Canadians have a long way to go to meet new marijuana use guidelines

Click to play video: 'New guidelines issued for safe marijuana use' New guidelines issued for safe marijuana use
As the day approaches when pot will be legal in this country, public health professionals are swinging into action with new guidelines for marijuana users. David Akin explains how experts hope to reduce the risks of harm from cannabis use – Jun 23, 2017

Pot-smoking Canadians have a lot of work to do if they want to comply with Canada’s new guidelines on cannabis use.

A panel of doctors and public health experts released new guidelines for lower-risk marijuana use on Friday. They include recommendations on the strength of marijuana, the frequency of use and the age at which people should use marijuana, to minimize negative health outcomes.

Read the full list of recommendations here.

But the guidelines, designed to protect public health and promote less-risky marijuana use, don’t quite match up with Canadians’ current pot-smoking behaviour.

Here’s a look at some of what’s recommended, and what we actually do:

1. Abstinence

The new guidelines say that the best way to prevent any risks associated with marijuana is not to use it. This is common sense, but it’s too late for a lot of people – according to the website of the Canadian Association of Mental Health, about 44 per cent of Canadians report having used marijuana.

Story continues below advertisement

2. Don’t use marijuana at a young age

The guidelines state that early use of marijuana – particularly before the age of 16 – is associated with adverse health effects like mental health and education problems.

“The younger a person is when starting cannabis use, the greater the likelihood of developing health problems that are also more severe,” read the guidelines.

So, the doctors recommend deferring cannabis use at least until after adolescence.

But by Grade 11, 35.6 per cent of Canadian students had used marijuana, according to a study from the University of Waterloo that used data from a 2014-15 health survey.

One in five students in Grades 7 to 12 reported having used marijuana in their lifetimes and 1 in 10 reported using it in the last 30 days. The median age at which most people tried marijuana was 17 though, according to Statistics Canada.

WATCH: Dr. Benedict Fischer with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) told reporters Friday that in his opinion, cannabis use should be delayed as long as possible to prevent neurological issues.
Click to play video: 'CAMH spokesperson: Cannabis use should be delayed as long as possible' CAMH spokesperson: Cannabis use should be delayed as long as possible
CAMH spokesperson: Cannabis use should be delayed as long as possible – Jun 23, 2017

3. Use lower-strength marijuana products

The relative strength of marijuana can vary considerably, say the guidelines, and the stronger stuff is more strongly related to increased acute and long-term problems such as mental health problems, dependence and injuries.

Story continues below advertisement

So, the guidelines recommend choosing marijuana products that are lower in THC – marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient.

According to Health Canada, marijuana is now stronger than ever. THC potency in dried marijuana increased from an average of three per cent in the 1980s to around 15 per cent today. Some strains are as high at 30 per cent THC.

The guidelines also recommend avoiding synthetic marijuana/cannabinoids altogether.

READ MORE: Pot legalization in Canada: Here’s what you need to know about proposed law

4. Don’t smoke it

Smoking marijuana, like smoking cigarettes, carries with it a risk of respiratory problems, according to the guidelines. So, these doctors recommend that if you want to use marijuana, you consume it via edible products or use a vaporizer. Although data on the health effects of edibles and vaporizing is lacking, the panel feels that these methods at least reduce the risk of lung problems.

They also suggest that you don’t inhale deeply or hold your breath while smoking.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of statistical information on how exactly Canadians consume weed, though it’s worth noting perhaps that Veterans’ Affairs does reimburse eligible veterans for vaporizers when they’re prescribed by a medical professional.

Story continues below advertisement

WATCH: Doctors and addiction health specialists on Friday unveiled their harm reduction recommendations for legal marijuana use, including advising that youth avoid smoking and impaired driving be addressed.

Click to play video: 'Doctors unveil harm reduction strategies for cannabis use' Doctors unveil harm reduction strategies for cannabis use
Doctors unveil harm reduction strategies for cannabis use – Jun 23, 2017

5. Definitely don’t smoke weed every day

Using marijuana daily or near-daily is associated with a higher risk of adverse health and social effects, says the panel. So, they recommend people use only occasionally: once a week or only on weekends at most.

In a 2014 survey, Statistics Canada asked people who reported using marijuana in the last month how often they used the drug. From those responses, the agency estimated that only about 2.2 per cent of Canadians 15 years of age and older used marijuana four or more times per week.

6. Wait at least 6 hours after using marijuana before driving

The effects of marijuana can persist for up to six hours, say the guidelines, so they recommend not driving for at least that long after using. “There is no evidence for safe levels of cannabis use for driving,” read the guidelines.

Story continues below advertisement

A recent study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that 9.4 per cent of Grade 11 and 12 students reported driving after using marijuana at least once in their lives.

Police reported 2,786 drug-impaired driving incidents (which would include all drugs, not just marijuana) in 2015, according to Statistics Canada.

7. Refrain from using marijuana while pregnant or if you have certain health problems

The guidelines recommend abstaining from marijuana if you’re pregnant or have a predisposition to or family history of psychosis or certain other mental health disorders.

Some recent studies found that many women likely use marijuana while pregnant. Nearly four per cent reported using the drug during pregnancy in one recent American study.

READ MORE: Reality check – Is it safe to use marijuana during pregnancy?

Sponsored content