Tips for talking to your family about cannabis

Cannabis is now legal in Canada for recreational, or “adult-use”, and medicinal purposes. It’s been six months since legalization occurred

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Cannabis is now legal in Canada for recreational, or “adult-use”, and medicinal purposes. It’s been six months since legalization occurred and society hasn’t collapsed, there hasn’t been an uptick in cannabis-related deaths, nor has it suddenly become easier for underage Canadians to get their youthful hands on the plant.

Whether you’re a new, curious, or an experienced consumer, now is the time to share with friends and family about your relationship with cannabis. Whether you plan to have a frank discussion on responsible use with your kids, unpack the benefits for your parents, or defend your right to choose cannabis to a conservative uncle, talking to your loved ones about consumption can be daunting. Let’s explore some common myths as well as some useful tools aimed at helping facilitate healthy, respectful conversations.

One thing to keep in mind when approaching these discussions is how easy it is to become frustrated, and even defensive, when you don’t see eye-to-eye with a loved one. Try to come at the conversation from a place of compassion and empathy, remembering that, while prohibition began less than 100 years ago (a drop in the bucket of humanity’s timeline), it’s still longer than most people have been alive. The people you’re talking to have likely never known cannabis as anything other than illicit. They might have very real concerns that need to be addressed first. If they’re curious about trying cannabis, sharing information is an important part of harm reduction.

The myth that cannabis harms brain cells is a common argument against use and one that can seem difficult to dispute. After all, alcohol—a popular and socially accepted recreational substance—is in fact known to produce neurotoxic effects (hello, hangovers!) and cannabis has been associated with booze for decades. In recent years, however, a spate of studies have indicated that phytocannabinoids (the organic compounds produced in the cannabis plant) directly affect the CB1 and CB2 receptors located in the human brain. In fact, some studies show cannabis conceivably offers benefits to Alzheimer’s patients or people with depression who use cannabis to alleviate some symptoms of their disease.

Myth #2: Cannabis is laced with fentanyl

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that was responsible for approximately 100 deaths per month last year in the Vancouver area alone. The rumours of fentanyl-contaminated cannabis have persisted for years and spread across North America. However, there has never, in any jurisdiction, been a substantiated report of laced cannabis. Both the Vancouver Police Department and RCMP have denied or retracted claims of fentanyl-contaminated cannabis. Start by explaining that despite those official refutations, previous reports citing tainted cannabis are still referenced regularly (and incorrectly), including during a recent White House statement.

In Canada, there are more than 50 scientific laboratories licensed under the Narcotic Control Regulations to conduct tests on cannabis products. Any cannabis produced by a federally licensed producer, to be distributed through both public and private legal retails points, must have record of various levels of rigorous testing through these check points. The safest way to ensure dried flower and infused tinctures have not come in contact with illicit substances or been tampered with is to purchase from a provincially licensed cannabis store.

Myth #3: Cannabis causes schizophrenia

The myth associating cannabis with schizophrenia usually boils down to a question of what came first: the psychiatric disorder or the cannabis consumption? There is a correlation between consumption and mental health conditions, but connection does not always equal causation. In this case, even expert cannabis researchers can’t come to an agreement.

Are these fears overblown responses to reefer madness propaganda, or are they rooted in reality? The truth is, we still don’t really know. Many studies seem to reach a conclusion, but then can be refuted in their approach, methodology, or association to other substances. In 2015, Dr. Kenneth S. Kendler of Virginia Commonwealth University and his team reviewed nearly two million individual cases in Sweden, following each participant over time from young adulthood to middle age. In this instance, smoking cigarettes was identified as a predictor for late onset schizophrenia, yet nicotine is rarely linked to mental health the way that cannabis is. The use of additional drugs may also influence study results, as well as genetic predispositions. In 2014, Ashley C. Proal and Dr. Lynn E. DeLisi of Harvard Medical School attempted to determine whether cannabis use increased the risk of developing schizophrenia for people who had a family history of the disorder. They concluded that “the results of the current study suggest that having an increased familial morbid risk for schizophrenia may be the underlying basis for schizophrenia in cannabis users and not cannabis use by itself.”

Myth #4: Smoking is bad for you

Combining heat, smoke, and lung tissue is never good for tracheal or bronchial health. While there are differences in the effects of cannabis smoke on lungs, the medical community points out, like that of tobacco and wood, it is an irritant and prolonged exposure can lead to bronchitis and other respiratory issues. While the argument against contaminants in the lungs stands, there is also evidence to support the notion that cannabis is not nearly as harmful as other smokables. In 2012, a study carried out by the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham even found correlations between cannabis smoke and increases in lung-air-flow rates and lung capacity. One of your greatest answers for this myth is that there is not enough research yet to definitively prove either argument.

Even though smoking dried cannabis flower is the most commonly used consumption method, one of the perks of legalization is access to new ways to consume and funding for product innovation. Dried flower vaporization is a legal example of this, as are oil tinctures and activated cannabis powder for cooking. Within the next year, regulated cannabis-infused edibles and topicals will also be legally available, as well as dose-controlled capsules.

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