Safe, maybe not
People have been using cannabisfor centuries for medical, non-medicaland religious purposes. For all itslongevity, relatively little is knownabout its risks.
Research on the health effects
of cannabis is limited because it is
illegal, says Fiona Clement, director
of the University of Calgary’s Health
Technology Assessment Unit at the
Cumming School of Medicine. “It limits
what we know.”
Here’s a summary of what we know:
Although research has not found adirect link between smoking cannabisand lung cancer, second-hand cannabissmoke might be more harmful thantobacco smoke.
Inhaling any smoke harms the heartand lungs. Short-term effects include:
•;Decrease in blood pressure that couldcause fainting
•;Higher heart rate that could causea heart attack in people with aheart condition
•;Blood vessel damage.
Long-term effects, depending on howoften cannabis is used, include lungdamage leading to bronchitis, infection,chronic cough or excess mucous.
The aging factor
Areas where non-medical cannabis islegal have seen a spike in use among 45-to 60-year-olds, Clement says. Yet there isscant research on its health effects on thisage group.
Smoking cannabis rolled into a cigarette(joint) or in a pipe has been the mostcommon method of non-medical use.
Vaporizing (“vaping”) cannabis,however, is now getting more popular.A device heats the dried plant orconcentrates made from it to just belowthe burning point. The resulting mix offine water vapour and cannabinoids isinhaled.
Although users believe vaporizationis less harmful because they’re notinhaling smoke, no conclusive studies onthe health outcomes exist. Other waysof using non-medical cannabis includeedible and drinkable products.
Many studies show that the mainactive ingredient in cannabis, THC(tetrahydrocannabinol), affects one’sability to think clearly. Short-termside-effects can also include sleepiness,impaired memory and concentration,slowed reaction time and reducedattention span. These effects can last upto 12 hours.
Smoking cannabis daily is linked to along-term risk of reduced concentration,memory, intelligence (IQ) and decision-making ability. Many people believe thatcannabis is not addictive, but researchshows frequent users are at higher riskof addiction.
Researchers have also found a link
to cannabis use and psychotic episodes,
including paranoia, delusions and
hallucinations. This is found most
often in people who started using
cannabis as youths. |a
SHORT- AND LONG-TERM RISKS
TO FETUSES AND INFANTS
Cannabis use by pregnant womenand those trying to get pregnant isdiscouraged. The toxins in cannabisenter the fetus’s and the mother’sbloodstream, as well as her breastmilk. This puts a fetus or newborn atrisk of behaviour and developmentproblems. Effects on children includedecreased memory, decreased focusand a decreased ability to solveproblems. Research also suggestsan increased risk of hyperactivity andsubstance abuse.
HARM TO YOUNG BRAINS
A 2013 UNICEF study found
Canadians aged 15 to 24 are among
the biggest users of cannabis in the
developed world. Research for the
Canadian Centre on Substance Use
and Addiction showed lasting mental
health effects on youth because their
brains and bodies are still rapidly
developing until their mid-20s. Here
are some key findings:
higher risk of memory, focus and
and anxiety, and sometimes more
serious mental health problems,