When you were younger, consuming cannabis was easy. All you needed was someone to hook you up and to remember to “puff, puff, pass.” Now, things are more complicated. You can choose among dozens of retailers, hundreds of products and a rainbow of consumption methods.
But consuming as an adult brings new responsibilities. You probably have some combination of kids, a car and a job, and need to be mindful about your dosage and timing. Can you take care your body and mind with cannabis, while keeping on good terms with adult life?
If you educate yourself on cannabis law and responsible use strategies, you can make a plan and feel safe. Read on to learn the smartest ways to do cannabis self-care.
What Are the Safety Issues Around Cannabis?
The primary safety issues with cannabis are impairment while driving or at work, and having children or pets accidentally consume THC.
Although you can easily protect kids and pets by storing your stash in a lockbox, the solutions around cannabis, driving, and employment are not so clear-cut. Science has not yet managed to predict precisely when you will be impaired. How high will you get from a given dose of THC? How long it will take to kick in and how long it will last? It’s surprisingly tough to say.
Studies show that from person-to-person, and even day-to-day, the effects of cannabis can vary a lot. There’s no way to say, “this is when you’ll be safe to do dangerous tasks after consuming THC.” A given dose will affect everyone differently, so it’s hard to define where the line is.
Although there are no hard and fast rules in cannabis science, it’s pretty easy to develop a responsible approach to your consumption. You need to learn the relevant laws, be aware of how cannabis affects your body and focus on minimizing the risks.
What Do You Need to Know About Cannabis and Driving?
Justice Canada has defined two levels of charges for impaired driving with cannabis:
● Summary Conviction - Blood concentration between 2-5 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood
● Criminal Charge - Blood concentration of THC above 5 mg/ml or a combination of over 2.5 ng/ml THC and at least 50 mg/100 ml of alcohol
The penalties range from a $1,000 fine to 10 years imprisonment. There are additional penalties for causing bodily harm or death.
The science around cannabis and driving law is complicated. Regulators have tried to use alcohol laws as a template, but the impairment factors with alcohol and cannabis are quite different. Even if you’re experienced with cannabis, it can be impossible to predict exactly when you’ll be high. In a 2018 study, 17 people smoked and vaporized dried flower at low and high doses. The subjects’ blood concentration of THC peaked within 30 minutes and dissipated within 3 to 4 hours, but their performance on coordination and thinking tests was impaired for 6 to 8 hours1. In another study, nine experienced pilots were tested on a flight simulator after smoking THC. Their performance on the simulator showed impairment 24 hours later, even though all but one pilot said they no longer felt high2.
The differences between alcohol and cannabis can’t be overstated. Alcohol is eliminated at a rate of approximately 0.015% of your blood concentration each hour, making it possible for transportation safety organizations to make recommendations about how many drinks the average person could have before reaching a blood alcohol concentration over the legal limit. But with THC, there are too many factors that influence how high you will get and how long it will take to sober up to make any similar recommendations. Inhaled cannabis can affect you for anywhere from 3 to 24 hours. The same amount of THC in an edible can make you up to 5 times more impaired and can last even longer3. With this much variability in how THC will affect you, it’s not possible to recommend a safe amount you can consume before driving, or how long you should wait before getting behind the wheel.
When it comes to driving and cannabis, the answer is simple: Don’t.
Instead, plan ahead. Carry enough change for the bus, grab an Uber or have a designated driver. Google maps and a dozen apps like it are great tools for figuring out your transit options on the fly.
Many people who consume cannabis for pain, sleep or anxiety have a routine where they take CBD for relief in the daytime (which is non-intoxicating), and THC before bed. Dr. Jamie Cox says, "If you find your sweet spot, the right dose of THC for your body, you’ll get relief through the night and wake up with a clear head.”
What Do You Need to Know About Cannabis and Work?
In spite of medical and recreational cannabis being legal across Canada, many workplaces maintain a zero-tolerance policy on THC. The biggest concerns for employees are driving vehicles and operating dangerous machinery, as they could put their own and other people's safety at risk. Another issue is that of substance abuse. Like alcohol and other drugs, it's important that cannabis doesn't create a negative impact on performance or relationships in the workplace.
Where Do Your Rights Begin and End as a Cannabis-Consuming Employee?
Although you have the right to choose cannabis as a part of your lifestyle, you are always subject to the laws against impaired driving and your employer has additional rights to keep the workplace safe for everyone.
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, employers are expected to look at impairment on the job in a broad way. If an employee isn’t able to perform their job safely or with good judgement, the company should step in, being sensitive to the fact that impairment might come from a variety of causes, like substance abuse, medical treatment, extreme fatigue, shiftwork, caregiver burnout or a family crisis.
The company should have a policy on file about impairment in the workplace, and their action plan should focus on removing the employee from a situation where they might come to harm.
If your employer finds that you seem unsafe at work, they can send you home for the day or reassign you to a position where you won’t cause a safety risk. They should talk with you privately and respectfully and discuss what steps you and they will take to address the problem. They can follow-through with disciplinary action if you don’t hold up your end of the agreement.
Do I Have Special Rights as a Medical Cannabis Patient?
If you have a health issue that causes you to be impaired, like chronic pain that interferes with your sleep or a prescribed treatment that can be intoxicating (e.g., painkillers, sedatives or cannabis), your employer can’t force you to tell them about it. However, you might want to consider letting them know. They have a duty to accommodate your medical condition, but only to the point of “undue hardship.” Some companies will hire a medical professional to assess you and tell them whether you are fit to continue in your current role or recommend changes to make your responsibilities safer.
You don’t have the right to be impaired at work, but ideally, you and your employer should work together to take care of your wellbeing and your coworkers’.
What Do You Need to Know About Cannabis, Kids and Pets?
Cannabis is a mixed bag for children and pets. The non-intoxicating component, CBD, has a good safety profile and is approved for the treatment in severe cases of childhood epilepsy4. It also has some anecdotal evidence for treating arthritis in pets5. However, THC can be toxic to both children and animals. The most common causes of THC poisoning come from kids and pets accidentally getting into edibles and concentrates6 7 8, which tend to be highly potent and easy to consume quickly.
For children, the effects of THC tend to be sleepiness, euphoria, irritability, speeding or slowing of the heart rate, nausea, vomiting and slurred speech. In large overdoses, small children can have rare, but severe reactions, such as a seizure or a coma with breathing problems9. Pets tend to get lethargic, to drool a lot, have tremors, uncontrolled movements, low body temperature and slowed heart rate10. Higher doses can make pets agitated, hyper-excitable or cause seizures. Animal deaths from THC are rare, but they can happen. The smallest lethal dose is 3 grams of plant material per kilogram of pet’s weight11.
How Can You Keep Your Children and Pets Safe?
The most dangerous cannabis products for children and pets are edibles and concentrates. Live plants or dried flower are unlikely to cause THC poisoning because they don't contain active THC until they are decarboxylated (i.e., transformed by heat). Edibles and concentrates are already activated, so they are especially important to lock up.
As edibles gain popularity and more of us experiment with them, it’s important for us to remember how easy it is to mistake a medicated edible for its “clean” cousin. Particularly with baking, candies, and other foods that our kids might end up eating, always make sure to clearly label your edibles and lock them up well out of reach. If your child or pet does accidentally consume your cannabis, contact a medical professional immediately.
What Are the 3 Take-Aways to Enjoy Your Cannabis Responsibly?
The three most important steps to feeling safe with your cannabis are education, self-awareness, and planning.
1. Get to Know Cannabis
Read about cannabis science. Learn how your body metabolizes THC, how different consumption methods affect your impairment, and how to plan for times when you’re intoxicated.
Even if you’re an experienced consumer, talk to your doctor or a cannabis educator. They can point out whether any of the medications or supplements you’re taking might accidentally increase the impairment from your bud, as well as point you towards strain profiles, dosing schedules and consumption methods that can help you get more relief for your symptoms with less intoxication.
2. Get to Know Your Body
Start low, go slow and pay attention to how you feel with each new product. Different strains, terpene profiles or product types can affect you differently, even if they have the same amount of THC. Depending on whether you inhale or eat your dose, what’s in your stomach, how frequently you’ve been consuming cannabis and other factors, you can even have a different reaction from one session to another.
Always try a new product in a safe place and on a day when you have nothing important to do.
Be aware that even experienced users can have unexpected spikes of impairment. This is because THC is lipophilic (i.e., it binds to fats). It can be stored in your body fat and get released into your blood weeks later12. The more frequently and heavily you consume, the more likely you are to store and release significant amounts of THC13.
3. Keep Your Cannabis Clearly Labelled and Secured
Always keep cannabis products, especially edibles and concentrates, clearly labelled and locked well out of reach of children and pets.
If you know your effects, minimize your risks and plan ahead, you can feel good about your approach to cannabis and enjoy your bud in the adult world.
 Spindle TR, Cone EJ, Schlienz NJ et al. Acute Effects of Smoked and Vaporized Cannabis in Healthy Adults Who Infrequently Use Cannabis: A Crossover Trial. JAMA Netw Open. Published online November 30, 2018;1(7):e184841. Doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.4841.
 Leirer, VO, Yesavage JA, Morrow DG. Marijuana carry-over effects on aircraft pilot performance. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 1991; 62(3):221-227.
 Barrus DG, et al. Tasty THC: Promises and Challenges of Cannabis Edibles. Methods Rep RTI Press. 2016:10.3768/rtipress.2016.op.0035.1611.
 O’Connell BK, Gloss D, Devinsky O. Cannabinoids in treatment-resistant epilepsy: A review. Epilepsy and Behaviour. 2016; http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1016/j.yebeh.2016.11.012
 Gamble LJ, et al. Pharmacokinetics, Safety, and Clinical Efficacy of Cannabidiol Treatment in Osteoarthritic Dogs. Front. Vet. Sci. 2018: doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2018.00165.
 Wang GS, Roosevelt G, Heard K. Pediatric marijuana exposures in a medical marijuana state. JAMA Pediatr. 2013;167(7):630.
 Claude I, Mouvier S, Labadie M, Manin C, Michard-Lenoir AB, et al. Unintentional Cannabis Intoxication in Toddlers. Pediatrics. 2017;140(3):Epub 2017 Aug 14.
 Claudet I, Le Breton M, Bréhin C, Franchitto N. A 10-year review of cannabis exposure in children under 3-years of age: do we need a more global approach? Eur J Pediatr. 2017;176(4):553. Epub 2017 Feb 16.
 Macnab A, Anderson E, Susak L. Ingestion of cannabis: a cause of coma in children. Pediatr Emerg Care. 1989l5(4):238.
 Fitzgerald KT, Bronstein AC, Newquist KL. Marijuana Poisoning. Topics in Companion Animal Medicine. 2013;28(1):8-12.
 Fitzgerald KT, Bronstein AC, Newquist KL. Marijuana Poisoning. Topics in Companion Animal Medicine. 2013;28(1):8-12.
 Gunasekaran N, et al. Reintoxication: the release of fat-stored delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) into blood is enhanced by food deprivation or ACTH exposure. Br J Pharmacol. 2009;158(5):1330-1337.
 Huestis MA. Human Cannabinoid Pharmacokinetics. Chem Biodivers. 2009;4(8):1770-1804.