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C annabis (aka marijuana, weed, pot…) is a drug that comes from a plant consisting of dried flowers, fruiting tops and greenish-brownish leaves. There are more than 100 different chemical compounds, or cannabinoids, in the cannabis plant. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the two most well known and most often studied cannabinoids. THC can make you feel ‘high,’ while CBD can make you feel relaxed without the ‘high.’ Both THC and CBD may affect how you think, feel and act.

There are several ways cannabis is used:

Smoking or Vaping

  • As a dried plant, cannabis can be smoked, or it can be inhaled as a vapour (‘vaping’)
  • People who choose to smoke or vape cannabis can expect to feel the full effects within 30 minutes

Eating, Drinking or Swallowing

  • Cannabis can be eaten in foods or ingested as a drink (‘edibles’)
  • Cannabis can also be swallowed as an oil, in capsules, or as a spray (‘extracts’)
  • It can take up to 4 hours to feel the full effects after someone eats, drinks or swallows cannabis. The effects of eating, drinking or swallowing cannabis can be stronger and last longer (up to 12 hours), as compared to smoking or vaping (6 hours)

Absorbing (Topicals applied to the skin)

  • Cannabis products (in creams, lotions, oils or other forms) can be put directly on people’s skin, hair and nails (‘topicals’)
  • In general, topical products don’t make people feel ‘high.’  At this time, there is a shortage of research on topical cannabis products.

Cannabis is known for providing a ‘high’ that can make some people feel relaxed and happy, but it can also cause confusion, drowsiness, forgetfulness, panic, delusions and distorted perceptions.

Studies show that the average potency of THC in cannabis today is almost 10% higher than 30 years ago. When cannabis is smoked or vaporized, the effects begin within seconds and last at least 6 hours. The effects of taking edibles begin between 30 minutes and 2 hours, and can last 12 hours or longer. Edibles don’t harm the lungs and respiratory system like smoking or vaping, but it takes longer to feel their effects. Sometimes people take more edibles in order to ‘feel’ something, believing they did not take enough initially.  This can lead to a much more intense high and potential unwanted/unpleasant effects.

How soon and how long someone feels the effects of cannabis depends on how it was taken, whether they used alcohol or other drugs at the same time (which can increase the likelihood of unwanted effects), and whether they have used cannabis before.

There is no ‘safe’ amount of cannabis. For instance, driving after using cannabis may double the risk of having a car accident. Youth who use cannabis early and often for months or years are at risk of long-term health and social problems. Some examples include:

  • Harm to the brain – such as problems with memory, concentration, thinking, learning, handling emotions and decision-making
  • Mental illness – such as psychosis or schizophrenia and, possibly, depression, anxiety and suicide, especially if there’s a personal or family history of mental illness
  • Difficulties with relationships – at home, school or work
  • Physical health harms – including lung and respiratory problems from smoking cannabis
  • Addiction – cannabis can be addictive, especially for youth

Be aware of the risks of using illegally-sourced cannabis. If possible, look for the amount of THC (potency) on the label as a guide. Effects vary depending on type, amount, potency and duration of use.

It’s important to know that inhaling any type of smoke can be harmful. Even though vaping may be less harmful than smoking, there are still health risks and harms associated with the chemicals in vaping products.

According to the Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey (CSTADS) 2021-2022, 18% of students in grades 7-12 reported using cannabis in the previous 12 months.

When cannabis is used under the age of 25, it can impact brain development. This includes how youth grow emotionally and socially. Cannabis may affect the parts of the brain that control judgment, decision making and emotions. Evidence suggests that potential harms are related to early use, potency and frequency of use.

Cannabis Legislation:

Cannabis is a legal substance that is strictly regulated across Canada. Provinces and territories are responsible for enacting restrictions and regulations regarding the sale, distribution and use of cannabis. The minimum age to use, buy, possess and grow cannabis varies from 18 years of age in Alberta, to 21 years of age in Quebec, and is 19 years of age in all other provinces and territories

Emergency Steps (SJSS):

If a young person has overdosed on cannabis (aka. ‘greened out’), follow these steps:

  • S – Bring them to a safe place
  • J – If they aren’t vomiting, give them lots of fruit juice
  • S – If they’ve passed out, lie them on their side and call 911 
  • S – If they’re panicky or paranoid, stay with them to provide reassurance and support

Other steps:

  • If you’re uncomfortable with what’s happening, or suspect contamination, call 911
  • Afterwards, have a frank, open and non-threatening discussion about the person’s cannabis use

Created by TeenMentalHealth.Org with special thanks to Bridget Irwin.

Physician Advisory Panel: Dr. Selene Etches (Dalhousie University); Dr. Rob Milin (University of Ottawa); Dr. Phil Tibbo (Dalhousie University). In collaboration with the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

Project Director: Dr. Stan Kutcher

Video produced by ILOVEPRODUCING


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