Ask the Pharmacist – Cannabis health benefits

Q. What are some of the health benefits of cannabis and how should I go about getting started to avoid an overdose?

A. Last week, we discussed cannabis poisoning/overdose/intoxication and the possible reasons behind why that occurs. If you are considering trying cannabis, it is important to understand the risks and the various types and forms beforehand.

Society has put a stigma on cannabis which has led some people to seek out cannabis from unreliable sources. This can be problematic as you would not be able to identify the ingredients or the potency of the product. It is best to go to a legal cannabis store so that you know what you will be putting into your body. Also, let your healthcare providers be aware of your cannabis intake. There may be medical conditions that may affect how you react and possibly some drug interactions that need to be identified.

Cannabis does have some benefits which is why more people are seeking out ways to experiment with it. There are some individuals who will use cannabis for the pure enjoyment they get from its psychotropic or hallucinogenic effects. Others may seek cannabis to help them reduce their pain, manage anxiety and/or stress, assist with sleep, reduce nausea, help to manage symptoms of multiple sclerosis or other neurodegenerative disorders, help increase their appetite or for its anti-inflammatory properties.

In many instances, cannabis has been shown to have a positive impact on one’s quality of life. To ensure this remains positive and does not result in a negative experience or with a visit to the emergency room, try to learn as much as you can about the product.

Cannabis is available in different forms which also vary in how quickly you begin to feel the benefits of it. It can be inhaled (smoked or vaped) or ingested (eating or drinking). It is important to note that everyone’s response to cannabis is unique. It is dependent on sex, age, any pre-existing medical conditions, previous experience with cannabis, frequency of use, THC and CBD content, and consumption of food, alcohol, other drugs or health products.

Your own personal response to cannabis can also differ from one time to the next. With so many variables that impact cannabis (previous exposure, route of administration, the various potencies of cannabis), there are many challenges in providing firm dosage guidelines. That being said, some experts suggest starting with a low THC and a high CBD combination to reduce the risk of unwanted effects. From there, you can gradually increase the potency according to your desired effect.

In regards to inhalation, since it can take up to 30 minutes to feel the full effects from one inhalation/puff, you should refrain from inhaling more for a minimum of 10-30 minutes to reduce the risk of unwanted excessive intoxication or overdose. To ensure a more pleasant experience, look for a product with less than 100 mg/g (10%) THC, with equal or higher levels of CBD. The labels of the product should indicate the strength of each.

Regarding ingesting cannabis, to minimize risks, or if you are a new consumer, look for a product containing 2.5 mg of THC or less. Recall that Ingesting cannabis takes longer to feel the effects and can take up to four hours to experience its full effects. Consuming more ingested cannabis within this four hour time frame may put you at risk of unwanted/adverse effects.

Be mindful if choosing to eat/drink cannabis products that are more potent. There are products available at cannabis stores that may contain up to 10 mg of THC which happens to be the maximum legal limit per edible/drink that can be manufactured in Canada. Exercise caution and beware of the unwanted effects if you choose to ingest more than 10mg THC at one time. Higher levels of THC can cause greater levels of impairment and increase your risk of experiencing serious adverse effects which leads us to what action to take if this happens.

What to Do in Case of Cannabis Poisoning

If you suspect someone is experiencing cannabis poisoning or overdose, take the following steps:

1. Stay Calm: Keep the person calm and reassure them. Anxiety can exacerbate symptoms.

2. Monitor Symptoms: Keep an eye on their symptoms. If they are experiencing severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, or seizures, seek emergency medical assistance immediately.

3. Hydrate: Encourage the person to drink water to stay hydrated, especially if they are experiencing dry mouth or vomiting.

4. Seek Medical Help: If symptoms persist or worsen, contact a healthcare professional or visit the nearest emergency room.

Remember, there should be no judgement for wanting to experiment with cannabis to see how it might be of benefit to you. The key message to take home is to learn as much as you can about your product, make sure the chosen product is suitable for your medical condition(s), let others know of your choice to try it and to do so safely.

For more information on this or any other topic, contact your pharmacist.