Harm Reduction

Here are some Harm Reduction tips for cannabis (thanks to Adam Winstock):

1) Reduce or cut out tobacco as a mixing agent.

2) Avoid holding smoke in your lungs. It increases intake of tar without getting you any more stoned.

3) Don’t inhale too deeply – it will not get you more stoned it just increases the deposition of waste in your lungs. The stuff that gets you stoned gets absorbed in the upper airways.

4) Smoking bongs or water pipes filters out more THC than tar and you lose lots in side stream smoke. 

5) Remove stems, seeds and leaf (unless you are using leaf instead of tobacco).

6) Don’t use a cigarette filter as it will filter out THC (reducing the effect) as well as tar and may lead you to smoking more or more deeply.

7) Use a plain cardboard roach and avoid printed/plastic covered materials.

8) Treat your paraphernalia with pride. Keep your pipes and bongs clean and avoid plastic bottles, pipes, etc as can increase toxic fumes.

9) If you have to smoke and are worried about cancer or lung disease try a vaporizer which avoids combustion and reduces the release and deposition of tar and carcinogens

10) Wait till you’ve seen to all life’s daily necessities (fed kids, cleaned up, done any important tasks and don’t need to drive) before you start smoking or at least until your brain has stopped developing (about 20 years old).

Cannabis as a medicine

There is a considerable amount of research being done in the UK at the moment, looking at the possible benefits of cannabis for the treatment of muscular and somatic pain, and the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) and wasting diseases, amongst others. In June 2010, GW pharmaceuticals announced that clinical trials have shown that ‘Sativex’ (which is sprayed under the tongue), reduces spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients who do not respond adequately to existing therapies. A licence to prescribe this drug is available via the UK Regular. Sativex uses a ratio of 1:1 THC/CBD. It was granted a UK licence in 2011, but it is extremely difficult to access the medicine from practitioners, in part due to the cost.

There is a strong research base to support the use of cannabis to control nausea. More recent research supports the beneficial effects of cannabis and THC-based medications in the treatment of symptoms arising from conditions such as MS and AIDS; for example, as an appetite stimulant to combat physical wasting. A recent study showed that ∆9 THC and other cannabinoids exert antidepressant-like actions, and thus may contribute to the overall mood-elevating properties of cannabis.

Smoking is by far the most common method of taking cannabis. Like tobacco, cannabis smoke contains toxins that are known to be hazardous to the respiratory system. These toxins are essentially a by-product of combustion, separate from the THC and other pharmaceutically active components of cannabis. Although there is no proof that smoking cannabis (without tobacco) causes cancer, heavy users have been shown to be more at risk of bronchitis and respiratory infections.

Mental Health

There have been a number of concerns raised in the press recently regarding cannabis smoking and its impact on health and increases in treatment-seeking for cannabis-related problems linked to purported increases in cannabis potency.

Most people who use cannabis will never experience mental health problems as a result. However, it appears indisputable that cannabis does have a detrimental effect on the mental health of a minority of individuals. It is likely that cannabis exposure is a ‘‘component cause’’ that interacts with other factors to ‘‘cause’’ schizophrenia or a psychotic disorder, but is neither necessary nor sufficient to do so alone.

The risks seem to be highest for young people, those who use cannabis heavily and those who suffer from, or have a vulnerability to, mental illness (e.g. family history of psychotic disorders).

There is often a time lapse between cannabis use and the onset of psychiatric disorders. Furthermore, other factors such as general health, family and social relations, education and employment are difficult to exclude. Genetic predisposition is another complicating factor. It is also difficult to isolate the effects of cannabis in circumstances where it is often used in conjunction with other substances.