Fentanyl-laced street drugs, including marijuana, have contributed to Alberta’s opioid crisis, but on Wednesday, cannabis legalization helped to alleviate that risk for those who legally purchase pot.
“Starting today, people can get (cannabis) in stores and they are sure of what they are getting. In that regard, it’s a positive thing,” said Dr. Ifeoma Achebe, medical officer of health with Alberta Health Services’ central zone, on Wednesday.
Labels required by Health Canada will let users and their doctors know the content of cannabis consumed, should health problems arise, she said.
But AHS still has plenty of warnings for cannabis users.
“Synthetic cannabinoids are usually more toxic, and one can easily overdo them, so avoiding the use of synthetic ones is recommended,” Achebe said.
AHS advises cannabis smokers limit their consumption to a couple of puffs and wait at least 10 minutes to feel the full effects. If eating cannabis, start with a small bite and wait at least one hour to feel the effects before deciding whether to use more.
She said limiting how often people use is also important.
“The less frequent you use it, the lower the risk for negative effects. The user should exercise some caution in reading the labels. Products with higher CBD (cannabidiol) to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) ratio is usually better. Ideally, they should be looking out for lower THC.”
Addiction is also a possibility, she said.
“The more you use it, the higher the risk of dependency, especially when you start early. Early regular use increases the chances of one being dependent.”
Achebes said the legal age to purchase cannabis may be 18, but users younger than 25 risk negative effects to their developing brains.
“Kids need to be informed because they are the ones impacted the most if they start using it early. The effect on the developing brain is something we can’t ignore.”
She said short-term effects includes impairment, confusion, slower reaction time, anxiety and panic attacks. There are also long-term effects, such as personality changes and memory impairment.
“(Cannabis) can increase one’s risk for depression and anxiety, especially if you have that family history. My best advice is if you have those risks, just stay away from it,” Achebe said.
Other health risks include second-hand smoke, injuries and deaths from impaired driving, and the risk to babies from mothers who use cannabis while pregnant or nursing.
She said other jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis reported more cannabis use and more people requiring hospital care as a result. Alberta’s health surveillance system will show if the same is true here in six months to a year.
For more information about the health risks of cannabis, visit www.albertahealthservices.ca.