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The Essentials of Safe Cannabis Consumption

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Using Cannabis Safely: What You Need to Know

It's evident that society's perspective on cannabis has been steadily evolving. With adult recreational use legal in 21 states and medical use permitted in numerous others, it's clear that cannabis consumption is not going away. To ensure your safety while using cannabis, there are crucial aspects that you should be aware of.

Buying Cannabis Legally

If you reside in a state where cannabis is legally available for recreational or medical use, opting for the legal market is strongly advised. Despite the allure of lower prices in the illicit market, purchasing cannabis through legal channels offers various advantages and protections:

  • The product goes through a comprehensive tracking process "from seed to sale." It undergoes potency testing and screening for contaminants. Legally purchased cannabis should be free of heavy metals, disallowed pesticides, fungus, and lead.
  • Labeling has become increasingly accurate and informative, providing details about the composition of the cannabis you are purchasing. Different cannabis strains have varying effects, so understanding what you are consuming is paramount.
  • Purchasing marijuana from illicit sources is still illegal in states where its use is permitted.
  • If a contaminated product is identified, it can be recalled swiftly.
  • Conducting legal transactions facilitates communication with healthcare providers and helps reduce the stigma that adversely affects medical cannabis users.

However, it is important to exercise caution regarding the following aspects within the legal market:

  • Safety and monitoring measures are not foolproof, but consistent federal standards will improve the situation in the future.
  • Do not solely rely on well-intentioned dispensary employees, colloquially known as budtenders, for medical advice while making a purchase. These queries should be addressed by healthcare providers, who may still be familiarizing themselves with the complexities of cannabis.
  • Be extremely cautious with dosages and avoid being enticed into purchasing products that are stronger than what is suitable for you.
  • Not all cannabis-infused products are safe to have around the house. THC-infused sodas, chocolates, or gummies, for instance, may unknowingly be consumed by children or pets.

Understanding Potency

The primary active component in cannabis, THC, can lead to trouble if consumed in high doses. Just like any medication or drug, it is safer to use the lowest effective dose for the shortest duration possible. Keep in mind that cannabis flower today is significantly more potent than it was in the 1970s. Those unfamiliar with modern cannabis may inadvertently consume excessive amounts, assuming it is similar to what they used in the past.

Taking too much cannabis or using strains that are overly potent can result in severe anxiety attacks, potentially leading to a visit to the emergency department. Excessive THC can also trigger other medical conditions like cardiac arrhythmias and syncope. Some individuals may experience cannabis hyperemesis syndrome, characterized by uncontrolled vomiting, which can only be treated by discontinuing cannabis use. If you are new to cannabis or returning after a long break, it is advisable to adhere to the principle of starting with low doses, gradually increasing, and maintaining a low consumption level. Be cautious with edibles as well, particularly when preparing them yourself – inadvertently consuming raw batter means you are ingesting cannabis.

Concentrates, such as wax, shatter, or crumble, contain exceedingly high levels of THC. These products often lack other medicinal cannabinoids like CBD, which can mitigate certain adverse effects of THC. Overconsumption is easier to achieve with these concentrates as they typically contain THC ranging from 40% to 90%.

Who Should Avoid Cannabis Use?

While there are exceptions to every rule in medicine, there are certain groups of people who generally should not use cannabis:

  • Teens should absolutely avoid using cannabis due to concerns regarding its effects on brain development.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women should abstain from cannabis use to prioritize the safety of the developing brain.
  • Individuals with specific psychiatric conditions, such as any form of psychosis or a family history of schizophrenia, should refrain from using cannabis as it can exacerbate their condition.

If you struggle to control your cannabis use or notice an escalation in consumption, seeking professional help is highly recommended.

Other Essential Tips

  • Avoid smoking cannabis as it can inflame your lungs. Instead, consider using under-the-tongue tinctures, edibles, topical products, or dry herb vaporizers.
  • If you do smoke, avoid holding the smoke in your lungs for more than a couple of seconds. Holding it longer will not enhance the effects but rather irritate your lungs.
  • Don't drive for at least four hours after smoking cannabis, even if you feel capable of doing so sooner. If you have consumed an edible, wait between eight and 12 hours before operating a vehicle.
  • Maintain open communication with all your healthcare providers regarding your cannabis use. This ensures coordinated care and minimizes the potential for drug interactions.
  • If you work in a safety-sensitive job, refrain from using cannabis for 24 hours before your shift. Additionally, avoid consumption if you are on call or responsible for the care of children.
William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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