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: The Blunt Truth: Useful tips about safer ways to use cannabis

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

Risks of cannabis use for pregnant and breastfeeding women #


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.

Cannabis and Tobacco #

Cannabis is not a safe alternative to tobacco. Cannabis and tobacco smoke have many of the same chemicals. These chemicals can be harmful and may cause breathing problems. They have also been linked to cancer.

People who smoke cannabis may inhale more deeply than tobacco smokers or hold the smoke in their lungs for longer periods of time. This means they may have more exposure to these harmful chemicals.

Like tobacco, people can be affected by second-hand cannabis smoke. If someone is in a small space and breathes the smoke, they may become mildly impaired from it. In fact, a person that does not use cannabis may even test positive in a urine drug test just from having breathed in second-hand cannabis smoke.

To learn more about the impact of cannabis smoke on the body, click here.

Cannabis and Driving #

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It is not safe to use cannabis and drive. It can impair coordination and reaction time. Memory and concentration can also be affected. All of this makes driving unsafe. Impaired drivers are a danger to the people in the car, other drivers on the road, and pedestrians.

Driving while high can increase the risks of being in an accident by two or three times. The risk of an accident increases when a person mixes cannabis with alcohol.

Using cannabis with other substances can increase the effects of these drugs which can increase the risk of injury or death from accidents.

To learn more about the risks of cannabis use and driving, click here.

How can I reduce the risks of cannabis use? #

Not using cannabis is the best way to prevent risk. If you decide to use cannabis, you can reduce the risks by following the lower risk recommendations for non-medical cannabis use below.

  • Try a small amount at first to test the strength of the cannabis that you are using. Wait for it to take effect before deciding whether to have more.
  • Avoid using cannabis with high amounts of THC since these products can be worse for your health. Try to find products that are low in THC and high CBD. Click here to learn more about THC and CBD. (link to what is THC/CBD? Section)
  • Avoid using what are called synthetic cannabinoids. Examples include Spice and K2. These are made with dangerous chemicals. They are known to cause serious health problems, including death.
  • Do not use cannabis and drive. This includes cars, trucks, four-wheelers, snowmobiles, boats and other vehicles.

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  • Delay cannabis use for as long as possible and avoid using at an early age, especially before the age of 16. The later you begin using cannabis, the lower the risks are to your health.
  • Avoid smoking cannabis. Smoking it may damage your ability to breathe easily. Be sure to educate yourself on the risks of using cannabis in other ways.
  • Avoid using cannabis every day or nearly every day. If you are going to use it, once a week or less is recommended.

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  • Avoid cannabis if you or your family has a history of mental illness. You should also avoid it if there is a history of drug or alcohol addiction.
  • Avoid using cannabis if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Cannabis can have negative and lasting impacts on the baby.


  • If you decide to smoke cannabis, avoid inhaling it deeply or holding your breath since this can increase the amount of toxins that the lungs take in.
  • Avoid using cannabis with tobacco. This can increase health risks and breathing problems.

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You should avoid mixing cannabis with other drugs or alcohol. This includes prescription drugs. For more information on how to lower the risks from using cannabis for youth and adults, click on the links below.

Adults: 10 Ways to Reduce Risks to Your Health When Using Cannabis
Youth: The Blunt Truth: Useful tips about safer ways to use cannabis