Health Risks and Harms

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The long-term impacts of cannabis use

Even though cannabis can be used medically in certain situations, long-term and heavy use can have negative health impacts. Below is a list of some of the long-term risks of cannabis use.

  • Increased risk of developing or worsening a mental health illness. These may include anxiety and depression. There is also a larger risk of seeing, hearing, and feeling things that are not real (psychosis).

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  • Increased risk of getting addicted or experiencing withdrawal if you cut down or quit.
  • Difficulty remembering things, thinking clearly, and paying attention.

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  • Increased risk of breathing problems from smoking cannabis.
    • coughing
    • wheezing 
    • shortness of breath
    • tightness of the chest
    • worsening of asthma symptoms

Health problems from cannabis can be made worse by using cannabis:

  • regularly at a young age
  • every day or almost every day
  • in large amounts

Risks of cannabis use for adolescents

It is recommended that children and youth not use cannabis or be exposed to second-hand cannabis smoke. These recommendations have been made for several reasons:

  • Parts of the brain continue to develop until around 25 years of age. Cannabis can cause changes to some areas of the brain. This may cause problems with thinking and concentrating and may make it difficult to manage emotions. When someone uses a lot of cannabis when they are young and their brain is still developing, some of these changes may not go away.
  • Using cannabis often at a young age increases the risk of developing psychosis or schizophrenia. This is when a person’s thoughts become confused and they may see, hear, or feel things that are not real. It may also increase the risks of developing or worsening other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
  • Cannabis use may make it more difficult to learn, which may have an impact on school grades.

It is important that youth know how to reduce the risks of cannabis use if they decide to use it. Recommendations for lower risk cannabis use for youth can be found here.

To learn more about the risks of cannabis use for youth, click here.

Risks of cannabis use for pregnant and breastfeeding women

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It is safest to avoid cannabis use during pregnancy and while breastfeeding since it may harm the baby as they grow and develop.

  • Using cannabis during pregnancy can affect the brain of the child and may lead to problems with thinking, learning, and managing behaviour.
  • It has been found that children that have been exposed to cannabis during pregnancy may be more likely to use drugs later in life.
  • Cannabis use during pregnancy may cause the baby to weigh less when they are born.
  • THC is the chemical in cannabis that causes the high. THC and other chemicals in cannabis can pass into the breast milk of nursing mothers and can be transmitted to the baby during feeding. It is safest to avoid cannabis use while breastfeeding.

If you or someone you know is using drugs during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, it is never too late to get help. There are options and support is available. Free, confidential mental health support is available at every health centre.

You can also talk to a trusted friend, family member, or Elder and ask for their support. For anonymous support, call Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Helpline toll-free at 1-800-264-3333.

Click here to learn more about the risks of cannabis use during pregnancy.

Is it possible to overdose on cannabis?

It is possible to take too much cannabis and feel sick. Using a lot of cannabis can give you episodes of throwing up and intense stomach pain. These may be signs of a condition called “cannabis hyperemesis syndrome”. Many people who have had this find that hot showers provide some relief.

Nobody has died from using too much cannabis. There are some illegal drugs that are called synthetic cannabinoids. Examples include Spice and K2. These are made with chemicals and there have been rare situations where the people that have used these products have gotten very sick or died.

Using a lot of cannabis can cause intense emotions such as anxiety, panic, paranoia, and psychosis. Psychosis is a condition where a person’s thoughts become confused and they may hear, see, or feeling things that are not real.

 

Resources:

Choose to be Informed

Cannabis Rack Cards