijuana smoking on the risk of lung cancer are unclear,” the study stated.
In a recent publication from the American Public Health Association, researchers outlined a variety of ways to lower the potential side effects related to cannabis use. According to the study, “(1) the most effective way to avoid cannabis use–related health risks is abstinence; (2) avoid early age initiation of cannabis use (i.e., definitively before the age of 16 years); (3) choose low-potency tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or balanced THC-to-cannabidiol (CBD)–ratio cannabis products; (4) abstain from using synthetic cannabinoids; (5) avoid combusted cannabis inhalation and give preference to nonsmoking use methods; (6) avoid deep or other risky inhalation practices; (7) avoid high-frequency (e.g., daily or near-daily) cannabis use; (8) abstain from cannabis-impaired driving; (9) populations at higher risk for cannabis use–related health problems should avoid use altogether; and (10) avoid combining previously mentioned risk behaviors (e.g., early initiation and high-frequency use),” although some of these methods are debatable.
Let’s begin by taking a look at some numbers 1, 3, 7 and 10. Number one, abstinence, is clearly not an option considering it’s the only form of medication that works for some patients. If it were that simple, we wouldn’t be where we are today; in the midst of worldwide medical cannabis reform. Numbers three and seven, using low-THC products and avoiding high-frequency use, this isn’t advice you can merely take from the internet at face value. Studies show that THC does have medicinal benefits, and if your health care provider determines that you should be using high THC strains and products, and/or using it daily, that’s what you should continue doing. And regarding number ten, once again, that depends on your personal care plan. For now, we’ll focus on the five things that everyone can do to be a healthier cannabis user.
- Don’t use cannabis if you’re 18 years of age or younger. As stated above, marijuana use in young teens can lead to memory issues and problems focusing, which can lead to underachieving in school and extracurricular activities. If possible, it’s best to delay cannabis treatment until the later teen or adult years. When children and young teens are in need of cannabis therapy, CBD products are typically prescribed first.
- Don’t use synthetic cannabis, such as spice. Although research is minimal, mounting evidence is finding a correlation between using spice and having “acute episodes of psychosis,” even in people who have never exhibited symptoms of mental illness. Spice has also been linked to dehydration, nausea, seizures, and cardiovascular conditions such as tachycardia, hypertension, and in some rare cases, even heart attack and stroke.
- If you smoke, try switching to a different method of consumption. Nearly 77 percent of cannabis users in the United Kingdom combine tobacco with their cannabis joints, according to a Global Drug Survey poll. Tobacco-associated health risks are well known, so naturally, mixing it with cannabis can increase your risk of developing health problems. In the United States, a similar study was conducted by the Center for Substance Abuse Research which concluded that just like their UK counterparts, Americans prefer to smoke joints. Out of 4,269 users surveyed, only 10 percent reported vaping as their preferred intake method, and only 30 percent said they preferred edibles. Even though it’s not specified whether these studies include medical patients, recreational users, or both, it does show a pattern; that the healthiest ways to consume cannabis are seemingly the least popular. Changing that could have a vast improvement over the health prognosis of cannabis users.
- Don’t hold the cannabis in for a long time before exhaling. Should you decide to continue smoking, instead of vaping or another smoke-free method, it’s important not to hold the smoke in for a long time. Not only does it increase the risk of respiratory trauma, but the lungs ingest more toxic material, and it does nothing to boost the medicinal effects anyway.
- Cannabis doesn’t work for everyone. There is no treatment available that works for absolutely everyone, and that goes for cannabis too. Medical history, current symptoms, and any other medications a patient is taking can all have an impact on how cannabis therapies affect an individual. For some people, it’s just not a viable option.