Hiking high? Rescuers warn of dangers, cannabis advocates say there’s more to the story
Weed and wanderlust don’t mix.
That’s the message from Metro Vancouver’s North Shore Rescue (NSR), which posted a blog on Sunday warning that cannabis and the backcountry are a dangerous combination.
The message was prompted by looming marijuana legalization and concerns about the apparent arrival of cannabis-infused guided tours of the backcountry, something team member Curtis Jones wrote is simply unsafe — regardless of whether they’re under supervision.
“We regularly respond to calls for those who are well prepared, do everything right, are completely sober, and still get into trouble,” wrote Jones.
“When you’re high in the mountains, and I don’t mean elevation wise, you shift your position on the continuum between ‘Prepared Hiker’ and ‘Candidate for Rescue’ significantly towards the latter position.”
Jones referred to a number of recent NSR call-outs in which adventurers became intoxicated. In once case, someone was having a bad acid trip. In another, edible cannabis caused a hiker seizures, and in a third, two snowshoers used pot and ecstasy — and ended up stabbing each other with a knife.
LISTEN: If you’re going out to the woods, the best course of action may be to leave the herb behind.
“The mountains are not the place to lose yourself in a drug-induced stupor, nor are they a place to experiment and learn your tolerance,” wrote Jones.
“The reality we face is that the wilderness is unforgiving and it can take a long time for rescue crews to reach you, even if you are only a couple kilometers up the trail.”
North Shore Rescue is by far B.C.’s busiest search-and-rescue team, and said earlier in 2018 that it was once again on track for a record year for call-outs.
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But Bethany Rae, CEO of Flower and Freedom — a company that focuses on cannabis fitness and education — says that’s not the whole story.
But she said marijuana use isn’t all about getting stoned, pointing to the ways people use products like cannabidiol (CBD) to treat muscle and joint pain.
“It comes from a place that cannabis is bad for you, cannabis gets you high. And I think it’s time to change that conversation,” Rae said.
“Cannabis can be used therapeutically and medically to relieve a wide range of symptoms, and some of those symptoms might exist if we’re in the outdoors. Using cannabis to relieve them does not necessarily mean impairment.”
Rae said there’s no question backcountry users shouldn’t be trying pot for the first time, or experimenting with new products.
WATCH: North Shore Rescue on track for record year
But she argued even when people are using cannabis for its euphoric effects, it affects everyone differently, giving some people energy and focus.
With legalization on the way, it’s important for a discussion about harm reduction and safe use to take front seat, she said.
“What we are saying is hey, lets be realistic, let’s be open and honest. People are going to consume cannabis outdoors. It’s nature’s therapy,” she said.
“What we are saying is let’s have a conversation about how it can be done in a responsible way.”
Rae was emphatic that NSR is right about safety always being a priority, and said the team has raised an important point about heading to the woods to try psychedelics.
“I would be happy to have dialogue with North Shore [Rescue],” she said.
“Perhaps if we could create a guide or conversation around it because the ‘Just Say No’ policy has not worked, and it’s not going to work in legalization.”
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