Cannabis is not the devil’s weed. Nor is it a magic elixir.
Come Wednesday, the country will not go mad as stoners take over the streets, nor will we achieve doobie-inspired world peace and universal love.
No, come legalization on Oct. 17, Weed Wednesday, life will go on much like it did before.
Some people will smoke, or otherwise consume, pot but probably not many more than did before it was legal. According to Statistics Canada, 42.5 per cent of Canadians have tried cannabis at some point in their lives and 16 per cent have partaken in the past three months.
Canadians consumed about 150 tonnes of cannabis annually prior to legalization. The prospect of capturing a good chunk of that black market has caused a frenzy among investors and speculators, and fuelled reefer-stock madness.
With legalization, some stigma will disappear, and new regulations will take effect – paradoxically, there will be more rules than ever before.
As cannabis becomes used more openly, and perhaps a bit more frequently, it’s worth going over a few basics. While a lot of effort has been put into educating/warning youth, not enough has been done to bring older Canadians – who will be the primary customers of cannabis stores – up to speed.
As boomers discover – or more likely rediscover – cannabis, a common admonition is worth repeating: This is not your Woodstock-era pot.
Thanks to advances in growing techniques and cross-breeding, the levels of THC – tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive ingredient – have increased substantially. A U.S. study found potency has increased three-fold since 1995 to about 12 per cent THC from 4 per cent. There is a mind-blowing variety of strains and products, and new ways of consuming.
Under the new federal law, adults can possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis, or the equivalent in oil, and purchase seeds to grow up to four plants for recreational purposes. There are, however, provincial variations on all the rules.
There is also a separate system for purchasing cannabis for medicinal purposes with a prescription, where many of those restrictions don’t apply.
Many products will continue to be sold only on the grey or black markets, from gummy bear edibles through to shatter and dube kits, and distillate cartridges. (Dabbing is the act of ingesting concentrates, some of which, like shatter, can be up to 80-per-cent THC.) Technically, edibles will not be legal until October, 2019.
In recent years, perception of risk has decreased, and that will likely continue with legalization. However, cannabis, like any drug, is not harmless.
Much has been written in recent weeks about the potential harms and benefits of cannabis, ranging from histrionic to delusional.
As we approach Weed Wednesday, the major health-related issues should be noted:
- Whether cannabis or tobacco, smoking is not good for your health. But few people smoke joints as frequently as cigarettes, so the harms are lesser.
- Cannabis is not a gateway drug: Your kids will not go from chewing gum to smoking pot to shooting up in an alley.
- Pot is not addictive, but it can be misused and problematic. Smoking recreationally every day or smoking alone are not good signs.
- There has never been a fatal overdose of cannabis, but smoking or vaping or eating too large a dose (technically known as poisoning) can cause unpleasant symptoms such as anxiety, paranoia and a racing heart. Keep your stash locked away so your kids and pets don’t get poisoned.
- Everyone experiences cannabis differently. If you indulge, find your comfort zone. Big tokers can experience cannabinoid hyperemesis, a condition characterized by intense nausea and vomiting.
- The impact on mental health, particularly the triggering of psychosis and schizophrenia in young people, is the most hotly debated health issue. While this is rare, it is not to be dismissed.
- Consuming cannabis, especially with a high THC level, makes you impaired. You shouldn’t drive or operate heavy equipment or do other things that require your full attention while high.
The bottom line, though, is that cannabis, like alcohol, is used responsibly by most people – to get a good buzz occasionally – and will continue to be. (Although mixing the two is not a good idea.)
Canada has gone slow on legalization – probably too slow – but consumers, especially those who are rediscovering cannabis, would do well to behave likewise.
As the old Brylcreem commercials said: “A little dab’ll do ya.”